So why is my romance novel not a romance novel?

Now that's what the cover on a romance novel is supposed to look like.
Now that’s what the cover on a romance novel is supposed to look like.

I’M WRITING a romance novel.

At least I thought I was.

The professionals tell me I’m not.

The professionals know better than I.

“The story has love in it,” I say.

“The story is full of lust,” they say.

“The boy’s in love,” I say.

“The boy’s a high school quarterback,” they say.


“The girl’s a high school cheerleader,” they say.

“Again. So?”

“The boy’s in love with her long blonde hair, short skirts, and long legs,” they say.

“He knows his heart,” I say.

“He’s not thinking with his heart,” they say.

“How about the older woman?” I ask.

“The femme fatale?”

I nod.

“She seduces the quarterback.”

“They have a relationship,” I argue.

My back’s pinned against the wall.

“The boy has a night he won’t soon forget,” the professionals say.

“What about the woman?”

“She’s married to the preacher.”


“She has a fling.”

“It won’t last?”

“It didn’t last till morning.”

I make my final plea.

“The story has passion,” I say.

“So does a dog fight.”

The professionals smile politely.

They shake their heads.

They walk away.

So, I wonder, what’s the basic, bare-bones formula for a good romance novel?

I search the gospel according to Google.

And I find it.

Boy meets girl.

Girl has a secret.

Girl keeps a secret from the boy as they fall in love.

Boy finds out, and they part in anger.

Girl loses all.

Boy returns. He is repentant and declares what both of them knew all along.

He loves her.

Girl is now strong enough to turn him down.

Or maybe she will take him back as an equal partner in the relationship.

How does it turn out?

Well, that’s what the story is about.

Sounds simple enough.

It’s not.

Relationships never are.

Think wars are fought over land?

Over money?

Over ambition?

Over power?

The real ones aren’t.

The real ones aren’t fought between armies.

The real ones are fought between men and women.

The real ones are fought over love or some reasonable facsimile.

Who has it.

Who wants it.

Who’ll sacrifice to get it.

The critics spread the word that all romance novels are alike.

Same plot.

Same characters.

Same problems.

Same solutions.

How do they know?

They look at the cover designs on the bookshelves.

And all are similar.

But those same critics shop at the same grocery stories.

They see soup cans.

And the cans all look alike.

Same colors.

Same designs.

Same brands.

But one can has Cream of Tomato.

Another has Corn Chowder.

A third has Chicken Noodle.

They’re no different from romance novels.

They all look alike.

But everyone has something different inside.

My novel is no different.

It may be lacking on romance.

But it does have angst, lust, fast, and trust, and any novel packed with a lot of words that end in “T” can’t be all bad.


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  • I can’t compete with cheerleaders and quarterbacks.

    Fortunately for my readers, I never got into that subculture. So when they’re tired of cheerleaders always getting the guy…

    There are writers for everyone. How I wish I were starting out today – then I’d have the energy for all those books. It’s an explosion out there.

    I’m rereading Travis McGee. I think he used to play football.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Travis McGee has always been my hero, Alicia. And I believe John D. MacDonald is one of the finest writers to ever spin a yarn. Because he wrote mysteries, he never received his due as a writer of literary fiction.

  • Sally Berneathy

    I have written romance novels, mystery novels, and computer programs. I can say with 100% certainty and a great deal of emphasis, romance novels are far and away the hardest to write of those three.

    The writer has to know the characters’ inside and out. The characters have to struggle with internal conflicts that keep them apart while also struggling with an external conflict that throws them together. The characters must grow and learn and evolve. They must resolve the external conflict in a way that helps them resolve their internal conflicts, and all this must be accomplished in a logical, interesting, well-paced way that holds the reader’s interest. Murder and computer code are both much easier to deal with!

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Sally, that’s why I write mysteries and thriller. I can’t write well about matters of the heart, but I can put a bullet through one. This blog, as I’m sure you guessed, was written tongue in cheek, but the point I wanted to make was that all romance book covers may look alike, but every story is different. You could give ten romance writers the same characters and same basic plot, and you would have ten entirely different novels.

      • Sally Berneathy

        Yes, Caleb, I love your tongue-in-cheek blogs. I thought Google’s definition…the mere fact that Google has a definition!…was hilarious! When I went to work as a computer programmer, I kept telling all those nerds that writing romance novels was way harder than what we were doing. Of course they stuck their noses in the air at that comment. I told them I had done both so I should know! Before I left there, I think I convinced a few of them.

        • Caleb Pirtle

          Sally, computer programming is pretty much black and white. Romance has a thousand colors and most of them clash.

          • Sally Berneathy

            Exactly! They have some things in common…such as a need to begin at Point A and work logically to Point Z. But you have a limited range of actions in a computer program, and when it’s finished, if it works, it’s finished! It’s perfect! I have finally accepted that no novel can ever be “perfect” since it’s art and deals with people. As you say, thousands of colors. It can also never be finished if I keep going over it again and again!

  • Linda Pirtle

    There’s always a plethora of angst for teenagers. Femme fatales should know better. Can’t wait to read your book.

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