What is Romance?

I recently received a link to this You Tube video by Overly Sarcastic Productions that I enjoyed watching.

Thanks to Rami Ungar for sending this my way!

This video was hilarious. The person who made this has a great sense of humor. What made me laugh most of the way through the video is how many writers of movies and TV shows seem to think all you need is for the characters to give each other “the look” to know they’re in love, and as soon as they kiss/have sex, they are automatically set for life. That’s it. The end. Happily ever after.

Now, as most of you know, my books often feature couples who get married before they fall in love. I love the marriage of convenience, arranged marriage, and mail order bride plots. I’ve done other plots, of course, but I most enjoy watching a couple fall in love after they marry. So for me, the first kiss/having sex situation is often the beginning of the romance journey.

I’m sure there are a variety of ways to explore romance, but today, I’m going to talk about the way I approach romance. Each writer is different, so my approach isn’t for everyone. And I’m not sure if this post can even be considered a primer on writing romance. If it helps, great. If not, that’s fine. Just take what you can use and toss the rest out.

Romance ultimately boils down to service.

I know that sounds weird. But stay with me on this. Often in my culture (I live in the United States), the emphasis is on, “What can someone do for me?” The culture is pretty much a self-absorbed thing in which people want what they want as soon as they want it. Having to wait for anything often frustrates people, and I believe this is largely based on how fast technology has allowed us to get things. We have gotten spoiled. And yes, I have, too. I have been just as impatient as anyone else. So I’m not pointing any fingers here. If anything, I’m a good example of this.

But this has crossed over into how we look at romance. It’s affected how we look at marriage. I think the tendency is to ask ourselves, “What can this person do for me?” Why do we fall in love with someone? Is it to get something from them? Even if we aren’t thinking of being selfish, I think there’s a trap to end up that way. For example, “Why doesn’t my husband pick up his socks off the floor? Why doesn’t he treat me out to a nice, relaxing dinner?” Likewise, the husband might think, “Why doesn’t my wife make anything but sloppy joe sandwiches? Why doesn’t she wear a dress once in a while instead of those frumpy sweat pants?”

Of course, this isn’t limited to marriages. I just happened to give those examples because I’ve been married for almost 18 years now, and these are the kinds of things that have popped up during the course of my marriage. These are little, insignificant things. They’re not deal breakers. (A deal breaker is something like abuse and infidelity.) I’m not talking about a deal breaker. I’m talking about the tendency of people to get wrapped up in themselves to the point where they stop serving the significant other in their lives.

Romance, at its core, is doing what is best for the other person. (Yes, this can extend to friendships, too, but for this post, we’re looking specifically at romance.) Sometimes when you do what is best for the other person, you have to sacrifice something. For example, a wife might have to sacrifice watching TV to make her husband’s favorite dinner. Maybe the husband sacrifices watching TV so he can do a load of laundry. These are acts of service. These are little things, but they can add up to bigger things in the long run. Real life is not like a movie. We don’t have this great big climatic scene where it’s a life or death situation where the hero gives up everything to save the heroine. Most of the time, it’ll never come to that. But these little things are romantic.

Granted, if you’re writing a book, you want to do more than show the characters doing things for each other around the house. You want to think more like the movies where there are high stakes involved. So put the hero in a situation where he has to give up something important to him for the sake of the heroine. Or, have the heroine give up something important for the sake of the hero.

I’m reminded of a story my mom told me about love. It went something like this: There was a couple who was poor, but they wanted to give each other something for Christmas. The woman had long hair that was gorgeous. She decided to get it cut off and sold it to someone who wanted to make a wig. With that money, she bought her husband an easel and paints since he loved to paint. The man, meanwhile, sold his paint brush so he could buy his wife a comb because he knew she loved her hair. That is what real romance, the sacrificial kind, is all about.

Romance is also about friendship.

If you can’t be friends with the person you’re with, then why are you with them? Romance can’t survive alone on physical attraction. There has to be a heart connection, too. There has to be that emotional component. And at this core is friendship. You should enjoy being with the person. My husband is the funniest guy I know. When we were dating, I loved his sense of humor. To this day, he can still make me laugh. He likes the fact that I have a level head and can keep things organized around the house.

Friends balance each other out. I think people are often attracted to each other based on strengths and weaknesses. And I don’t mean this for only romantic relationships. I mean this for all relationship types. We naturally attract certain people. I think it has to do with our personalities. A good friend is one who knows all of your strengths and weaknesses and accepts you just the way you are. They don’t demand you go around changing something about yourself. They’re always there when you need someone to talk to.

Sometimes they’ll tell you the truth when it hurts, but when they do that, they do it in a kind way. You can tell they’re not trying to hurt you, but they want to protect you from something harmful you might be doing without realizing it. For example, there was a time when I was getting arrogant, and a good friend pointed out that I was letting pride get in my way. You see, that is a good friend. She helped me see what I was doing, and because of her, I changed my course. (That wasn’t easy for me to admit in a blog post, but I can’t think of a better example of when it is hard to tell a friend the truth. Just make sure you do it in a nice way.) Likewise, in romance, there should be honesty between the couple. The honesty is not to be used to criticize or put the other person down. It should be to help and encourage. It should have the end goal of lifting the other person up. It’s all in the motivation. A person can tell if you’re telling them something to be mean or if you’re trying to help.

