Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to Write Romance Novel and Not Lose Your Mind

A writer died, and due to a bureaucratic snafu in the hereafter...

..., she was to be allowed to choose her own fate: heaven or hell for all eternity. Being very shrewd for a dead person, she asked St. Peter for a tour of both.

The first stop was hell, where she saw rows and rows of writers sitting chained to desks, in a room as hot as a thousand suns. Fire licked the writers' fingers as they tried to work; demons whipped their backs with chains. Your typical hell scene.

"Wow, this is awful," said the writer., appalled "Let's see some heaven."

In a moment, they were whisked to heaven and the writer saw rows and rows of writers chained to desks, in a room as hot as a thousand suns. Fire licked the writers' fingers as they tried to work; demons whipped their backs with chains. It looked and smelled even worse than hell.

"What gives, Pete?" the writer asked. "This is worse than hell!"

"Yes," St. Peter replied, "but here your work gets published."

Writing is so difficult that I feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.
Jessamyn West

Writing is the flip side of sex – it's good only when it's over.
Hunter S. Thompson

A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it to be God.
Sidney Sheldon

I think I have mentioned my critique partner a time or two on this blog. When she critiques a manuscript, she makes what Jack the Ripper did to his victims look like a paper cut. I firmly believe Atilla the Hun learned everything he knows about decimating an army from my critique partner. And the thing that really ticks me off is – 99% of the time she is absolutely, positively RIGHT. Yeah, I hate her too.

I have, however, come up with a foolproof idea for my next manuscript. There is no way she can find anything wrong with this baby. I have got this one in the bag. And since we are all friends here I thought I’d share. This is a sure-fire method to thwart critics, contest judges and blood red pen wielding critique partners everywhere.

Rule # 1 – There can only be two characters in your book – a hero and a heroine. No friends, no family, no servants, no pets, not another character. Just TWO.

Rule# 2 – There is only one setting in the entire book and it only has one room. No corridors, parlors, bathrooms, and definitely no outdoors. ONE room. That’s it.

Rule#3 – Both of the characters are blind. They can’t see the room or each other so you won’t spend too little or too much time describing anything or anyone.

Rule#4 – Both of the characters have amnesia! No memory, no back story! See! This is really working!

I’ve done my part. How about the rest of you? What ironclad rules of romance novel writing have you been accused of breaking? What else can you suggest to streamline and facilitate the writing of what I am sure will be the romance novel with which not a single agent or editor can find fault? No faults, no rejections. Right? Bueller? Bueller?

REMEMBER : If it’s easy, you’re probably not doing it right !


Elisa Beatty said...

Hilarious, Louisa--and a great reminder that anything that's going to make a novel interesting puts us at risk for being criticized...so we just need to forget about criticism and write from the heart.

Aileen said...

Funny! I can't think of much to add. Must mean my novels are horrid!

Ella Quinn said...

That's so funny. But you always are. I'm adding no POVs so that one cannot be accused of headhopping.

You've had enough of a break, back to your desk and make sure your cain is tightly teathered the to computer.

Emily Greenwood said...

Love the rules! Especially the one about everyone being blind so no need for description, which so often as a reader I just skip unless it's really distinctive.

Lily George said...

Oh, how I love this post. Thank you for sharing, Louisa.

Lauren said...

LOL- I follow about half those rules and get hell from people for not describing, not giving some character info and never having them leave the room...What's up with that? hahah
Great post!

Suzanne Johnson said...

Oh, this is too funny, Louisa! I think I'm going to print it out and hang it next to my computer.

Carla Swafford said...

Ella, must be in omnipotent POV. That'll take care of the head-hopping and those who can't stand 1st person POV.

They need to be mute. That way they'll never have cross words with each other and no one will have to worry about dialogue.

Diana Layne said...

Love that John Sanford quote. what rules I break? Flashbacks. I am the queen of flashbacks. Not so much anymore, I'm pretty careful these days but I do love me a good flashback!

Lexi said...


Hero: “Who’s there?”

Heroine: “It is I . . . uh . . .Jane Doe.”

Hero: “Nice to meet you, Jane. I’m John. Where are we?”

Jane: “No clue. Alas, I am blind.”

John: “Me, too! What a small world.”

Jane: “Smaller than you think. Our world is this room. I have counted the steps. Eight steps wide and twelve long. No windows and the only door is locked from the outside.”

John: “I see. When do you think we can expect to be rescued?”

Jane. “Um, dunno. I’m an orphan . . . I think. The buggy accident that took my sight also claimed my memory.”

John: “I’ve got amnesia, too. Weird, isn’t it, how much we have in common?”

