We have a confession to make—we’re hopeless romantics, and we watch the Bachelor and Bachelorette every season. Hey, what else would you expect from high school sweethearts who’ve lasted as long as we have? Catherine gets a Valentine gift every year. Donald always gets a card. (He doesn’t like chocolate or flowers.) Sometimes, Catherine even gets serenaded in restaurants on Valentine’s Day. Wanting others to experience this great thing called true love is one of the reasons we’re hooked on love, and the show. This season we’re rooting for Iowa farm-boy bachelor Chris Soules. And we missed this Monday’s show, so we don’t know who he kicked off. Wahhh!
Sure, we know the show is set up to create drama, drama, and more drama. That’s evident from the commercial clips. The last show we saw ended in one of the bachelorettes having a panic attack on the hallway floor, and no rose ceremony. We were bummed. They purposely disguise who’s left on upcoming shows so we’ll tune in to find out. And, we do. Because we’re hooked.
Controversy, drama, and shock value are key to this reality show. So much so that we often have trouble believing that the controversial characters don’t go out the door the first time they screw up. This season Chris kept the falling-down-drunk bachelorette for several weeks as well as another girl who was a bit on the spooky-got-a-screw-loose-lala train. He knew they were strange, yet he kept giving them another chance. He even let the drunk come back one evening when she showed up unexpectedly for the cocktail party. Talk about conflict. You could see the blazing arrows shooting from the eyes of the rest of the girls. Bad choice on Chris’s part, and the party crasher was sent home before the evening was over.
Lest you wonder where this is going, we’d like to draw an analogy to The Bachelor/Bachelorette shows and romance novels. Because even though most of the contestants don’t end up married or even dating, there are some real parallels between the two forms of entertainment. By the way, we’re convinced they don’t marry because they usually don’t pick the girl, or guy, we’re rooting for.
So, here’s why we think the Bachelor/Bachelorette reality shows can be a model for romance novels.
- The romance is off the scale in the Bachelor/Bachelorette show. After all, who dates 25 people at the same time? Our romances, even if they are one-on-one, need to start with heart-pounding beginnings. Readers want romance outside the norm of their everyday lives. They also want enough reality that they could see themselves finding love.
- The conflict is off the scale. With 25 women competing for one man, you can bet it’s tense. Your book needs conflict, conflict, and more conflict. Throw the characters, and their love lives, under the bus every chance you get. The eternal struggle between man and woman needs to be a part of your story. If your characters get together too easily, get along so well they just know they’re meant for one another, or the relationship feels as comfortable as a pair of old shoes, then you are missing the mark. It’s rare that a bachelor or bachelorette keeps someone with whom they just feel comfortable. Even though contestants say they want someone who can be a friend first and lover second—which is what we feel relationships should be built on—they appear to yearn for the bad boys or bad girls, even when they’ve been warned. It’s why Chris kept falling-down-drunk girl and wacko-girl. He felt or saw something in them that made him want to know them better. Your characters must yearn for the character who isn’t good for them. They must need to want to be together as much as they know they should be apart.
- Readers, and viewers, love those exotic settings. This doesn’t mean every book you write has to be set in Timbuktu or Fiji, or Europe. It does mean that even in the most ordinary of settings you must give the readers something different to spark their interests.
- The characters in our books, and in the show, experience a wide range of emotions. The women who get kicked off the show cry. They’re terrified when they have to bungy jump or do something outside their comfort zones. The women who stay cry because things aren’t going their way. They rejoice when Chris pays attention to them. They get mad at the other contestants. They form friendships and alliances, make enemies, and scheme. If your characters’ emotions are static, you’re missing the mark. Sure, they might not bawl like babies, but they must experience emotion on a bigger than normal scale.
- Your readers, and the viewers of the show, are also on emotional rollercoasters. Whenever a contestant makes a bad choice, we groan—out loud. When a girl cries because one of the men has broken her heart we break out the tissues. When the bachelor or bachelorette keeps the ones we like, we celebrate. Because we know how important true love is, we empathize with them. When your readers come alongside your characters to experience love, they need to feel the characters’ emotions. Make them break out the tissues and exhale “Aaahhhh” when the book ends. Or, if it’s a series, make them say “Aaahh,” and then give them a heart-stopping teaser to propel them into the next book.
- Last, but not least, your heroine and hero should make lifetime commitments, or the book should end with the promise of that happening, which is what makes a great ending to the show. Even if the show’s star picks the one we don’t want, but they look happy and that proposal is heartfelt, Catherine breaks out the tissues in empathic happiness for them. If your books aren’t ending with a HEA promise, then you’re not writing classic romance. Your ending needs to be stronger than most of the After the Rose Ceremony shows we’ve seen. The engagement ring needs to be front and center. The couple needs to be smiling and happy. The date needs to be set and the producers need to promise to foot the wedding bill and invite all the viewers. Make your reader believe your couple is in forever love.
Romance books are about happily ever after. The premise of the Bachelor/Bachelorette is built on HEA. The stars of the reality show keep saying “My spouse is in this room.” “I want to find a wife.” I want to find my forever partner.” The promise of HEA is why we keep watching the Bachelor/Bachelorette and why we write romance.
Your reader knows there’s a HEA waiting at the end of the book, but they want a thrilling ride to the end as much as we want to see those crazy women fighting for Chris. We’ll keep rooting for Chris’s and every other bachelor/bachelorette stars’ HEA. Because, as we said before, we are hopeless romantics … and we know the Happily Ever After ending is possible.
Do you watch the Bachelor? Who are you rooting for this season?