So what can authors of other genres learn from this? Can we take elements of what makes for a good romance book and apply them to our own writing?
After reading veteran romance author Kate Walker's book 12-POINT GUIDE TO WRITING ROMANCE, 3rd ed. (Aber Publishing, 2010), for me the answer is a resounding "yes."
A romance is about two people experiencing emotion and conflict before achieving resolution and satisfaction. Without a problem to solve or challenge to overcome, most manuscripts would be sadly flat. And if our readers aren't feeling our main characters' emotions, it will be too easy for our books not to have what Kate calls "page-turning quality," or PTQ.
The guide also reminds us that dialogue is the lifeblood of a book, and that is why it should comprise about 60 percent of the overall content.
At first I thought sensuality had its place only in a romance, but that it because I was defining it in the more traditional sexual sense. In reality, to be sensuous is to invoke all of a reader's senses, so they see, hear, feel and sometimes even experience the scent of our words.
And if Kate mentions the "black moment" at the end of her guide, it's not because it's one of the least important points. Rather it is the moment near the book's end when readers are made to feel the chances of a positive outcome have just been reduced to slim to none.
The book also includes thought-provoking questions, writing exercises and a chapter on the practicalities of getting published as well as interviews with almost two dozen authors, who offer additional advice.
Every author aims to have loyal readers who'll consider their books "a keeper." With Kate's 12-point guide to writing, our task is made that much easier and more enjoyable.
I'm delighted Kate is here today to answer readers' questions.
Kate, what inspired you to first write this guide?
I ran this a couple of times online, because I was connected with a couple of U.S. writers' groups, and obviously they couldn't come to any of my U.K. writing workshops or writing weekends. And that made me wonder if I could print up some copies of the original workshop, so I could distribute them that way.
But then a publisher who was working with my husband heard about the book and asked if he could see it for a series on creative writing he was doing. He was interested in publishing it, but I pointed out that this was just a workshop format—not a real writing guide. If he were interested, then I would rework the whole thing, keeping the basic format and expanding it into a guide that I felt would help people who couldn't actually be at any of my workshops. Basically, I wanted to try to answer all the questions I had been asked most often in all my teaching experience—and the things I felt that writers most needed to know. He agreed, so I did that and the first edition sold out. So then I revised and expanded it, adding the From The Authors' Desks section with hints and ideas from more than 20 of my writing friends, and it sold out again. So now we're on a 3rd edition with the new Kindle edition released this year.
What questions do you find aspiring authors ask most often?
Hmm, I sort of need to answer that and then turn the question around on itself. You see, what I get asked most often are:
- What is inner conflict all about?
- How do I write a synopsis?
- What should I do about dealing with the tax man?
The other two questions are things that largely don't matter yet. A synopsis is a tool to help the editor decide if your story develops and has more than the one moment at the opening. But the writing of the actual book is much more important. I've never written a synopsis in my life; when I started, I submitted the entire book. So I know for a fact that I caught the attention of an editor with a hooky opening, believable and sympathetic characters, a conflict that developed and became stronger through the book, and a quirky twist that lifted the book. (I put my hero and heroine in a bungalow where they were divided from each other by a chalk line down the middle of the house, hence the name THE CHALK LINE.)
And for some reason people always want to know about tax/earnings/accounts—before they've even sold a book!
For me what people really need to know about—and should be asking about—are:
- Building believable sympathetic characters. Too many of them are clichéd romance heroes or heroines; sometimes I'm truly surprised that the heroes aren't twirling their moustaches and the heroines fainting away.
- Believable conflicts that have evidence for them and that last throughout the book, changing and developing as they do.
- Conflict again—the vital importance of INTERNAL conflict—that is, conflict that comes from within the character and their personal vulnerabilities.
- Motivation, motivation and motivation.
- Emotion and emotional intensity. Too many people think that piling on problem after problem as well as disaster and misery create emotional intensity. Instead, to quote a very wise senior editor, "Keep it simple, dig deep."
What part of your guide most often surprises writers?
That's an interesting one—I'm not really sure of the answer. I know some people are stunned when I offer to give them the much-vaunted "formula" to writing romance—then they realize that that's not what I'm doing at all. (You have to see the book to read The Formula.)
If I think not just of the 12-point guide but also the workshops and courses that I run, I think above all else what makes people sit up and take notice is when I say—and write up in block capital letters—that THERE ARE NO RULES. I think they always believe I'm kidding, so they ask "Can I do this?" or "Can I make my hero/heroine do that?" And I just repeat, "There are no rules." I think so many people truly believe there are strict rules as to what you can and cannot do in writing romance when the truth is the line that the editors always come back to—IAITE, that is it's all in the execution.
I noticed that during your recent virtual book tour for THE RETURN OF THE STRANGER that in addition to giving away copies of STRANGER and titles from you backlist you also gave away copies of this guide. What inspired you to do so?
The blog tour was huge! I think there were almost 30 different stops on it. Some of those were for sites where the main audience were readers. Some were craft sites where the audience were writers who wanted posts on some aspect of writing, and they were interested in learning more about craft.
