Monday, February 9, 2015

What Makes A Good Romance?

For those of you who live in a box, fair warning. We're heading straight into Valentine's Day. The rest of you already knew that, and you're either quaking with anticipation or ready to find a box of your own.

I'm sort of in the middle. Twenty years of marriage'll do that to a person.

But enough about me. The preponderance of pink and red, heart-shaped tchotkies taking up space in every grocery store and all the adverts filling my email in-box with ideas for the perfect gift got me thinking. What IS romance, anyway? I write the stuff. You'd think I'd be able to come up with  good definition.

'Eh, that's what is for.


a novel or other prose narrative depicting heroic or marvelous deeds,pageantry, romantic exploits, etc., usually in a historical or imaginarysetting.
the colorful world, life, or conditions depicted in such tales.
a medieval narrative, originally one in verse and in some Romance dialect, treating of heroic, fantastic, or supernatural events, often in the form of allegory.
a baseless, made-up story, usually full of exaggeration or fancifulinvention.
a romantic spirit, sentiment, emotion, or desire.
romantic character or quality.
a romantic affair or experience; a love affair.


I mean, really? The best you can do is natter on about literary forms until you get to #5? And we have to wait until #7 to get to the really important one: A Love Affair.

Because imho, all good romance is essentially a love affair. Whether it's you and your beloved (or be-liked-a-lot) connecting in a crowd, or that moment when you finish a book and immediately turn back to page one because you can't bare to be separated from the characters, it's all about the love.

So romance is a love affair, but what else is it? What are the other elements that make up a good love story, whether in real life or on the page?


Infatuation is the smoky lens, the amber glow, the filter between you and your beloved that turns every molecule of their being into perfection. You know how to test this theory? Go get your high school year book and open it to the picture of the person you were crushin' on back then. Now look at them.

Really look.

Utter perfection? Or are you asking yourself how you ever fell for a guy with a mullet? Because if you're got a crush on a guy with a mullet, you are seriously GONE, and more power to you.


Ahh...anticipation. Tom Petty spoke the truth when he said the waiting is the hardest part. Over the weekend I read Changing Plans by LA Witt. It's  series of novellas about a gay couple who meet in an airport when their flight is delayed. Even though contemporary society is way more open than it used to be, they couldn't just, like, throw down a smooch the first time the subject came up. They had to wait for a private moment, a private place, and OMG they took one of the longest elevator rides in my life.  Every detail - shoulders bumping, fingers brushing, an almost-growl when someone else got on - heightened the wanting, so when they finally got there...



And I'm not talking obstacles like some clueless soul who gets on the elevator and keeps you from making out. I mean real, God-we-gotta-deal-with-this-shit obstacles, like, he's your best friend's younger brother, or she lives a solid six-hour drive south of you. Or one of you has an ex- who doesn't quite realize it's over. Or one of you thinks monogamy is for other people.

Or one of you doesn't know which forks go in which slot in the drawer.


When your infatuation filter is securely in place, it makes those obstacles look like tiny little pebbles, but even pebbles can hurt if they get stuck in your shoe. 


Yeah baby. This is where the fun begins. You and your beloved, or the characters in that book you can't bear to put down, need physical contact more than food or water or oxygen. And when bodies collide, the friction could light up Manhattan.

To illustrate the heat thing, I want to share the first real kiss between two of my favorite characters. In the novella "Shackles", from the collection Liberty & Other Stories by Alexis Hall, Milord is a prisoner sentenced to die, and Ruben is a defrocked priest. The way they drive each other crazy drives me crazy, and I absolutely love it.

Ruben cradled Milord's face between his hands and brought their mouths together. And they kissed and it was awkward, the sort of fumbling collision Ruben thought he had left behind with adolescence. But it was sweet, too, this fresh-born kiss, full of things unspoken and undreamed, and Ruben simply closed his eyes and let it bloom between them. Milord's lips softened under his and welcomed him, and together they gently learned the ways to move and give and take and dance, sharing breath and warmth and a slow, deep pleasure.

So there you have my thoughts on what makes a good romance. You need infatuation, anticipation, obstacles, and heat, and when you mix them all together, you may well end up with the real deal.

So what did I miss? Are there any pieces of the romance puzzle that should be included here? Do tell in the comments...

Happy Valentine's Day!

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  1. I think you did a great job in covering all the elements of 'romance' in a novel or short story.

    But actual romance in real life is different from fiction. And we all see romance differently, I think.

    My husband doesn't have a romantic bone in his body - I should say a typical romance. He's not one for roses, etc., although he does like a nice bottle of wine….but I think he's the most romantic when he tells me to 'go finish my chapter and he'll clean up dinner.' I wrote a blog post about this once and used that example. I also love when I'm running around and am going to be late knowing I still have to stop for gas when I get in the car and see he's filled it up. They may be small things but romance in reality is showing affection or love for the other person. Some like roses, champagne, satin sheets ( they're slippery) etc., but I think the little things are much more romantic. Happy Valentine's Day, Liv :)

  2. I think you've got all the bases covered, now you add some plot to it and viola, a great story. Because even with all this if there are no twists and turns and struggles and a common goal, and hero and heroine finding love when the whole world around them seem to be falling apart, it's only a story of affection, heat and anticipation when woven throughout the story you've got a winner.

  3. I dunno, Deb. I think your husband has passed the romance point and moved on into true love. Any guy who does the dishes while you write is the real deal.
    And Zrinka, you're right. True love has to find its way through all kinds of challenges.
    Thanks you guys!

  4. I was kinda shocked at definition number 4... (how rude!)

    Fun post. :-)

  5. I know, right? Anyone who thinks romance is a fanciful invention obviously hasn't experienced the real deal.
    Thanks Ellen...

  6. Love this, Liv, you've given me a few smiles.

    I also love the kiss excerpt - beautifully written. I felt that kiss.

    I think romance is also a product of compatibility and revolves around giving and receiving, not concrete things (although that's fun too) but building intimacy by sharing dreams, values, beliefs, viewpoints and desires.

  7. "...building intimacy by sharing dreams, values, beliefs, viewpoints and desires."

    Beautifully said, Sharon. I think you subscribe to the same theory of romance that my friend Debbie does. Her description of how her husband washes the dishes so she can keep writing would seem like a perfect example of sharing dreams. Thanks!

  8. Great post. Love and attraction is so complicated and changing. I haven't been the same since my kids were born-which is another part of the story. That's why we love to read, and write, romance: to remember and re kindle.

  9. Yeah, kids'll really change the romantic dynamic, Carol. I believe my husband does benefit from some of my reading and writing.