Her Ample Bosom Heaved as he Mounted her in the Woodshed

22 Nov

Doreen looks nothing like this.

I know you secretly want to write romance novels, and that’s OK.

To help, I’m going to interview my successful romance novelist alter ego, Doreen DeLuve. She’s had several blockbuster smash hits that have knocked important people off some lists somewhere (the exact details are hazy as she usually ignores me when I ask for important details; most of the time she’s looking at hot men or watching Casablanca or some rot like that).

Anyway, the most important point is that she’s here and she’s found time to talk to us. I’ve put together a list of questions that would-be romance novelists like to ask (I would have no idea about this as I’ve never been interested in this type of thing, but whatever).

Me: I don’t want this to be a long, waffling diatribe, so I need you to be concise. What are the most important elements of a good romance novel?

Doreen: (looks vaguely offended) It’s quite simple. A focus on two strong, three-dimensional characters who come together despite internal and external conflict. Engaging, moving dialogue, minimal but helpful secondary characters, a good understand of your readers, and innovation rather than regurgitation. It’s a popular genre, so you need to keep things fresh while still living up to the standards of the canon.

Me: (snigger) yes, the esteemed bodice ripping canon. OK, tell me more about characterization. Let’s start with the female protagonist. Where do I start?

Doreen: With a name. It has to be a name your readers identify with. Something generic with a hint of mystery. Nothing that rhymes with encephalitis or Pol Pot. But you started with the wrong question. Your first question should always be “who are my readers?”

Me: fine. Great. OK, well I think that my readers are probably like you. Middle-aged, lonely people who need to be transported to a warm, mushy, lubricated place to enjoy a sense of intimacy that their lonely lives are missing. Maybe they don’t steal Lladro figurines from department stores or pick their noses like you do, but I think they are like you in every other sense.

Doreen: Yeah well you’re wrong. Romance readers are more likely to be married than the rest of us! The average reader’s age is 44, which I wouldn’t call middle aged. About 70% of them are loyal to specific authors, and 50% are open to trying new subgenres. Readers come from a variety of backgrounds, but the genre itself tends to follow traditional gender roles, although heroines show strength within that.

Me: you mean like the brave women who stand up to the Taliban?

Doreen: No. I mean they overcome obstacles and live through trials and tribulations that make them admirable.

Me: What about the dude? Fabio minus the broken nose?

Doreen: they don’t have to be quite so over the top, although I do like a man in a silk peasant shirt. He must be strong, often her opposite in character and looks, always a figure of strength, sometimes mysterious and sometimes reassuringly familiar. He courts her, protects her, but ultimately seduces her. Women writers can find it tough to create three dimensional male characters beyond a smoldering or rugged exterior. I’ve learned over the years that there are ways to overcome this. Before sitting down to write, observing male speech patterns and body language is essential (I’m happy to look at men a lot to do this), and thinking about how men differ from women. Often men speak in slightly more monotone language, for example. He needs to have believable habits and sensibilities. Much of the appeal for the reader is to be up close and personal to sex on a stick, but he better be more than just a pretty face. No one likes a cardboard person or a shallow man whore.

Me: I don’t mind them. So tell me about the conflict. I’m guessing we’re not talking about anything involving the United Nations.

Doreen: Only the United Nations of love. Romance novels can of course be intercultural, but that shouldn’t be a subplot that overshadows the love story. When I say conflict, I’m talking about two types. Internal and external. Internal conflict is caused by opposing forces, values, goals, etc within the character’s personality. It can also be an emotional situation in a relationship, such as unexpected pregnancy or prior engagement to a man other than the male hero. This is the most interesting type of conflict to the reader and pushes the plot forward. External conflict only exists within the novel to support the development and portrayal of the internal conflict. Arguments, logistical complications, etc.

Me: So it’s a lot like the internal conflict I have about having an alter ego that writes romance novels. I see. Tell me about the importance of dialogue.

Doreen: Romance readers expect to be entertained, and don’t want pages of description scene-setting, intrusive narrator-led characterization and dull details with no action. They want to be a fly on the wall of the characters’ interactions. Good dialogue brings your characters to life and gives them energy and dimension. Bad dialogue sinks your writing.

Me: OK. And the secondary characters?

Doreen: Use them with a lot of caution. They are there to support plot development, but no one needs a side story on the heroine’s mother’s hernia. Take your readers to the intimacy of a relationship, not a community.

Me: How much do these authors make? Do they have butlers and unicorns?

Doreen: Only in their manuscripts, unless they’re very successful. A contract for a new novel can be worth anywhere from $3000 to several million, and an average writer writes one and a half novels per year. Then there’s royalties. It really depends. There isn’t really a typical romance writer; they come from many different backgrounds. Most write just for the romance genre.

Me: Fascinating. How do I start writing a romance novel?

Doreen: There are many courses and countless resources online. As someone who writes a blog herself, you shouldn’t need to be told that. You can take a UK-based course or an American one, I think. Getting feedback is essential, so look for local writing workshops and support groups online or locally that give you honest feedback. You’ll probably need a lot of it. Companies such as Mills and Boon and Harlequin accept new manuscripts pretty much all the time. There are plenty of support groups too I think.

Me: Do romance novels rot your brain and reduce you to a sexually and emotionally illiterate hobbit lady?

Doreen: Maybe, but I think real relationships can do that too. You unnerve me a lot with your weirdness.

Me: Yeah, pot calling the kettle black. Well thank you for taking the time to speak to us. You should go now as I’m the only one who can see you and people are wondering why I’m talking to myself.

Doreen: OK, bye.

Me: bye.

Doreen DeLuve is currently working on her next novel, “The Cowboy and the Gentleman,” which will be out in the new year. She is most well known for her bestseller, “Pearls and Mocha,” a gripping and sensual tale of a lady blogger and a rugged, chiseled Latin demigod.


3 Responses to “Her Ample Bosom Heaved as he Mounted her in the Woodshed”


  1. I Don’t Need a Business Plan because I’m Better than Everyone Else « Literati Writing - November 24, 2011

    […] I know that you think you don’t need a business plan, just like I knew you really wanted to write romance novels (that is, before you met Doreen). […]

  2. Heaving Bosoms and Whatnot: Critical Update « Literati Writing - November 27, 2011

    […] my thrilling discussion with Doreen last week, I stumbled across an article on Internet fiction  that left me absolutely stunned. […]

  3. I Had to kill Doreen. « Literati Writing - December 5, 2011

    […] killed Doreen when I understood that it’s not adopting a genre whose characteristics are dictated by a […]

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