Long before I started writing romance, I was (and still am) an avid romance reader. I’d like to share some of my favorite elements from romance novels and the reasons why I think they work so well.
To me, a good romance is defined equally by the bleak moment and the happily-ever-after. Those are the two moments that give romance its emotional and narrative satisfaction. My absolute favorite type of bleak moment is when one main character believes their love interest has died (but they haven’t! I’m not a complete monster).
There are certain story moments that stick with us from childhood and young adulthood. These moments imprint themselves on our memories. The one that is branded in mine is from a Saturday morning cartoon. Sadly, I can’t remember which one, but that doesn’t lessen its impact.
What I do remember is that one of the guys from the hero group had been flirting mutually with the heroine character. I remember shipping the two of them with all of my little elementary school heart. Every scene where their hands touched, or they held each other a moment or two longer than necessary while staring into each other’s eyes… it was all magic for me. Then came the episode I’d been waiting for, when they finally admitted how they felt about each other and had a date.
It was a lovely date, a picnic in a meadow. Except just as they were about to kiss, the heroine was bitten (or stung?) and had to be rushed to the hospital. Young me ate up the drama, loving how he stayed by her side and held her hand. I was utterly confident that they would find a cure and save her.
Except they didn’t. I can still remember every frame as the hospital machinery slowly came to a stop, indicating she’d died. I was in shock. This was not how cartoons worked! Heroes never died, no matter how dire the situation might seem.
For the next scene, the hero calmly walked away from her deathbed, completely ignoring his friends as they tried to comfort him. He walked out of the hospital, out into the pouring rain. He looked up at the sky, and fell to his knees, sobbing and screaming his pain. A pain that echoed in my heart because I wanted the two of them to be happy together. It was devastating.
But then, in the next episode, we discovered that she hadn’t died at all! It had all been a trick by the villains to kidnap her and harness her supernatural powers for themselves. The hero launched a daring rescue, fueled by his anger and grief. He was unstoppable, willing to risk anything to bring her back. In the end, he did. He rescued her and there was a thrilling kiss.
As you can tell, I’ve thought a lot about this cartoon over the years. As a kid, it seemed perfect. It had thrills, drama, and romance. As both a reader and an author, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to recreate that potent combination of expectation, reversal, and satisfaction.
The reason why believing the loved one is dead works so well is that it brings everything down to the simplest level. All of the complications and assumptions that got in the way of admitting how people feel or their willingness to be vulnerable are suddenly revealed to be flimsy excuses. Because learning that there will be no more chances, that the person they love is gone forever, is the most horrible feeling in the world. It brings everything into perspective.
But at the same time, because the story is a romance, I have the reassurance that the loss will not be permanent. No matter how impossible it may seem, the characters will have another opportunity to get their relationship right. Thus, I can dive into the depths of despair in perfect confidence because I know the author will carry me out of it.
That’s a special kind of trust and one which is absolutely sacred between romance authors and their audience. The reader needs to trust us, to trust that we will deliver a happily ever after, no matter what. There’s nowhere else in life or fiction which has that promise, which is why I remain a happy resident of Romancelandia.
I write paranormal romance full of suspense, action, and adventure. My first book with Soul Mate is Deadly Potential (Federal agent Ben will do anything to protect songwriter Katie from a supernatural stalker who can hide in plain sight), available on Kindle Unlimited. Or there’s my original series about a secret society of superheroes living among us. Begin with Revelations for FREE!
Or check out my previous SMP Favorite Things blogpost on bodyguard-romance.