When Mom was sick, we spent an afternoon watching Hallmark movies, one right after the other. If you’re thinking I must have suffered from a sugar overload, you’re not too far wrong. But a full afternoon of lightheartedness can be a balm sometimes.
I’m terrible with names, especially when hit with several at once, so I don’t remember the names of the movies we saw, and I don’t remember the plot of two of the three movies. But one stood out, and though I can’t remember the title or the characters, I do remember why I’d watch it again, because I took the time to analyze why I would.
Let me share the tips I gleaned from my analysis:
- Always keep the reader wondering.
The movie started out with an interesting premise and continued from there. Once the obvious questions were answered, another question immediately popped up. They were together once, now they’re not—how would they meet again? That one’s an easy and time-honored opener. How will they react to each other after all these years? They’re both engaged to other people now—how would they reconnect? How will the fiancés react to their soon-to-be-spouses’ former loves? How will each break up with their current fiancés so they can be available for each other?
All these questions are typical in a romance. Romance is formulaic, primarily because the formula works, so the author has to be unique and extra imaginative.
This movie had me asking other questions. (1) A whopper of a problem had to be overcome before the weekend, during which the hero was to marry his current girlfriend. How would the author handle it? (2) Both characters were successful. Both were happy in their new lifestyles. They lived several states away from each other. Who would give up their life to pursue the relationship? (3) Neither’s career had anything to do with the others’. After one decided to forfeit their lifestyle to pursue the other, how would they going to find common ground?
Those were just a few of the things that kept me wondering. If I thought a little harder, I’d find many more.
Develop questions that go beyond the formula. Romance readers already know the two will meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after. They read to discover how the author will make it all happen. Give them something unique to fit the formula, then give them more. Keep them reading by posing new questions as soon as others are answered.
- Make the heroine strong and intelligent.
She had a post graduate degree in agriculture and some amazing ideas in mind: big dreams that needed funding. Her life was interesting and fulfilling. She faced challenges head-on even though she got knocked down a time or two.
And the knock-downs didn’t make her cry.
I’ve read sweet romance books where the heroine cried at least once per page. Tears, sniffling, wetness, swiping cheeks, rubbing eyes, welling in the eyes—all the forms of crying or about-to-cry or trying-not-to-cry. After a while, I want to shake the character until her head rattles: Get a backbone!!!
Authors should illustrate the types of emotions that could lead to tears, but there are far more reactions to those emotions than crying. Let her act out, get snippy, withdraw into herself, double efforts that have already proven futile. All sorts of things. Having the female character cry at the drop of a hat cheats the reader and shows weakness in both the character and the writer.
- Don’t make attraction the sole basis of the relationship.
Physical attraction is great, but you can’t build a life on it. “Happily Ever After” requires more. There must be some attribute about each character that draws the other, something truly admirable that the other recognizes and appreciates.
I’ve read novels in which the only thing the characters had going for them were “great eyes.” Being drawn into, lost in, held captive by those eyes. Or, just as shallow, the ol’ electric zing up the arm from the fingertip touch. The spark. The flash.
The idea that each considers the other “hot” is fine, but a relationship is built upon so much more.
Determine what would be important to each of the characters and portray that through the other. Would he make a great father? Show him with kids. Would he be patient with her mother? Show him with his own or illustrate his interaction with the elderly. Would he support her career decisions? Show him being supportive of others.
Same the other way. Would she stand beside him in tough times? Show her being loyal. Is she tough enough to live his lifestyle? Show her stamina and determination.
Let each character see how the other fits their needs. This is how they learn the other is the one.
Add depth to your romance by adding depth to your characters, their relationship, and their story.