Friday, July 01, 2011


VARIETY & UNPREDICTIBILITY: the key to success in category romance with Joanne Grant & Meg Lewis

We’re seeing a reliance on the same conflicts and themes. Writers are approaching stories by using themes and concepts – I’ll write a Greek hero and marriage of convenience

What is unpredictability? An unpredictable story delivers a compelling happy-ever-after that takesthe reader on an unanticipated cliché-free and emotionally engaging journey

Unpredictability isn’t

• Far fetched plot twists
• Characters acting out of character
• A mash-up of genres for the sake of it
• And excuse to replace conflict for plot devices

What we’ll cover today

• How to bring some unpredictability to your stories and ensure they are fresh and unique
• We’re not changing series guidelines or asking for radical differences

Put characters first!

• We’re looking for character-driven not plot-driven stories
• Start by creating two interesting original characters with a compelling story to tell
• Make sure they have emotional barriers (conflict) to overcome before falling in love with and committing to the other.

Know the characters inside out – real, rounded people with depths and layers. If you plan and execute them well, the conflict and the story should present itself

Conflict :: Emotional character driven conflict is the foundation of a satisfying romance. The most interesting conflicts are the ones which should drive yours story are internal there is also room for external conflict but use with caution!


• Bad experience of relationships in the past 0 heroine’s ex-boyfriend turned abusive
• Parents had a terrible marriage


• Hero and heroine are working together
• See the other hugging member of the opposite sex
• Heroine gets pregnant

What is internal conflict?

• We need the characters to each have emotional obstacles to covercome before they can get together
• Their relationship should feel like a journey in which they both change and grow, it will end happily but how will they get there
• The journey should b full of highs and lows, plenty of tension.

External conflict should only be brought in as additional support o the developing romance and plot. Using obstacles like simple misunderstandings doesn’t work. This is frustrating to the reader and cannot sustain a story.

Top 5 romantic conventions

Marriage of convenience – question whether actions and reactions are believable – what would you do. Check motivations are water tight and believable. Dig deeper, do you need a marriage of convenience?

Marriage on the Rocks – question whether you have a strong enough reason to end the marriage in the first place. Dig deeper and find different twists on this. Look at what is happening in the media for inspiration.

One Night Stand / Secret Baby – not every one night stands ends up in a baby, sometimes contraception works. Is it fully motivated? A well constructed character can entice any reader to follow them. One night stand = plot device to get a baby into the story. Don’t sweep things that don’t work under the rug, confront it head on

Traumatic Past – is the emotional implications and repercussions of the eventthat are fascinating. Emotional exploration – heart-wrenching not depression. Don’t judge, don’t go into the nitty gritty! How does the event affect the characters and how does this affect the relationship

Revenge / Blackmail – motivation must be based on more than misunderstanding. Life is never black and white. The revenge stories often need to be the most complex. Don’t be afraid to give the characters flaws.

Other ways to bring uniqueness ::

Breaking Conventions – sailing close to the wind and getting away with it. Can you tackle a more controversial theme in a series romance. Infidelity, impotence so you’er pregnant, must they marry. Maybe she’s the boss.

First Meets – execute them differently to try something new. Common examples one-night stand is your boss, bump into each other (car crash)

Settings – write about what yuou know or use your imagination, but don’t be afraid to explore new territories

Voice – don’t try to emulate – innovate and be yourself! Infuse your writing with your own author voice and personality. We want originality, not a paint by numbers romance. No amount of workshops can teach you this.

It’s all about the characters. Stretch your imagination and take them on a journey where they grow and change. Compelling conflicts should drive the romance. Internal conflict is the key, external can support Twist the conventions and surprise your reader. Be original!

What keeps you reading when you see submissions in the slush pile? Voice immediately grabs your attention. Next is seeing the story is unique and fresh with compelling characters. Being plunged into a situation where you don’t have to think, You are just there with them. You get a sense of the characters and their conflict and where they are going.


Coleen Kwan said...

Jenna, am loving all your posts on the convention. So informative and helpful!

Cora Zane said...

Great post! Very helpful!