Friday, March 22, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake !!



 
In my DDJ (Dreaded Day Job) I manage a bakery for the local Walmart. Which means outside of work hours I would rather shave my legs with Gauge 10 Sandpaper than bake, decorate or get anywhere near a cake. Just thinking about it makes my shoulders twitch as if a fire-breathing Bridezilla is behind me screaming “I wanted rose pink not pink rose!” Contemplate that particular conundrum atop a camouflage wedding cake. I’ll wait while you wash out your eyes on that one. 

 

As I do, however, love to eat cake (Many of you have seen me. Do I LOOK as if I don’t like to eat cake? I thought not!) it is indeed fortunate my Mom loves to bake cakes. From scratch. From old family recipes. And from the cake sections of her over 500 cookbooks. She collects them. Cookbooks, that is. Even without a cookbook you give this tiny little Native American woman some flour, eggs, butter, sugar and milk and the contents of her pantry and she can come up with a cake that has my nephew’s college roommates engaging in a gladiator tournament that would do Spartacus proud for the last piece.


 


Writing a romance novel is a lot like baking a cake. The basic ingredients are sort of the same – a hero, a heroine, some conflict, some sex, a setting, some secondary characters – mix the ingredients, pour into a pan, cook, put some finishing touches on it and VOILA!  a feast for the reader.  Or is it? Sometimes it’s just cake. And you really don’t want just cake. As a reader or a writer you want more.



In a recent online conversation several writers were discussing their favorite romance novel tropes – marriage of convenience, opposites attract, friends to lovers, secret admirer, etc. The consensus was with a limited number of romance tropes many of them have been completely and utterly overdone. And almost every romance novel can be reduced to one of these romance tropes – kind of like chocolate cake, vanilla cake, yellow cake …. Darn! Made myself hungry and break out in hives at the same time. 



With that being said, what makes a book a one-of-a-kind experience? What takes a basic romance trope – a story that has been told over and over again, sometimes for hundreds of years – and makes it the sort of thing a reader simply cannot put down until they have eaten the entire cake?  How does a writer create something the reader wants to try again and again in spite of the familiarity of those basic ingredients?   


22 comments:

Marie Higgins said...

Good topic! What makes a great romance... We all know that not everyone has the same opinion. What's great for one reader - another reader hates.

That being said, I'll tell you what I love, but that doesn't mean it's the answer to that mysterious question "what is the right recipe".

I love to read romances with humor. The plot itself doesn't matter as long as the author has written the characters well enough for me to fall in love with. To me, humor helps to connect me to the characters.

There also must be suspense. The story doesn't have to be a straight suspense, just as long as there is something going on in the story that makes me want to keep reading so I can discover what's really going on.

And...there must be a great, heart-felt romance!

Suzanne Johnson said...

For me, it's the nuance of the characters--occupation, physical flaws, psychological hangups, traits, quirks--and how all those characters interact within the trope. Or turn the trope on its ear and twist it, which is especially fun with paranormals.

Louisa Cornell said...

Two great ingredients, Marie! Humor and suspense! Those will definitely keep me reading. And the great thing about them is everyone's idea of humor and suspense is different - which means each writer will write it differently and each reader will get something different out of it!

Louisa Cornell said...

You definitely know how to turn a trope on its ear, Suzanne !! And all the little and big things that make a character who he or she is - those are definitely great ingredients!

Lexi said...

To me, what makes a great romance, whether it's historical, contemporary, suspense, or paranormal, is whether I can fall into THAT world, escaping my own. That's one of the reasons I love romance, the fantasy/escape factor. There should be some sizzle between the H&H, and I have GOT to like them, in order to be rooting for them to get together

Louisa Cornell said...

Creating a world the reader can fall into - definitely a major ingredient in the romances on my keeper shelf! You would know all about that, Lexi. The world of your Demon Hunters is so vivid and familiar - a place you want to step into and visit for a long time!

And I certainly have to find something in the romantic couple that makes me want them to end up together!

