Where's the Beef?

Twice this week I've been told my romance novels aren't romance novels. Once was by the critique group I met with yesterday, and the other was my agent, who told me Don't Look Back read more like a politcal thriller than a romance. When I went through and outlined it, I saw that there was a lot going on, but mostly there was a reason. But she wants me to build romance into it, and I'm wondering how.

I talked to my critique group and they pointed out the stages from lust to love:


I have those.

There are the 12 stages of intimacy:
Eye to body. The old once-over, except it happens in a fraction of an instant. Only a few significant details are absorbed. Attraction occurs or it doesn’t.
Eye to eye. Eye contact is sustained only between intimates. If a stranger stares, it's considered rude or an act of aggression.
Voice to voice. Ranges from small talk to intimate.
Hand to hand. This requires some trust. Hand to arm counts here, too (man's excuse to get his hands on her, by guiding her).
Arm to shoulder. May be a hug.
Arm to waist. Can be sexual, especially if "waist" is considered the small of the back. Men won't do this to other men.
Mouth to mouth. Full frontal contact during a kiss.
Hand to head. Requires trust.
Hand to body. Any body part –- breast, shoulder, chest…
Mouth to breast.
Hand to genitals.
Genitals to genitals.

I have those.

Robyn told me to make sure every scene needs to have something to do with the romance. Gulp. Not easy when you have hostages and timelines and warlords....

So what makes a romance romancey? I'm in serious trouble here, y'all.

EDITED TO ADD: I think I may have found part of a solution. I don't think I played up what's keeping them apart enough throughout the book. Maybe if I did that, it would be more romancey?

Here's Del.
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Marianne Arkins said...

I read somewhere that if you could take the romance out of the book, and still have the backbone of the novel -- it's not a romance... it's a (mystery, suspense, thriller, horror...) with romantic elements that add to, but are not integral to the story, then it's not a romance.

If your characters were only friends or co-workers, would your story still work (with a few tweaks, of course)? If yes, then it's not a romance.

After all, Dean Koontz almost always has romantic elements in his story. But he's not a romance writer.

Just my .02 FWIW.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...it could be mainstream romance, where the story is multi-dimensional and the love isn't the focus. I guess you look back at what the theme is and could you take the romance out? If the answer's no, then you already have a romance. Good luck, either way!

MJFredrick said...

If I took the romance out, I'd still have a story, but the characters wouldn't make the same arc. Heck, for that matter, the ending would be different, because if Del didn't love Liv, he wouldn't do what he did.

The question remains, how to make it more of a romance.

Writing is hard :(

Peggy said...

Hmm. That's a tough one. I personally like both. A romance story and a story outside of the romance. Just as long as the non-romance story still reflects the growing attraction. But not cheezy. I mean you don't want him noticing the colour of her eyes while he's negotiating with a terrorist---or something like that.

Good luck.

Trish Milburn said...

I feel your pain. Revisions are a b@#%h, aren't they?

Rachel Vincent said...

You're not in trouble, unless you just really WANT your books to be sold in the romance section of the book store.

Mine aren't romance either, but I knew that from the beginning. In fact, I was surprised to find myself writing romantic subplots at all. But that's all they are: subplots. At the core of my stories are mystery and fantasy, and they'll be shelved in the fantasy section.

If I were you, unless your agent has specifically told you to worry about it, I wouldn't bother. I LIKE novels in which the romance isn't the main focus. And it sounds like you do too.

That's interesting, though, about making every scene have something to do with the romance. Mine don't come ANYWHERE NEAR qualifying for that. At all. And I've never heard that before. Hmmm...

Dee Tenorio said...

The key is that the attraction or emotional pull between them is evident in every scene. Romance is falling in love/learning to care for someone. So, while love-to-lust list is a good place to start, it's only physical reminders. You can totally add emotional markers--thus increasing the romance--even while hostages are being shot if needs be.


Say hero is being given an ultimatum--give up gun or a hostage gets shot. Heroine is a hostage. He's going to think about this--if he gives up the gun, he loses a chance to save her (and everyone else, but that's minutely secondary, which he may or may not want to admit.). If he looks to her, he gives her away as a weak point, so he'll be sure not to look at her in anything more than a speculative way--adds to romantic conflict, because she needs him to reassure her, even with just a look..and he won't do it. If he doesn't give up the gun, not only will someone die, it could be her. As long as he thinks of her, considers her welfare above others (including himself, but use this tool in increasing degrees as she becomes more important to him, never start with the maximum need to save her life above others)...you've got romance. :)

It was prolly chatty, but I sincerely hope that helps!

