Some fun things my lunch table said they like about romance novels


I spent today at a NJ RWA panel where I, and four other industry folks, talked about the most common mistakes writers make in queries, synopses, manuscripts, pitches and publicity. It was a fun discussion, made so by the insightful questions from the audience and the good humor of my fellow panelists.

But one of my favorite parts of the day was actually off the panel, at lunch.

When I looked forlornly around the dining room, a group of funny, smart, book-loving ladies were kind enough to invite me to pull up a chair and sit with them. I’m so glad they did.

After the obligatory grammar and punctuation jokes–this was a writers meeting after all!–we got down to the nitty gritty of book discussion. I added five books to my Goodreads TBR from that conversation alone!

There were a few things we all loved, things I don’t always hear discussed when folks talk about what should be in a romance novel. So I thought I would share.

1. Complex characters. It’s a romance, so the journey together is guaranteed, but the hero and heroine also need to each have an individual journey over the course of the story. (Loretta Chase came highly recommended as someone who could do this well. Can’t believe I haven’t read her yet!)

2. High stakes. Which means, there’s something more to the story than just “will she get her soul mate or won’t she.” High stakes come pretty naturally to romantic suspense. The stakes can’t get higher than life or death. But for contemporary romance, high stakes are harder to pull off.

This seems to be where classic “hooks” come in: secret babies, secret pregnancies, marriages of convenience, forced proximity, enemies attract. The hook adds high stakes that impact the romantic plot. But adding the hook can escalate the problem. How do you pull it off without writing something that seems too similar to books that have come before?

3. Surprises. I’ve mentioned this in a couple of interviews recently, but this time I wasn’t even the one to bring it up! Someone else said it and when she did, we all agreed we’d been reading romance so long it was hard to surprise us. But when an author can make magic happen…amazing.

4. The romance as a journey of trust. Anne Walradt put it best when she recounted the premise of one of her favorite Suzanne Brockmann books, Harvard’s Education. The hero begins the story trying to protect the heroine and keep her out of combat, even though he can’t complete his mission without her skills. By the end, when they are escaping together, he turns to her and says, “Drive or shoot?”

It’s the ultimate development for an alpha hero, moving from overlord protector to comrade in arms. Really, that line gets to the heart of the matter even better than “I love you.”


17 Responses to “Some fun things my lunch table said they like about romance novels”

  1. 1 Sir John April 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    Stacy, you have provided some fantastic guidelines and insights, as usual.

    I had the chance to talk to Brenda Jackson two days ago when she visited Tampa. She thinks very highly of you and loves the way you edit her work. But, I’m hearing this from every writer I know that you edit. Very impressive.


  2. 4 Wynter Daniels April 16, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    These are all things I love as a romance reader and strive to create as a writer. I find surprises the most challenging to infuse into my stories.

    • 5 Stacy Boyd April 17, 2011 at 7:36 am


      You are not the only one who finds surprises challenging! As editors, sometimes even just defining a surprise can be difficult. It’s almost easier to say, “I’ll know it when I see it,” which is not helpful to writers at all!

  3. 6 Sarah M. Anderson April 17, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    I think that some of these things come with experience, because I know I thought I had ‘high stakes’ in my first (sad, little) book, and looking back at it now . . . well, we won’t go into that. That’s the difference between being in your character’s heads, and being your characters. If you are your characters, you want to protect them (yourself) and avoid the worst-case scenario. But if you’re the author, you want to push for that litmus test. Thanks for the crash course/reminder!

    • 7 Stacy Boyd April 17, 2011 at 8:39 pm


      Yes! It definitely comes with experience. One writer yesterday said that Tessa Dare could do in 6 pages what it took her 30 pages to do. She said Tessa replied that it took her 20 or so edits to get there.

      Good point about wanting to protect your characters vs. putting them through the wringer. The wringer definitely makes the better story.

  4. 8 Wendy La Capra April 18, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Sounds like a wonderful lunch.

    You are going to love Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels! Talk about mid-story surprises…

    • 9 Stacy Boyd April 20, 2011 at 8:46 am

      Oh, man. You just added to the Lord of Scoundrels love! I really, really want to pick up that book right now. But, I will try to be disciplined and do my work first. 🙂

  5. 10 Kiersten April 19, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    @Wendy – that was EXACTLY the title we told her to start with!

    Stacy –
    We had such a good time chatting and laughing with you at that lunch. You also gave us some great titles to glom onto and, most importantly, excellent guidance and suggestions of how best to improve our writing and avoid those common mistakes writers make. Thank you for a fantastic day!

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I work as an editor at Harlequin, but the posts on this site are all mine and don’t represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.
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