I rarely mention that I am working on a romance novel. Apart from not wanting to overdo the self-promotion, staying quiet about it keeps the writing pressure off. I abandoned the first draft a few years ago, and the much improved second draft outline is moving slowly. One of the challenges is the correct level of heat.
I’m not writing to a specific Harlequin line. Instead, I’m writing something I like, and when it’s done I’ll see which line it might be suited for, if any. How much sex, and how soon, is a tricky business. I want to write about the process of falling in love, not the celebration of lust, so the sort of romance where the characters are in bed by the second chapter, and don’t seem to leave it for the rest of the book, does not appeal. At the same time, lust and love go together. I enjoy sweet romances, but when the characters aren’t even thinking about the possibility of sex, I start wondering what’s wrong with them.
My story will be something in between. There will be physical attraction, and probably sex, but it will not be the focus of the story. So it does not need to happen much. As in everything else, the detail should be only what is required to advance the story. My hero arrives in an SUV. It’s important to mention that it is an SUV, as my heroine makes some assumptions about him based on the vehicle. However, I don’t need to describe it any further – the brand and colour are not relevant, so I omit that. Similarly, he has a penis, but the size and whether or not he is circumcised are not relevant, so I omit that.
That still leaves the question of how quickly the relationship gets physical. For that, I must rely on my characters. Is she something of a free spirit, seizing the opportunity without delay? Is he shy and reluctant? For dramatic purposes, it might be best if they were different, but story tension could also arise out of a conflict between their level of physical intimacy and their level of emotional intimacy. Maybe sex has different meanings for them.
I find myself in a chicken and egg situation. Do I create interesting characters to set up a good story, or do I develop the story, and then build characters that will follow it? I’m leaning towards the latter, as I’ve always written from outlines, and want to keep control of the story. However, I have to ensure my characters are consistent and believable. If my hero is laying on the charm from the moment they meet, then why is he single? Is he into one-night stands? If so, why, and what might be different this time – which brings me back to story elements.
Someday I hope to have both character and story sorted out. After that, it should be easy. I can dream.