So on some of the craft sites, I knew that people would be very interested in the 12-POINT GUIDE TO WRITING ROMANCE. I also knew that sometimes it hasn't been easy for people to get a hold of a copy of this book, in America or Australia or other countries, for example. It's easier now because there is the Kindle edition, which is so easily downloaded. But I knew that people wanted copies, so I offered one or two as a prize. I couldn't offer a lot, as it's not a book that I have a lot of author or publicity copies, but I did what I could.
What is one of the best emotional, conflict-filled, dialogue-rich books you've ever read and why?
Oh now you're asking a really hard question. If we're talking category romance, then a very special lady and her books always comes to mind—Michelle Reif. And I'm not just saying this because she's one of my dearest friends. I loved her books before I ever met her, and they are some of the most emotion-packed, conflict-filled, powerful romances I've ever read—and I know lots of readers agree with me. Two special ones (I can't just pick one!) are GOLD RING OF BETRAYAL and PRICE OF A BRIDE—classic examples of how to write a really emotional romance.
And much, much longer but equally powerful are the historical novels by Dorothy Dunnett in a six-book series called GAME OF KINGS. If you want emotion, terrible tension, conflict and a truly ambiguous hero, then Francis Crawford is hard to beat. There is one scene I always quote where he is captured by the Turks and he has to play a game of live chess—with his friends and family playing the chess pieces—with the dreadful rule that if any of those "pieces" is captured then they will be put to death. There are two little boys involved, one who might be his son and one the son of his enemy, but he doesn't know which. And he ends up in a position where he must "lose" one or other of them. It's almost unbearable to read—brilliant.
I read that you are a tutor. What does that involve? I also read that you teach day and weekend courses. Tell us a little more about these.
It's funny, I never wanted to be a teacher! My mother was, my husband too and now my son, but I wanted to be a librarian to get away from teaching. But teaching writing romance—that's different.
I am often asked to do workshops, sometimes Mills & Boon asks me to do them for the New Voices Contests or things like that. Sometimes writers' groups, libraries, writing festivals, etc. ask me to run a workshop for them. These are about two hours or so long, and I try to cover the basics of writing romance.
But I also do longer, more extensive courses. In the summer my husband and I both are tutors at Writers' Holiday in Caerleon near Newport Wales. This is a week long event, and everyone can take two courses—there's always a choice. Each course is five one-hour sessions, and there are other events, one-hour main talks and lots of fun too. I teach Writing Romance at this event.
Then run by the same people there is the fabulous Fishguard Writers and Artists' Weekend; again in Wales on the coast at Fishguard in the fabulous Fishguard Bay Hotel. This is a shorter, but much more intensive course. It starts on a Friday night, with classes going through until Sunday lunchtime. There are six workshop sessions, one-to-one discussions, great food and lots of talk about writing over a bottle of wine in the evening. I love it! I created a special Advanced Writing Romance course, Moving It On, just for this weekend, and we get through a lot of important things. You can find details of these events at http://www.writersholiday.net/.
And Tuscany, oh yes, Tuscany ... I am so looking forward to that. I was "headhunted" for this—asked specially to create a course for the Watermill starting in October next year. They said they would like me to create a course, stay at The Watermill in Tuscany with my husband—all accommodation, food, etc. provided—and they'd pay me! Was I interested? I had to be forced, of course! ;o)
The course is called Beyond The Hearts and Flowers, and it's a fuller version of the advanced Romance Writing course I run at Fishguard. If anyone wants details, they can be found at the Watermill site, http://www.watermill.net/index.php, or on the Events page on my Web site,
http://www.kate-walker.com/events.html. That's where I post everything like this I'm doing.
If writers could remember only one thing about your 12-point guide, what do you hope it would be?
That there are no rules—and no formula!
Thank you very much, Kate, for taking time to provide such detailed and helpful information. Your book would make a great holiday gift for the writers on our list—or for ourselves.
MORE ABOUT KATE
In her 25 years as a romance author, Kate has written more than 60 books, best sellers that have been published in 50 countries; she has sold more than 15 millions titles worldwide. She frequently is asked to be a guest speaker at Romantic Novelists’ Association conferences in the U.K. Kate's latest title, THE RETURN OF THE STRANGER, a modern-day spin of Wuthering Heights, is part of The Powerful and The Pure series. The next title, THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES is scheduled for release in March.
WHERE READERS CAN FIND KATE
- Web site, http://kate-walker.com/
- Blog, http://www.kate-walker.blogspot.com/
- Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607779457
- Author page created by Romance Book Paradise Promotions, http://rbpp-kw.blogspot.com/
HOW TO ENTER TO WIN A COPY OF KATE'S 12-POINT GUIDE
On Dec. 12, Nas Dean of Romance Book Paradise will be featuring Kate on her blog, where the 12-point guide will be given away.
Can't get enough of Kate? Also on Dec. 12, her Gifts for Writers post is scheduled to run on Riya Dean's blog Romance Reader.