Stacy Dawn said...

That's interesting. I never thought of it that way. Do we assume we write romance because two people fall in love in the book or because it is a romance. Now I have some serious going over to do to.

Good luck Mary, I wish I could help more.

Anonymous said...

Mar, THREE OF SWORDS was a paranormal romantic mystery. Take out the romance with Adrian and Selene and you still have the bulk of the book intact. This was a mystery with paranormal and romantic element. Triskelion is selling it in their suspense and mystery department. That says it all.

My current ms? If Damien didn't love Caroline, he wouldn't be doing what he's doing. BUT...is it a true romance? Probably not. If they never fell in love, what is happening in the story would still take place. It is a paranormal with romantic element. I stay in RWA because I write romantic element in all my books and I always will. But am I really a romance writer? As hard as this is to admit, I think right now I am a writer who adds romantic element to her mysteries and paranormals. That is not the same thing.

Whew. That was scary to admit. When I DO write a true romance novel, I know it. My boxer/diner owner novel was a true romance novel. But I haven't written one since then. I know I can do it...it's just not what comes out of me naturally at this time. Am I overthinking this? What are you feeling now, Mar? I wish we could do more to help you...I have a sense you are really hashing this one out. I believe you ARE a romance writer. Tell us what you are thinking on making the story more of a romance. We love ya, and are here for you.



MJFredrick said...

I may not be in trouble per se, but my agent wants more focus on the romance. I'm thinking the only solution will be to change the mission, make it less urgent. Only to do that might diminish my heroine's internal conflict.

Dee, wonderful advice, and as I'm looking back over DLB, I feel like I did include that. I have plenty of room to layer in more stuff, but my agent just doesn't feel it will appeal to romance audiences as is.

Yeah, I'm pretty dejected.

MicheleKS said...

Mary, I kind of understand the comments because there are books that have more of the other elements (suspense, mystery, paranormal) because the relationship isn't as strong as it could be. It's what has turned me off on some of them; when I had more of the other elements than interaction between hero and heroine. It's why I do so much with my H/h and work like mad to keep them together and force them to deal not only with the situation they're thrown in but also each other.

But to me something qualifies as a romance if it has a relationship between a man and a woman in it. Just how much that relationship figures into the novel is what I think people quibble over.

MJFredrick said...

I have my hero and heroine together on every page after the first three. I'm just stumped.

Anonymous said...

{{{Mary}}} Sounds like the plot overshadows the emotion maybe. ?
The emotion is what draws me to romance, the plot to thrillers.

April said...

Hmm... What a hard question. I've read romantic suspense where technically if you took out the romance and tweaked it a little you still have a story. But it wouldn't be as appealing to me :-).

Dee has some wonderful input. The only thing I know to do is point out authors I think do a good job of making the balance. Suzanne Brockman and Beverly Barton come to mind. Some of Barton's books have entire chapters where there's not much going on between the hero and heroine. Emotional or otherwise. There's too much trying to figure out who the d&%# serial killer is. But it's always there and they're labeled romantic suspense.

Hope I was more help than no help at all! Good luck!

MicheleKS said...

Mary, since that is so then why are they not calling it a romance? If they're attracted and that attraction is interferring with their focus on other things then you've a conflict.

Or at least that's what I've been told.

Dee Tenorio said...

Wow, great conversation!

Mary, hugs hon, I know that dejected feeling and it sucks. Period.

I was thinking, though, since April mentioned Brockman. Maybe the other half of it is not just to have that mental consideration, but highs and lows to the emotions. You've got the recognition and as you've said, there's room to layer, but in the scenes where you have a place for them to rest, to breathe, then hype the emotion there. Raise the emotional stakes so that the suspense plots highs and lows are intrinsic to the lows and highs of the romance? It might work.

I had a CP once tell me--as she was mentally beating me silly, lol--that the reason I couldn't find my GMC was because I never put it all out there in this one line, or one paragraph. The editors felt I was on to something, but remained unfocused. I rejected this practice becauseI didn't want to info dump, (weren't we supposed to be subtly laying all of that in?) but she said if I could basically somewhere in a scene place a conclusion or prognosis of the current situation directly, the miasmic sense of romance or plot or yes, GMC, came into focus. Since I was getting my teeth kicked in from editors as well, I figured, well, this can't make it worse. And it's been working. (I get rejected for totally other reasons now, lol!)