Tina B said...

I am not sure how all of you do it, but I love them! ;)
Wonderful post!
I love baking, but would most likely feel the same if I worked in a bakery. Friends are always telling me to start a bakery, however, I feel that I would no longer enjoy it if I was made to do it. :)

Aidee Ladnier said...

I totally agree with Marie, Suzanne and Lexi. The writing style, the characters, and the world building all help me get immersed in a story. I also like a good plot twist that takes me off guard. Since life is always surprising me, it makes me breathless when a story is able to throw something in I'm not expecting.

Louisa Cornell said...

And we LOVE readers! It is truly difficult to turn something you love into a job without eventually learning to hate it. It can be done, but the level of love of the activity has to be high.

Louisa Cornell said...

Aidee, you are so right! As much as we love the fantasy of romance novels we also want those quirks and shocks and surprises that make it all too real.

Christi Caldwell said...

I think about this all the time...how some of the same tropes are done over and over...and yet oddly, they still work. They still sell books...and they still keep readers coming back. I believe it boils down to the author's voice. I know publishers are often nervous about taking a 'risk' with any book that moves beyond these tropes, and personally love those publishers that do!
And by the way, thanks for all the cake reference! You made me hungry. : )

Louisa Cornell said...

An author's voice is a vital ingredient in the writing of a great romance novel. If I love a writer's voice I will read anything they write because I know even the simplest romance trope is going to be something special when written in their voice.

See! I told you! I made myself hungry too!

Jenna said...

I think what makes the overused tropes work so well is the infinite variety of plot twists, character traits, settings, and of course voice that recombine every time to keep us engaged. For me it's seeing how they get to that happy ending (cause I know there's gonna be one)that keeps me hooked. I'm big on plot, so keep me on the edge of my seat and I'll be your reader for life!

Great post topic, Louisa!

Louisa Cornell said...

Plot twists! Definitely a great ingredient for a keeper romance novel! And even knowing there will be a happily ever after - the journey is the thing. Make it intriguing and on the edge of your seat twisted and the reader will stick with you for book after book!

ellaquinnauthor said...

I agree with the plot twists, but it's also the writing. I've read books where the plot is wonderful, but the writing makes me want to put down the book. Tweeted.

Lily George said...

OK, I loved the picture of that cake. Please tell me that was a joke!

I think I am drawn to characters who are believable. For so many years, the romance novels I grew up with had handsome heroes and gorgeous leading ladies and the problmes they faced were so frothy--Oh, I have too much money. Oh, my boobs are too big. I prefer heroes and heroines who have real flaws and face serious issues and triumph anyway.

Lexi said...

Thanks for the props, Louisa. Great post, as usual!

Louisa Cornell said...

You are so right, Ella! A great plot is only great if it is in the hands of a great writer. Great writing is at the core of all keeper romance novels!

Thanks for the tweet!

Louisa Cornell said...

Nope! That cake was the real deal, my friend and it isn't even the ugliest camouflage wedding cake we've done!

Believable characters with real problems! Another great ingredient. Even if it is our fantasy we want enough reality and 'relateability' to keep us grounded in the story.

Louisa Cornell said...

Back at you, Lexi! You know I love your books!

Cari Hislop said...

Brilliant dialogue, flesh and blood characters and enough description to create the visual movie, but enough space for me to imagine my own version...that bakes my cake!

Sadly for my waistline I love almost all kinds of cake (even ugly cake). Those people who can eat one piece of cake and not even contemplate eating three more pieces...who are they? Aliens!

There's nothing like discovering one's personal equivalent of literary-cake! Finding an author who offers up delicious stories is even better than cake (or almost).

Louisa Cornell said...

Oh, Cari, I LOVE your recipe for a great romance novel! Perfect!

And you are so right, finding an author who serves it up just that way you like it is like finding that perfect bakery that never disappoints!

And anyone who can stop at just one piece of a great cake just isn't trying hard enough! :)