Jane: “Not really. The chick writing this story follows something called The Cornell Method. A minimalistic approach, I think.”

John: “Know something, Jane? I’m hungry.”

Jane: “Me, too.”

John: “Is there anything to eat in this place?”

Jane: “Nope. I think we’re supposed to live on love, or something.”

John: “Yeah, right. Tell me, Jane, are you familiar with the term “anthropophagy?”

Jane: “Never heard of it.”

John: “Come closer and I’ll explain . . .”

Chris Bailey said...

Louisa, this is so funny! Lexi did a wonderful job of starting the story under these rules. Unfortunately, I don't think you can escape criticism, no matter how strictly you abide by the limits.

Chris Bailey said...

Maybe another excellent rule would be to set your story in the distant future, so that no one can complain that you missed the nuances of a particular era.

Louisa Cornell said...


I think you have hit the nail on the head. Write from the heart and let the chips fall where they may.

Louisa Cornell said...

Aileen, I KNOW your novels aren't horrid. Like me, you've probably been fighting with these particular rules, but I'm sure you have figured out a way to go over, under and around them!

Louisa Cornell said...

Ella! Ah yes, the dreaded head hopping! We need to add that to our list of rules.

Slinking back to my desk and tethering my can to it as ordered! I knew you'd keep me on the straight and narrow!

Louisa Cornell said...

Emily! See I KNEW that rule would come in handy!

Gwynlyn said...

What a fun post, Louisa. As always, I enjoyed reading your take on things, but this one really got me laughing.

Unfortunately, depsite being a Virgo and, according to my astrological charts, a tight-a**ed perfectionist (moi?), I break rules. Often and with impunity, Can't help myself. Even we anal types have to rebel somewhere. *G*

Louisa Cornell said...

Hello Lily ! Thanks for stopping by. Everyone needs to check out Lily's debut from Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical - Captain of Her Heart ! Truly wonderful romance!

Louisa Cornell said...

I feel your pain, Lauren! We must be getting some of the same critics!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Suzanne! It really felt good to write it all down! Very cathartic.

Louisa Cornell said...

Great tip on POV, Carla! And yes, mute is even better. No pesky dialogue to deal with. Just lots of body language! :)

Louisa Cornell said...

Hey, Diana, I like a good flashback from time to time too! Unfortunately mine keep taking me back to the contest where I came in 11th out of 12 entries! OUCH!

Louisa Cornell said...

Great job, Lexi! LOL ! Jane is in for a big surprise, poor thing!

Louisa Cornell said...

Yes, Chris, I am afraid you are all too correct. Criticism comes with the territory. And yet we poor masochists continue!

And I LOVE the rule about setting the story in the future. Gets rid of all of that pesky research!

Louisa Cornell said...

Yay for Gwyn the Virgo Rebel! I am acquainted with a couple of Virgo writers and when they decide to break the rules they go all out! Then again they are some of the best writers I know and yes, my dear, that includes you. Thanks for stopping by!

Cari Hislop said...

Loved your post! Rules, pesky rules...there are endless well meaning rule-minding guardians (who each prescribe to their own vision of literature gleamed from various college classes) who think stories should come in set pre-determined formats. What really bugs me is this mass assumption by certain agents, editors and some writers that stories have always been written as they're being published by editors today. Basic plots are the same from age to age, but how we develop and tell a story shifts dramatically about every fifty years. I recently re-read Robinson Crusoe. There's no way in hell that book would get published today, yet it's churned out by numerous publishers (who don't have to pay the dead author) and it is read and enjoyed by subsequent generations. I enjoyed it even if it could have had two thirds of the book left out. Robinson Crusoe was a massive hit in the early 18th century. The story meanders like a happy drunk on his way to the donut shop, but that doesn't mean it's not a powerful story or unworthy of being in print. I take rules with a pinch of salt. Yes, there are good reasons why a lot of rules became rules, but many rules are only rules because we're taught that's the way it should be so we think that's the way it should be. I think if the story is allowed to be told as the characters want it to be told (authors opinions be damned - at least this is what my characters think of me and mine) then if the characters want to spend a whole book in one room...who are we to drag them out of it? It has been done. Sartre wrote a play called 'No Exit' with three characters in hell stuck in one small room. He never worried about it not getting published or read. I think the ultimate editor should be the characters. That no flash back rule...who made that up? Why can't characters remember the past? I wallow in daily flashbacks (perhaps I'm pathetic) but, I've never thrown a book because I've read a flash back. I've thrown books because the characters were made of cardboard...were really stupid...used dialogue that might have been randomly cut out of the newspaper and glued into place...but not for a flash back!
Louisa, write from the heart and you will write stories people will want to read. That's my rule! :)