I’m excited to open up the Wednesday Writing Prompt slot to a guest today, the wonderful Cynthia Harrison, author of The Paris Notebook. Cynthia is sharing an excellent post on the Rules of Romance Writing and I’ve also posted a linked writing prompt: Larger Than Life Characters.


The Rules of Romance Writing

by Cynthia Harrison

Many people believe that creative writing should have no rules. At least in my own experience, this is only true for big name authors who know the rules but choose to break them. For first timers, especially first time romance writers, there are hard and fast rules, some of which I was completely unaware until I worked with an editor on my new release, ‘The Paris Notebook.’

My fiction has always been about love. My stories were love stories. They ended happily. I figured I was a romance writer. I figured wrong. But, because she really liked my story concept, an editor took a chance on me, helping me turn The Paris Notebook into a romance novel.

Here’s how we did it.

One of the first things we worked on was making the hero more heroic. Romance novels rely on two characters: the heroine and the hero. The story should be told from the heroine’s perspective most of the time. The hero’s point of view is important, too, and readers like seeing the world through his eyes. They also want him to be swoon-worthy.

It wasn’t too difficult to make my male protagonist more of a hero. I just asked my critique partners, who are both men, how they’d behave if they were besotted with a woman. They checked my work to make sure I had my guy down right. What he’d say, how he’d say it, how he’d react.

I come from a literary tradition (two degrees in literature, twenty years of teaching it) so I tend to make my characters ‘real.’ But a romance hero has to be better than real. He has to shine. At least in the eyes of his heroine.

So after buffing up Jack, my hero in The Paris Notebook, I had a second hurdle. My editor didn’t quite know how I’d solve it. She said I needed something in the first ten pages to signal trouble ahead. I thought I had that. After all, my heroine and her ex, a rock star named Ian, who stole her song lyrics, are in a huge battle over intellectual property. That’s trouble, but it’s not between the hero and heroine. The kind of trouble I needed to create would blow sky high and end the love blossoming between Deena and Jack, my lovers. In romance, they call this ‘the black moment’ and it needs to be strong enough so that the reader wonders if the couple will be able to salvage the relationship.

‘If Jack could do something similar to what Ian has done: ‘ my editor prompted. But it was up to me, the writer, to find that ellusive something. Ian stole Deena’s song lyrics. Jack would never do anything like that. Or would he? I had to dig, but I found that by tweaking Jack’s personal goals a little bit, I could create a snag that would rip his relationship with Deena into shreds without sacrificing his honor. Neither would see it coming, but the reader would, and she’d keep turning the pages to get to that moment.

Two huge changes to my manuscript, and my editor still was not done with me. The third big revision was ‘About that subplot. It takes away from the main romance.’ I hated reading those words. I knew my editor was right, but I loved my little subplot. In romance, a cardinal rule is that it is all about the lovers. They must be front and center at all times. If they are not together in a scene, then they are trying to get together, or thinking about each other. But mostly, they should be together in almost every scene. They don’t always have to be happy with each other, but since they’re falling in love, most of the book should be devoted to their ‘getting to know you’ phase.

The subplot pulled out cleanly while keeping the necessary elements these minor characters brought to the party. I was sad to see them go, and this more than anything made me wonder if I was really cut out to be a romance writer. Still, I’d come so far with this editor, and she’d helped me so much. Not to mention I’d signed a contract.

To get over the cruel cut, I decided to make the subplot a short story available free on my website. It’s called ‘Sarah’s Survival Guide” and you can read or download it here.

Was following all those rules worth it in the end? I knew it was the moment I held my romance novel in my hands.


About Cynthia Harrison and The Paris Notebook

Excerpt: The Paris Notebook

Deena Smith leaned against the door of the office she shared with Jack Karris, watching him work. Instead of his usual button-down shirt, he wore a black t-shirt. As he entered a grade into his laptop, his cut biceps flexed, tightening the material.

The stack of papers in her arms started to slide. She rushed to dump them on her desk, and a few flopped to the floor. The donut she’d snagged from the faculty lounge rolled out of its napkin and onto her mouse pad. She grabbed for it, knocking the coffee cup full of colored pens over. She righted the cup and stuck the pens back into it. When she turned to retrieve the wayward essays, Jack handed them to her. He stood so close she saw the glint of the tiny diamond in his ear.

‘Hey you,’ Jack said.

Deena took a step away from temptation.

‘Music?’ She asked, moving to the corner where they kept an ancient P.C. for streaming internet radio.

‘Sure,’ Jack said.

She brought up their favorite station, keeping the volume low in deference to the rest of the English department.

When she turned back toward the desks, Jack stretched backward, showing an inch of rock hard abs. Even over the music she heard a loud crack when the kink in his back straightened out.

Refusing to be flustered by her flirty office mate, she tucked herself into her chair, grabbed a purple pen and and essay and started grading. A new song came on the radio, catching her attention. She parked her pen behind her ear and focused on the music, listening harder. The guitar stuff sounded like Ian. When the words started coming through, she recognized Ian’s voice.

His voice brought it all back. She’d finally gotten over the jerk and here he was again, filling the room. Her gut tightened and her throat swelled. She looked up and blinked, holding back the tears, listening to the song. Familiar but not from the album. If this song was new, why did she know it? Gradually she realized. The words were hers.


About The Paris Notebook

The Paris Notebook - Cynthia Harrison

As the girlfriend of a rock star, Deena Smith traveled the world in style. Now she’s moved on and enjoys a quiet life as a college instructor. When she discovers her rocker ex stole a notebook of her song lyrics and claimed them as his own, Deena is determined to do whatever it takes to get her notebook back, even if it means playing nice with her evil ex. But when her co-worker offers to help restore her work, little does she know her quiet little world will be turned upside down. Sympathetic to Deena’s plight, Jack Karris offers to assist. He can’t stand the idea someone would wound her so deliberately. But despite the desire that sparks between them, Jack can’t wait to leave the small university town behind. Deena is his unwitting ticket to New York, and although she has zero interest in the project Jack proposes for her writing, he’s convinced she’ll also find a dream come true. When the truth comes out, and Jack’s good intentions are revealed, Deena must decide is he the sincere man she’s come to trust, or is he just out to steal whatever he can… including her heart?


About Cynthia Harrison

In addition to her indie published novel, Sister Issues, Cindy has also self-published Your Words, Your Story, a writer’s manual used in her popular creative writing courses. Your Words, Your Story is available in paper or e-format on Amazon. Her novel The Paris Notebook  is now available, in print and eBook formats, through The Wild Rose Press website. The print edition is also available on Amazon and the eBook on Kindle.

Cindy has been posting about writing topics at ‘A Writer’s Diary‘ since 2002. Email her anytime or follow her on Twitter. On Facebook, she is Cynthia Hines Harrison and welcomes new followers. Cindy reads more than she writes and she’s always adding her (sometimes very casual) reviews at Goodreads. Her author page is here.