It doesn’t matter what genre the story is in, Love Stories are compelling. Women love them. Men do, too. Not everyone will admit it, but we’re biologically wired to want love. Notice I said love, not sex.
The problem is being true to the characters. Oh sure, hot and steamy sells really well – to a subset of the market. Not everyone wants penises thrusting into places. Dripping and moist can get awkward fast. But that has nothing to do with a love story. LOVE can be so much more. Maybe it’s finding a best friend, saving a pet, or meeting a person who makes you feel complete. All of these things can be done without all the heavy breathing, but they move the story forward.
In Romance, however, it’s a bit more complicated. I’m currently working on the Eternal Combat series. These are contemporary romances based around strong women who’ve had the world try to break them. No matter how many times they get knocked down, these girls manage to convince themselves to get back up… and fall in love. They learn that no one can do everything on their own. They find out that it’s ok to be a part of something bigger. The problem? Each of them is very different from the others.
For those who’ve read FLAWED and Challenge Accepted, you know that Riley and Dez share some traits, but not all. Dez is broken, Riley is a bulldozer. Dez wants to disappear, Riley wants to make the entire world see her, not what they think she should be. Well, the woman in the next book? Her name is Kate, and she’s nothing like either of them.
Kate is older. She’s been there, done that, and learned how to play well in the real world. She’s sensible but lacks confidence in herself. That doesn’t mean she’ll give up. She just tackles her problems differently. While these are all the same series, and all share a common theme, writing Kate’s romance is very different from writing the other two. Kate is cautious. She’s more likely to run than take a foolish risk. I can’t just throw her in the same situations and expect to get a book out of it. She just looks at me and says, “Nah, I’m good. I’m doing just fine as a single girl. When the right guy comes around, I’ll know it.”
And that’s the problem. The shortcuts to romance don’t always work. Sometimes our characters refuse to accept the common tropes. I gave Kate a super sexy man, and she shrugged, reminding me that the pretty ones are the most self-centered. I proved that he has a heart of gold, and she sneered, pointing out how easy it is to lie about those things. So I am going to pull out the only trick I have left. I’m going to make this guy prove it and show Kate that life really is better if she doesn’t have to slog through it alone.
Yes, yes. I know. I talk about my characters as if they have their own opinions – but they do! No matter how many times I try to plot out every nuance of my books, my characters won’t let me. I like to think it’s because I’ve made them too real. To me, they’re like friends. I can guess how they would react to things, and trying to bend them out of shape just reads as false. It makes the story cheap and transparent. Instead, when I give them the reins and let them take over, I find connections that I never expected.
Just look at Sal and Zep in the iliri series. Zep wasn’t supposed to be her best friend and big brother. He was supposed to be a smart ass and an arrogant jerk. Ok, well he kinda is, but he’s so much more than just that. The more I let them do their own thing, the deeper the characters become, and the more rewarding the stories get.
But complex people don’t often have simple and easy romances. Whether that’s a friendship bond or a romantic one, the emotional storyline that goes along with the people meeting and finding that they fit together needs to be true to itself. Some people jump in the sack without a care. Others want so much more. Still others are dying for the kind of person who they can trust like a sibling, and the chemistry just isn’t there. I can’t force it, I can only write what the characters need.
Even if that means I need to delete half of this awesome plot I just devised. My book will be better for it in the end.