The search for a successful formula

At this moment I am working on a romance novel.  I know this isn’t the most popular genre choice for a guy to write but as I mentioned in another blog, I can’t resist the movies, “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve got Mail.”  These two movies have what I would call great writing by Nora Ephron.  They have fantastic characterization with equally wonderful plots.

When it comes to writing romance, there are two schools of thought regarding formulas.  One group says there isn’t a formula to romance writing.  The other group says it’ll never sell without one.  The truth is, there are several, but as to which one you use will be your decision.

In an interview about how she came up with the formula for “You’ve got Mail”, she said it was the same formula used by Jane Austin in “Pride and Prejudice.”  She even made some good jokes about it in the movie.  Individual publishers like Harlequin have their own requirements for a formula, so you will have to read the publisher’s guidelines to see which one will accept your style.

A good question, though, is which style do you prefer?  If you wish to find the best formula for you I would recommend turning to the book, or movie, that inspired you to write a romance in the first place.  In my case, it was those two movies.  I learned a lot of the formula while watching the movies, and then watching the interview where Nora mentions some of the elements of the formula. After that, I read “Pride and prejudice” that answered the rest of my questions.

When you find a book that inspires you to write in a particular genre write down all the elements that you liked in that book.  Umm, you do keep a pen and paper when you read don’t you?  If you don’t, you shouldn’t worry; you will just have to reread the book, that’s all.  Once you have all the elements, file them away for easy access when you get stuck.

Just to give you an idea of what to look for, here are some of the elements that I found in Jane Austin’s books, as well as in the movies.  There is always something that links the two characters to each other, in the first few pages.  This can be an interest in the same thing, or they know the same person, whatever it is, it must be something that will become an emotional connection.

Another element is that there is always a best friend or relative that will lend emotional support while they struggle through their growing emotions for the other person.

There is always something or someone that seems to make their love impossible.

The more they try to fight their feelings for each other, the more it consumes them.

The story ends when they realize that the other person is the one for them, and they come together for the final scene when their relationship begins.

In essence, you are looking for what made that book a success, or how the story moved from the beginning to the end while keeping you entertained.  Be careful though, you are copying down the elements of a formula, and not the plot itself.  The plot must still be yours only.  Believe me, it’s an easy trap to fall into.

Challenge: If you haven’t already, reread the book you enjoyed most, and write down the elements that made that book a success in your eyes.


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