Romance novels follow a distinct formula and to love romantic fiction is to love that staid formula. And of course many, many women do love a good romance and totally embrace the formulaic pattern of romance novels. So what makes one of those stories unique, startling, heart-rending, and special?
Maybe the setting/location contribute to that rare experience or perhaps the occupations of the protagonists, but really most would agree that thing that sets one story apart from another and makes it terrific is the characterization of the hero and heroine. If they don't grab you in a good way, chances are the book is just another boy-meets-girl, they experience hot sparks, they miscommunicate and trouble goes crazy on them until finally they straighten out their circumstances and tumble into each other's arms. You know the drill.
So. The challenge it seems for all of us who dabble in the romance genre - or write love stories as I prefer to call mine - is to create characters that draw the reader into his and her world. Okay, okay, most people would agree that characters must be effective, dynamic, or curious enough to present that unusual sensation readers experience when they absolutely love a character or characters in a story. The Lord knows how many characters I've almost hated through my years of reading. Some of them I just wanted to put out of their misery or slap them up-side the head or across the face. Seriously. And maybe even worse: they bored me with their attitudes, behaviors, rigidity, blandness. Something has to set them apart to make a romance meaningful.
And along with effective characters, the trauma, chaos, trouble - whatever ushers in the difficulties - all those things must seem somewhat reasonable because if they're trite and petty, silly and pouty, I'm so not there for them. Shallow characters and self-induced distress make for really poor reading.
Let's not forget the strength of realistic dialogue that snaps, crackles, and pops with whatever's needed between two people who are attracted to each other. There's no substitute for real potent dialogue. It often fills out the characters and cements them, secures them in an unforgettable entanglement that sparks when they talk to each other. Never underestimate the power of dialogue.
Within that restrictive formula we writers know there is "nothing new under the sun" (Solomon) so we're forced to the ends of our creativity to give readers the heroes/heroines to make them think they're almost real. Not an easy challenge.
Father, help us all to write the best characters we can. Inspire us, Lord. Light us up! Help us to honor you with our writing. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.