Get The Romance Writer's Handbook -
Why is a
Romance a Romance?
glance, this sounds like one of those questions that
rates a "Well, duh!" for an answer.
Think about it, though. Is your book a romance simply
because it's the story of two people who are in love? I
Love Lucy was a sitcom, not a book, but, basically,
the storyline was about two people in love... but it
wasn't a romance. Ally McBeal is a sitcom, too.
Ally's not married to the man she wishes she'd married.
She dances with a, uh, a life-SIZEd, inflatable doll. She
sleeps with that doll, too... and maybe we should just
leave it at that. Still, at heart, Ally McBeal is a
romance. More specifically, Ally is a heroine in search
of a romance.
Are you with me, or am I out on a limb here?
What does the word romance mean? If you're looking for a dictionary
definition, the word is simply a synonym for a narrative,
story, or saga. Dip back into history and you'll find
that romance as a specific type of literature dates to
the fifth century and referred to legendary tales, to
stories of the supernatural and to stories of love.
By the middle ages, romances were most often tales of
courtly love, chivalry, and knighthood. They were
exciting stories of knights embarked on dangerous quests,
and of knights caught in conflicts between love and duty.
In other words, a romance was a story about larger than
life characters in larger than life situations. Many were
tales of brave heroes beset with great problems which
they had to overcome in order to rescue fair maidens from
The best novels in our genre are still about knights and
dragons and maidens in need of rescue, even if today's
maidens live in apartments instead of castles and have
nine-to-five jobs. Our heroines are not usually maidens,
either. We write about women of the millennium. They're
single, divorced, widowed and married. They're moms,
teachers, waitresses, doctors and lawyers. They're as
different from each other as real women are. Each heroine
also has some difficulty to overcome. It might be a
straightforward, internal problem, like putting an end to
her loneliness. It might be external and complicated,
such as escaping a killer. Whoever the heroine, whatever
her problem, our heroines all share one desire. Each is
longing for a guy with a warm heart, a great smile and
sexy good looks to turn her everyday life into the stuff
of romantic fiction, even if she doesn't realize it when
her story begins.
Our job, as writers, is to take the Everywoman we create
and give her a man who is not Everyman. What we
give her, when you come down to it, is a knight.
He doesn't wear armor. He doesn't ride a horse. He
doesn't carry a lance. But he's a knight just the same,
seeking out the dragon that's been terrorizing the
heroine, confronting it and slaying it and, in the
process, laying claim to the heroine's heart. He's as
brave and fearless as any knight of the middle ages,
whether he rides the range, races cars, or manages
corporations. And our heroine knows it. She's no delicate
princess; she'd never be content to sit placidly within
the walls of a castle and wait for her man to return to
her, but she recognizes a hero, and a good deed, when she
How we create this fictional hero varies from one writer
to another. Some of us write home-grown heroes. The boy
next door, who the heroine never really noticed until the
day she realized he wasn't a gangly fifteen year old
anymore but a handsome, responsible man. Others of us
love to write the bad boy, untamable until he meets the
right woman. Some of us prefer to create a hero who's
definitely larger than life, a fantasy male powerful
enough to dominate his world but completely vulnerable to
the woman with whom he falls in love. That last man is my
preference as a writer but my special take is that he's
self-made and very often, life hasn't been kind to him.
One of these men is the guy Ally is searching for. A
knight, who'll rescue her from the mundane world she
lives in, who'll make her feel safe and loved within his
arms. He's the same man our readers are searching for,
too. Think about that, when you sketch out the hero for
your book. Take a moment and consider what would happen
if he were suddenly whisked back in time and found
himself a knight in the middle ages.
Can you imagine him riding off on the back of his charger
to do battle on behalf of his lady? If you can, you're
definitely on the right track.
© 1999-2007 Sandra Marton. All rights reserved.
Sandra Marton is a
best-selling author for Harlequin Presents, with more
than 46 books to her credit. Her books are published in
20 languages in more than 100 countries around the world.
Sandra has been a Romance Writers of America RITA
finalist in Short Contemporary Fiction and in Romantic
Suspense, and she's won the Holt Medallion in Single
Title. Two of her books have been honored with Romantic
Times Readers' Choice Awards for Best Harlequin Presents.
Be sure and visit Sandra on the internet at www.sandramarton.com.