A mystery writer writes romance

Having never done it, I was nervous about writing a romance. So before I began, I did some reading about how to write romance fiction, and concluded that there are some other challenges with a mystery writer doing romance:

1. The typical tendency to start with a dead body

When you write semi-cozy historical murder mysteries, starting with* a dead body is de rigueur. In a romance, not so much, and I did try to avoid a corpse. For about ten minutes. So, yes, I have a dead body, but only because he died without a designated heir and that’s part of the romance. Nobody gets murdered. So far as we know.

2. The intense desire to have an underlying puzzle

I could not for the life of me figure out what two people could do while falling in love that would be remotely interesting to an outsider. But if they solve a mystery together — aha! So I cheated and created a mystery to guide the plot, involving a lost miniature and some family papers. Such things aren’t huge stakes because I needed the focus to be on the relationship.

3. The nagging feeling that there must be an antagonist

I learned that the romance couple must experience not only the opportunity to be together, but also face obstacles that make the relationship unlikely or tricky. This adds an element of suspense. In mysteries, this obstacle would be an antagonist trying to stop them. Yeah, he’s in there, not trying to stop them from falling in love, but from getting what they want. I also found ways to keep the lovers separate, especially so they could imagine the worst of each other.

4. The perpetual confusion of goals

Each main character was supposed to have a goal, and in a romance it should be a goal other than to fall in love and have a romance. See why I ended up with a mystery back story? They must both want something for which love would get in the way. Love is inconvenient when you’re trying to do something else. It tends to overcome intentions, plans, and motivations. We want to be rooting for the lovers to both get what they want and fall in love.

5. The unbearable burden of not being a romantic myself

I’m unfortunately not a “romantic”, although I’m certainly not averse to candlelight and chocolates (the latter being more important, of course). Love can make people unsure of themselves and too daring at the same time. They do things they’d never do, experiencing a transformation of self that may be overly attached to the other person’s actions. I prefer motives like jealousy, money, revenge, hatred. So it was more difficult for me to understand my characters, even as they wrote their own stories. Making them likable, and adding a bit of screwball comedy, made this a pleasure rather than a burden.

I am very happy with the result. Amanda is a young, swearing, intelligent woman. Jack is a charming, clever, secretive man. It’s a Victorian romance with both serious intents and light-heartedness, as our main characters balk at the things society expects of them. There is no sappiness, sexual explicitness, or background trauma. If you haven’t read it, give it a try. 

More thoughts posted while I was writing the book are here.


*ok, maybe by Chapter 4 — I like to set the stage and characters