Where is the Romance?

When I talk with authors about their stories, sometimes they’ll say. “Yes, there’s romance. But it doesn’t happen until chapter five.”

That’s when I look at the story and try to give advice on how they can change that.

Granted, not every novel is a genre romance, nor should it be. And introducing the love element earlier shouldn’t turn the story into a genre romance. A more likely scenario? The change will make the story more textured and marketable.

Some novels don’t have or need a romantic element at all. One such plot is the Nancy Drew novel. Remember poor Ned? He was the hapless “boyfriend” who appeared in some of those novels. To my mind, as a boyfriend, Ned was a Great Big Why Bother.

But back to the present. If you choose to include a romantic element, I believe it needs to be in the forefront so the reader knows it’s part of the story. Why introduce a romantic element in chapter five or later? What does it accomplish? Usually nothing. By the time we get to chapter five, a romance doesn’t have enough time to impact the storyline for better or for worse, because it hasn’t had –and won’t have – time to develop into a proper romance. Furthermore, readers seeking a romantic element will want to read about that quite soon, while those who don’t won’t care about seeing it develop late in the story.

So start your romance early!

Your turn:

Does your novel suffer from a late-blooming romance? How will you fix this?

Do you disagree? Can you think of a successful novel with a late-blooming romance?

17 Responses to Where is the Romance?

  1. Avatar
    Diana Harkness October 22, 2015 at 5:43 am #

    I just finished reading Hereward, the Last of the English. Great historical fiction. Yes, there was romance, but Herward’s romance was introduced later in the novel. Hereward was the primary story and his marriage did not come until after he had demonstrated his prowess and hiscourtliness. He and was resident in France when he met the love of his life. Even if Hereward had not waited, the romance could not have happened earlier because the they met only after he had lived in France for some time. When they did meet, Torfrida set out to win him, but they had to wait until his return to France to be married. In fact, the novel WAS more textured for the inclusion of Hereward’s wife Torfrida, a strong and passionate woman married to a strong and passionate man. And when it comes right down to it, I suppose it all depends on how you define “romance.”

  2. Avatar
    Carol Ashby October 22, 2015 at 8:15 am #

    Some of Francine Rivers’s novels leap to mind. Her Mark of the Lion series (Book 1 A Voice in the Wind) and Redeeming Love don’t introduce one of the romantic leads until many pages in. In Tracy Higley’s Palace of Darkness, set in Petra, the reader meets both romantic leads early but they don’t meet each other until well into the novel. In The Queen’s Handmaid, you are many chapters into the novel before you even meet the male lead. (If you haven’t read any of Higley’s novels, I heartily recommend them for rich characters, exciting plot developments, and satisfying love stories.)

    But maybe those are true love stories and not merely romances. Romance novels seem to be defined in very formulaic ways. Can love stories based on characters who experience life events independent of the romance be classified as romances in the publishing world?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 22, 2015 at 8:24 am #

      Carol, no, a genre romance novel is all about the romance! 🙂

      • Avatar
        Teresa Pesce October 22, 2015 at 9:03 am #

        I think all of us are either captivated by a book or not within the first few pages, so you’re saying the genre of the book should be established in the very beginning even if certain events don’t happen right away. For instance: “I couldn’t tell if the bad guy was trying to impugn my legal birth or confess to the crime, but then it’s hard to talk with a gun barrel in your mouth.” You’d know you were beginning a cop novel. Is that what you mean?

        • Avatar
          Tamela Hancock Murray October 22, 2015 at 9:12 am #

          Teresa, that’s a great question, and I agree with your assessment that we fall in love with a book early on.

          What I’m saying is that a reader looking specifically for a particular kind of book will want the book in question to follow the rules of the genre. For example, a romance reader will not want the book to end with the hero’s death and the heroine to be left alone, grieving. However, in another type of book, this could be an appropriate ending.

          If a writer wishes to target the genre market, whether it be romance, fantasy, or another genre, the writer needs to know the rules of the chosen genre. If the writer is not targeting a specific genre market, then the story doesn’t need to follow genre rules.

          Hope this helps. 🙂

          • Avatar
            J October 24, 2015 at 2:51 am #

            What about The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks the hero is killed?

            • Avatar
              Tamela Hancock Murray October 26, 2015 at 7:59 am #

              J, people trot out Nicholas Sparks all the time as an author of romantic stories, but again, he is not an author of genre romance. 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Carol October 22, 2015 at 9:52 am #

    Tamela, is historical a general category and not a genre by definition?
    Is there a good summary of the romance genre “rules” somewhere?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 22, 2015 at 11:01 am #

      Carol, I’m not sure there’s a summary, but I suggest reading genre romance books to get a feel for what they are like. I’d call historical a category rather than a genre.

      • Avatar
        Carol October 22, 2015 at 7:06 pm #

        I have much more in my plots than the romance, and love of God is as important as love for each other. I guess I write love stories instead of romances.

        • Avatar
          Tamela Hancock Murray October 23, 2015 at 1:55 pm #

          I’d still recommend reading many books in the genre before deciding. 🙂

  4. Avatar
    Sara Baysinger October 24, 2015 at 5:25 am #

    What if the character she falls in love with doesn’t make an appearance until chapter 5? Is it okay for her to have romance with another man at the beginning, even if he’s not going to be the main hero?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 26, 2015 at 7:57 am #

      Sara, in a story not categorized as genre romance, yes. In a genre romance, no. But as a reader? I’d be challenged to wonder how any author would develop the romance with great success that late in the book. Then again, the book may be quite long. 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Carol Ashby October 26, 2015 at 9:52 pm #

    Tamela,
    If a historical romance has critical subplots running parallel to the romance but independent of it so the romance is not always front and center and/or if one of the romantic leads doesn’t actually meet the other until several chapters into the novel, should that be classified as a historical rather than a historical romance, even when it is a love story? What if the two romantic leads are doing things that will lead to their first encounter but the reader is watching them separately (doing exciting things with plenty of hook, of course) for about 10% of the novel before they meet?
    Thanks for helping the confused among us understand the characteristics that make a novel into a genre romance.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray October 27, 2015 at 9:08 am #

      Carol, a genre romance always has the romance front and center. What you describe is historical. Again, read genre romance to understand the difference. This is fun, and will eliminate confusion! 🙂

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby October 28, 2015 at 11:00 am #

        Tamela, thanks again! I’m pretty sure I’m writing historical romantic suspense/thrillers. Maybe…

  6. Avatar
    Natalie Monk October 27, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    Hi, Tamela!

    I love this post, since as a die-hard romantic I love to see the hero and heroine interaction take center stage. I’ll keep this in mind the next time I begin reading or writing a story.

    As for Ned Nickerson, I was always disappointed we didn’t see more of him in each book, not to mention more emotional depth between him and Nancy. 🙂

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