Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Writer's Cookbook: Recipe for a Love Story

A heaping spoonful of lust, two ripe and heaving bosoms, a pinch of drama, and a generous portion of bristling testosterone and you’ve got a love story ready for consuming. Right?
In the world of Harlequin romance novels, maybe. But many writers struggle with the recipe for writing true love, for a story about romantic love on a more complex and profound level. And while the writer may struggle, the readership DEFINITELY doesn't. Romance fiction generated $1.438 billion in sales in 2012 and was the top-performing category on the bestseller lists the same year.
Your readership exists. In huge numbers. And most crave something more than the "wham, bam, thank you ma’am" realities of modern society. Can you imagine how Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte would feel if she found out that courtship has been reduced to swiping left or right on a phone app? Blasphemy! 
So how do you produce a good love story that will quell the hunger of millions of romantic fiction (romfic) fans? It's simple, really! So simple I'll set it up like a recipe. So simple you need only incorporate four simple ingredients!
That’s it. Four ingredients (and some culinary know-how), which should all be added in equal parts: strong characters, passion, obstacles, and growth – although change makes a good substitute.

1. Strong Characters

This is vital for all fiction, but especially so for romfic. This is because the reader must fall in love with one of your main characters. Would Mr Darcy have set readers’ hearts aflame if he were a silly cad with no redeeming qualities? Absolutely not. He was a judicious gentleman of impressive intelligence and refinement who secreted away a tender heart. You want Elizabeth and Darcy to end up together because that means you get to end up with him as well, and a character must be dynamic and three-dimensional, otherwise who will fall in love with them? Your characters need to have traits that compete against each other. They must realize and struggle against their worst qualities for the sake of love.

2. Passion

Once you have strong characters, stick them together with a generous dollop of passion. If characters are really in love, a sense of passion should also be provoked within the reader – they need to feel the depth of your characters’ emotions for one another. Passion measures this depth and is the rubber band that you tie around them. No matter how hard they pull and stretch apart, that passion will bring them back together in the end.
Passion also means that your characters must fall for each other, hard. They can play around with the idea and question their true feelings, but the reader must know that, when push comes to shove, their love is unquestionably genuine.
Dialogue is essential in communicating this. Professions of love are acts of passion. A character is exposing their vulnerability during these moments of confession, articulating their deepest feelings. ‘Hey, I love you,’ just doesn’t cut it. They need to reach down deep and lay their beating heart on the table.

3. Obstacles.

Now that you’ve tied the passion band around your characters, toss in a liberal amount of obstacles to test its elasticity and your characters’ resolve. This can be in the form of an antagonist – in love stories, sometimes the best antagonists are the couple themselves – or a circumstance which makes being together impossible.
An effective obstacle is separation. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but your love-struck protagonists don't know that. Our star-crossed lovers must attempt to live without each other and then come to realize that, no matter ho hard things are while together, it's impossible to stay apart (think Tristan & Isolde, Romeo & Juliet, Pride & Prejudice, even Twilight for goodness sake). During this separation, the obstacles are the characters themselves. They think that, by being apart, because they're angry at each other or because they feel it's "for the best," they can dismiss their feelings. But never underestimate the power of that rubber ban of passion. 

4. Character Growth

These obstacles should come after growth and a sort of enlightenment from your main characters, which means they can overcome them. They should be able to recognize their negative traits, their differences and their flaws, and only then can they overcome the hurdles. Your characters need to grow and conquer their own negative qualities because of their love for each other. True love should inspire your characters to be the best they can be.

Now that you understand the ingredients, mix them together, follow the preparation steps (write the novel), and pop your love story in the oven. But remove just after marriage! The ending of a love story is extremely important. It needs to be optimistic and emotionally satisfying. Few readers want to read about life after marriage – it’s full of realistic issues we’re all too familiar with, problems that not even the greatest of romfic’s couples can avoid. Readers need to believe that the couple who have fought so hard to be together will live happily ever after. They’re finally happy, and that’s enough for us.
These are the basic ingredients of a love story. They’re a great start, but you’ll also need a dish to bake it in (the plot), some added spices (climaxes), a garnish or two (themes), and some nice china to serve it on (the setting). But if you’ve mixed in those four essential elements, the product will be a well-balanced meal of reading delights. Once finished, the yield will serve millions of women (and a number of curious men) who seek to experience true love through romantic fiction. As long as you have those four simple ingredients you can create the love story that mass-market publishers are looking for. You are the chef, the publishers are the restaurants, your readers the eager foodies, and your love story is the pièce de résistance.

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