Well, I do have some big news this week. I finally heard back from a publisher about Nightshade (they said no), and then I sent The Shifting to another publisher that had also rejected Nightshade but wanted to see other stuff by me. Also, I got a job - I will be teaching kids how to write like college students. Yay!
This week I've kind of been on a romance/fairy tale high, so I thought I'd talk about writing good romance. I read a lot of YA, so most of my comments will be directed toward romance for teens. Some of my favorite writers for this are Alex Flinn (see her fairy tale adaptations) and Meg Cabot. Meg Cabot has kind of a formula, to the point where I can predict who the lead female is going to end up with: lead female has a crush on/is dating some popular guy, another guy enters the scene, hilarity/plot twists ensue, and the lead female learns that her crush is not right for her and this other guy is. While I don't much care for formulas (it leads to writers getting sloppy), it kind of works here. The books are different enough in the details it doesn't feel too familiar.
Then again, we're talking about romance here. There's only so many ways it can end, and no one really reads romance for the intellectual stimulation. Unless you're reading Jane Austen. Then you can wax eloquent about the satiric plots and characters. That doesn't mean that romance is a foolproof thing to write - it can be done really poorly.
First off, writing romance as a genre is an excellent opportunity to work on writing supporting characters. Many romances are comedies, which gives writers the chance to create fun, goofy secondary characters. If the romance is more serious, supporting characters can be deep, wise, nurturing, etc. I've noticed that badly written romances have lackluster supporting characters, but then, most bad writing does.
The hero and heroine should have characteristics that the reader understands are attractive. One complaint I've heard about the "Twilight" series is that it's hard to see what Edward sees in Bella. I'm not going to get into that, but I get the meaning. Love is often arbitrary, but it's easier for the reader to follow the story if he/she can put him/herself inside the narrative and relate to it.
Lastly, I caution about the excess of physical displays of affection in any form. Writing romance is about having the characters find true love, not true lust. And while love has its physical side (note I said excess above), too much takes away from the story. I start to wonder if there's anything deeper for the couple than hourly makeout sessions and if they really can make it after the excitement wears off. In my opinion, it's better to show the couple going through difficult things together, or talking, or fighting, or bantering. It's just more mature.
Romance is a tricky subject to write on because it's so subjective. It can be done a lot of different ways depending on the subject and the audience. But that doesn't mean it's okay to throw all the regular writing guidelines out the window.