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?