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How to Write Romance Novels
Women like you have two dreams in this world. The first is a pair of ferocious boots that say “Sarah Michelle Gellar speaking crossly to a Sudanese rebel.” The second is a successful, secret career as a romance novelist. That first dream of yours kind of creeps me out, but the second one is something I can help with. It turns out that writing romance novels is very, very easy as long as you follow the rules. In my role as friend to women, I’m going to tell you about those rules, and illustrate how I followed those rules with actual, incredible prose.
To start, you need to introduce your heroine. She needs to be relatable, so don’t give her too many qualities.
Jassity Baggley had yearned to be invited to a dirigible party since she was a little girl. Her friends were all still into yacht parties, but they were assholes. Jassity knew that dirigibles cost more to purchase and maintain. So yes, she was impressed. If she thought she was done being impressed, she was in for a shock. But she didn’t think that, and so wasn’t shocked at all when industrial titan Jonathan Slate came out to greet everyone. He was very impressive.
OK, that’s out of the way and you can get to the real point of interest: the heroine’s love object. He needs to seem cool but not intimidating, familiar but not clichéd. Unlike the heroine, he should have a LOT of qualities. One quality he should have is a name that begins with a really hard consonant (like Cramleigh) or a ‘J.’ Acoustic research has shown that these sounds reverberate in a woman’s hollow places, producing a pleasant, boomy sensation. Kind of like she has a baby yodeling inside of her.
Let’s see how I accomplish all that.
Jonathan Slate was the paid-in-full dirigible’s owner. He was tall and unconventional, with hair that hung from his body like curls of licorice that had been wiped with expensive olive oil. He seemed smarter and wilier and more willful and just plain sexier than anyone who stood near him. He was a real Penn Jillette type, just the way women like. [Author’s note: note the ‘J’ in Jillette!]
He was talking to the Dalai Lama, who was eating shrimp cocktail by the handful. “What a shrimp pig,” Jassity Baggley thought. She wasn’t surprised when Jonathan Slate left the tiny saffron man to come to talk to her.
He said, “Hello.”
His breath smelled like fine boulders from Europe. She remembered something she had read in a newsletter they send to rich people. “You brush your teeth with San Pellegrino.”
“Yes. It was a little present I gave myself when I graduated from being a millionaire to being a billionaire. You know, it’s funny. When I think about the actual money I handled when I was but a mere millionaire, it feels… I don’t know… soiled somehow, like… “
She finished his sentence for him. “…like it came from inside the body of a chicken.”
“My God, that’s it exactly.” He was feeling the curdle of love.
Things are heating up! You want to remind your readers of their bodies. You can do that by referring to the character’s senses. Usually there are around five. I chose smell. Every scene I write, somebody is smelling something. If you write a romance novel, you should pick another sense or I’ll sue you. You could use hearing maybe.
They were having breakfast in the center of his triple Olympic swimming pool. Yes, in the middle of the pool. But they stayed completely dry! How did they do that? Probably a platform or something. An invisible platform.
Breakfast was mimosas and boiled eggs. But not just regular eggs: These were ostrich eggs, lain by ostriches that were genetically engineered to lay eggs the size of hen eggs. Because no one needs that much egg. It’s not healthy. There was a chorus of voices coming from the other side of the compound wall.
“Who are all those people?” Jassity Baggley asked.
Jonathan Slate laughed. “Oh those? Just a horde of Joe Q. Scratchtickets that want me to unionize some of my industries.”
“I thought I smelled people who were supposed to be picking up shovels.” She shuddered. “I feel like I’m going to throw up. It’s not these delicious eggs, don’t worry ha ha ha it’s organized labor. How do you stand it? All those morlocks grasping for your beautiful privilege?”
He was silent, seemingly caught in a dream. “I’m, I’m sorry. It’s just that for a moment — and I know this is going to sound like a cheesy pickup line you must get all the time — you just reminded me of someone.
“Her name is Ayn Rand. You look like her too, like a withered sparrow made of righteous anger, whose eyes have known the pain of being dragged down by fatter, but inferior sparrows.”
“Oh, Jonathan Slate, that’s…” Their heads leaned together to kiss, their lips tumbling through space like magenta oysters searching, eternally searching…
We have now reached the most important turning point, where most first-timers make a mistake. You might be tempted to have your couple do it now. I am about to write in all caps to make sure you pay attention. IT’S CRUCIAL THAT YOUR COUPLE BE PREVENTED FROM DOING IT. That’s because women love it when people almost do it. I’m not generalizing, it’s from biology.
Before the questing oysters that I described their lips as could meet in amazing bliss, there was a loud boom. BOOM! A huge cloud of dust and a river of people showed that the protesters had blown through the wall and were coming at them, a horde of slobs in sweatpants and t-shirts that said “beer,” with slackened mouths, wide open and stained with Cheetos.
Jassity Baggley was almost scared, until she remembered how strong and right and deserving she and Jonathan Slate were. Without speaking they both stood up, and smashed their champagne glasses on the table to make crude, Tiffany crystal daggers. The first wave of waddling Lech Walesas had collapsed on the pool, forgetting that they never learned to swim. Their so-called brothers walked on their waterlogged corpses to reach Jassity Baggley and Jonathan Slate, both of whom began kicking and slashing.
Then, a bear of some sort tackled Jassity Baggley. That is not a metaphor, it was an actual bear.
OK, let’s dissect what happened there. We see where they almost do it. But because of reasons, I wanted them to do it shortly thereafter. Usually, you should let your characters know each for three fortnights before they get to exploring each other’s foldy places (for historical reasons, the basic unit of time for romance novelists is the fortnight). Any sooner than that, and you risk readers thinking your heroine is some kind of maniac. If your hero saves her from danger like organized labor, you can shave one fortnight off of that. If he’s as handsome as Penn Jillette and has full equity in a dirigible, you’re down to a ha’fortnight. I figured a bear was scary and musky enough to bring us down to two days (sorry the math gets really screwy in base 14.)
That’s a pretty good rule of thumb. It’s important enough that I’m adding this graphic to make it completely clear.
We’ve arranged things so that our heroine can sleep with her hero without putting off the reader. Now, it’s time for that sex scene. You need to include that sex scene no matter how weird it makes you feel that your mom and your cousins will read it.
They were playing chess on the floor of the game room, totally, outrageously nude. Right in front of the butler. So? Some people get naked in front of their dogs. The chessboard was made of exotic woods hewed from the trees of filthy countries. Aromas wafting from the wood invaded Jassity Baggley’s nostrils. The “two c’s” — curry and cholera. Luxury is funny that way.
“Checkmate,” Jonathan Slate said. Jassity Baggley swept the chessboard off the low Moroccan table. Jonathan Slate knew she wasn’t mad about losing, but that she was ready to make love three times.
He began to kiss Jassity Baggley’s sensibly compact body, which was like a spring encased in velvety rubber or something. “You know, a woman’s body is a lot like society. Some parts are merely functional,” here he kissed her elbow. “Others perform unglamorous but essential roles,” here he kissed her side, just above her kidneys (that was the part he was talking about). “And a few — a very few — are blessed with the most sublime pleasure in return for the most vital of work.”
And then they started. Humping I mean. Right there in the game room, in front of the butler and everything, like a breed of super cavemen who were beholden to the rules of a different, stranger God.
Chris Braiotta performs in and co-produces The Union Square Round Table, an alternative comedy night in Boston. His writing has appeared in Boston’s Weekly Dig, The Chicago Sun-Times, and most recently the Boston Phoenix.