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I think the most painful word in the world is “rejection,” (this word is closely followed by “we can still be friends,” and “I’m sorry, we don’t make that dessert anymore,” but I digress). Rejection. Three syllables worth of disappointment, hurt, confusion—the angst-related synonyms could stretch on for eternity.
There are different reasons for rejection—the story doesn’t fit the line; there’s too much telling, not enough showing (writing, it appears, is the one industry where baring all and exposing one’s self are regarded as the commendable…unlike in the real world where showing your everything could get you a fine and jail time). Perhaps the most confusing rejection for a writer to hear is “It’s a good story, but it’s not a romance.”
Not a romance? Not a romance! There’s a boy, there’s a girl, they end up together in the end. What else could the editor want?
Well, a lot, actually.
Despite misconceptions, just because you have two bodies declaring their undying love at the end of a story doesn’t mean your story is a romance.
First of all—and proving my suspicion that those who pursue writing as a career have some deep-seated masochistic issues—romance can be subjective. One of my friends told me that she thought Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean was a great romance. I, on the other hand, thought it was an action-adventure with romantic elements. Who was right? Me, of course. Hey, this is my article; I get to be right, don’t I?
The reason I didn’t think it was a romance was because the story didn’t really seem to focus on Elizabeth and Will as much as it did Jack Sparrow. The other characters seemed to be fighting him, working with him, missing him, looking for him, wishing they’d never found him…so for me, I felt the story was Jack’s because everything seemed to revolve around him.
Oh dear. I think I’m digressing (which you have to admit, is far better than when I’m regressing). Anyhow, to anyone who’s ever written a story, thought it was a romance, submitted it, only to be told, “Sorry, dear. Great story, but not a romance,” I offer the following as a helpful checklist.
When you’re done writing your story, take a look and answer the following questions (I’m going to answer according to the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast):
Is the majority of the story is focused on the relationship between the hero and heroine?
Yes, without question.
How as close to the first page as possible do they meet?
In the version I read they met on page three—after the father had picked the rose and incurred the Beast’s wrath.
Do their interactions take up the majority of ink space in the book?
Yes again. I’d say about ninety percent of the book was about them.
When they’re not together are they thinking about each other?
Absolutely. When Beauty goes home, all she can think about is the Beast.
Do they both have to sacrifice/learn something at the end of the story?
Yeppers. They both learn that love can run deeper than the skin/appearances.
Whatever the external conflict, can it only be solved by working together?
Yes. One of the external conflicts is the well-being of the father. That’s solved by Beauty moving to the Beast’s castle. The other conflict is the Beast’s well-being, which also provides the climax and resolution of the story.
If the story is spicy-hot/depicts love scenes, are they the only ones whose lovemaking the reader is privy to?
In the story I read they never made love.
At the end of the story, is there is a Happy Ever After?
Sigh. Yes, oh, yes!
If there are secondary characters, is that all they are—secondary. They don’t dominate the text. Their stories (if they have any) are alluded to, rather than focused on?
Yes. The secondary character in my version was the father, whose actions instigated the story and got the plot going.
If there is a subplot, it serves to further the interactions between the Hero & Heroine?
In this version, there was no subplot. But if you think about the Disney version, then the subplot was Gaston and he certainly furthered the interactions between the hero and heroine.
The main Points Of Views are the Hero & Heroine. If we step away from it, is it because a character has information the reader needs to know that can’t be conveyed via the Hero or Heroine?
In my version, there were no other points of view save Beauty’s.
So there we have it. Beauty and the Beast was a romance, Pirates of the Caribbean…well, even if it wasn’t, that soul-searing-sigh-worthy-kiss between Elizabeth and Will (where they’re on the tower) certainly made up for it.
As for your story, take the checklist, hold it up to your novel and decide: is it a romance?