Sometimes, the best thing to do while you're layering is to just say it straight out: "He wants to save her life, more than any other...and that feeling scared the crap out of him."

Tell me if I'm beating a dead horse. :) I'll send you chocolate! :)


Anonymous said...

Dee's got a good point. Sometimes you just gotta lay it out there in plain sight. This is hard work, Mar. I sent you an email...look over the works of Lindsay McKenna, who is known for her action adventure, but also for her romance. How does she balance it out? I don't write action adventure...mystery is as far as I go in that direction...I wish I could help more.

I will say that my books, while maybe not full blown romances, would be far less meaningful and entertaiining if there were no romance. I guess that's where I see the crux of the situation in my work, at least...the romance element in the books is what makes all the other things MEAN something. Without the romance, the book would lack meaning, feeling, the depth of emotion. The stakes would be much lower without the love involved. Am I just rambling? I hope we are helping, Mar...


MJFredrick said...

Wow, you guys are awesome! I think Dee is right on laying the emotion out there - I may never have done this. But Dee, I am intrigued - highs and lows of emotion? I'm not sure what this means.

Mary Beth, I think you're right on the plot overshadowing the emotion.

I did think this was more on the lines of a Suzanne Brockmann novel, but maybe not as good as I thought.

I think my agent and I have hit on a change that will slow the pace and allow more room for romance. I just have to figure out how to make it work. It looks like I will be keeping very little of the original.

The lesson I've learned - once I fix these full mss I have, I'm going to send her partials.

Dee Tenorio said...

Hey Mary, wow this is a great conversation! It's got my brain buzzing for the first time in WEEKS, lol!

Okay, highs and lows of emotion. It's a lot like pacing, actually.

There are high points to the emotion--strong feeling passages, where the heroes get a moment to react emotionally--and low points--sections where the plot takes over and any reference to the character's feelings are a fleeting line, at best.

Example, Heroine has just been flung off a building just before Hero reaches her to save her. He has one chance to get her hand--this works real well if he saves her life and sacrifices the capture of the villain--if he doesn't catch her, she'll fall hundreds of feet to her death. His heart stops as her fingers slip through his...

You're not necessarily going on and on about how he'll want to die if he doesn't catch her. But you're creating a serious emotion spike--Does he miss? (Anxiety) OMGOMGOMG! (Anticipation) But she'll DIE! (Fear)

See, sometimes, the emotional response you're aiming for isn't in your characters. It's in your reader. They have to be engaged in the story, drawn in by the character's emotional responses and intellectually stimulated; particularly in suspense or mystery. So, from time to time, strive to drive their emotional response higher by upping emotional stakes in your chars.

At any rate, in any book, the emotional highs have to come, often building from page one and crescendoing just before the black moment. You can have a steady climb, but if you shake things up and have small spikes, sudden emotional drops (She sleeps with him...then leaves him in the night when he calls another womans name), then build the reader back up to the next spike, or hell, just slap them with it.

Lots of authors like to time the emotional highs and lows to fit in the highs and lows of the plot, sometimes overlapping, other times, strong emotion comes in the valleys of the plot. Scenes where heroes go into hiding and have a rare night of peace, waiting for dawn--and probably doom--to arrive. Here they can have emotional conversation, attempt to heal emotional wounds with truth and kindness..make out like bunnies. This way, there's not a page where something important to the characters or the reader isn't happening.

Let me know if I've gone and made no sense at all, though, lol!

(who is now raring to hit a page! THANKS!!)

MJFredrick said...

I'm so glad you're inspired, Dee! I know you've been busy moving and such, and it's got to be hard getting back into it.

What you said that really struck a nerve is that it's the READER'S emotions that are important. How can I have been writing this long and never realized that?

Next question - do you plot out your emotional map or do you follow your instincts?

Dee Tenorio said...

LOL, would you believe I left here and hauled out 2200 words?? It was bliss! Like someone unplugged my brain, lol!

Emotional plotting, nope, can't say I've done that. I really am a pantser at heart. I've learned a few tips to help me plan a little, but all the details come out live or not at all. :)

Is there a chart, do you think, for that kind of thing?

Thanks for the inspiration!


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