Romance is also about gratitude. 

I think there’s a tendency to take the other person for granted. This is especially true in marriage.  It’s easy to look at what someone is NOT doing instead of what they ARE doing. When we look at what is not going right, we miss the things that are going right. When we focus on the negative, we end up complaining. When we complain, we aren’t able to experience gratitude. Gratitude is looking at the wonderful traits of the other person, looking at the sacrifices that person made for us, and looking at the ways that person is making our life better. Focusing on gratitude makes you love the person even more. It advances the romance.

Of course, in romance books, there has to be conflict. When I do conflict, I often do it from outside the relationship. But if there is conflict in the relationship, I try to keep in mind that it’s something that can be resolved pretty quickly and easily because in real life, people should be able to sit down and have a conversation that takes care of the issue they’re facing. If a hero is looking at the heroine and thinking of everything that’s wrong with her (or vice versa), that’s not romance.  Sure, people argue. But they shouldn’t be cutting each other down and calling each other names when they’re doing it. You can argue in a way that doesn’t attack the other person. And gratitude is where this comes in. When you are grateful for this other person, you’re more likely to focus on the actual issue.

Conclusion

In my opinion, romance books are best when three things are at work. And ultimately, it all comes down to putting the needs of the other person before yourself. It is treating the other person the way you’d want to be treated. If that is done, how can the couple not help but fall in love?

 

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Scaling Back on Some Things

The process of dropping out of the rat race has turned out to involve much more than simply picking projects I’m most interested in. Originally, I thought that was all I had to do. But once I did that, then another thing popped up and then another. So I’m now having to sort through a lot of things I’ve been doing. I need to figure out what I’ll keep doing and what I’ll drop. If I’m going to truly embrace this notion of writing for passion, that changes the entire landscape for me as an author.

All I can say is that I never imagined 2018 would be the year I’d go back to square one and re-evalute everything I’m doing and why.

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My first priority is to write what I’m passionate about.

I had to sit down and ask myself a hard question. The question was, “How do I want to spend my time?”

The answer, though relatively simple, turned out to be, “I want to spend my time writing books I’m passionate about.” That’s it. That’s all I wanted when I got started in this writing thing. I didn’t think about marketing. I didn’t think about writing stories others wanted to read (aka “writing to market”). I didn’t think about trying to please people who weren’t happy with my books. I hadn’t given thoughts to book reviews. All I did was write the story that was burning within me to get down on paper.

So that is where I need to start. And that has ended up with a surprising domino effect.

My second priority is to put aside any story ideas that I’m not most passionate about writing.

Time is a limited resource. As much as I’d like to be able to do more, I really can’t. I have to eat, sleep, spend time with family and friends, etc. I can’t be at the computer 24/7. I need to let my mind have breaks. I need days off. If I don’t do these things, I will seriously burnout, and if that happens, I’ll probably be unable to write for a very long time. I don’t want that to happen.

I know people have been after me to write Hugh and Vivian’s story and also Shane’s Deal, but those stories are not what I’m passionate about. At least not at this time. I wish I had never even mentioned them. Since my publisher has Patty’s Gamble, I can’t go back and take out that thing about Shane’s Gamble. It’s stuck there. So is every other project I talked about at one point or another in a blog post or in a Facebook/Twitter post somewhere.

At any one time, a lot of ideas are swimming in my head. But, due to time, I can’t pick them all. I have to choose. In this case, I have to ask myself, “If I were to die next year, what books would I want to get into the world?” And that is the basis of how I make the decision on what I’m most passionate about.

People have said there’s something missing in my stories that used to be there. Well, I suspect that’s the passion for the story. I’ve been writing to market. I haven’t been taking risks or going against the tide. I haven’t been delving into the deeper parts of the human experience like I used to. I’ve been staying on this safe little road that was well-lit. I could see where I was going. While that offered safety, it was slowly draining my creativity. It was robbing me of the risk. There’s a certain thrill in driving (aka writing) into the dark where you can’t see where you’re going. I used to do that all the time. So I’ve just taken all of my stories off the lit part of the road. Now I’m in uncharted territory again. And writing over the past week has been more fun than I’ve had in a while.

Will people like this change? I have no idea. But if I keep going down the safe road, my stories will end up sounding the same, and I really don’t want that. I want to write better than I did before. I want to go down roads I haven’t been down yet. And the only way I’ll do that is if I pick stories based on how passionate I am about writing them.

My third priority was to cut out things that hinder my writing time.

Since I am putting time in for better eating, more exercise, more time with family and friends, and days off, I need to be smarter about how I spend my time. Part of this is removing things that cause me unnecessary stress.

Wattpad was the thing I decided to let go (at least as a writer).  I might stick around to read the stuff my authors friends have over there. I do want to support them, and to do that, I need time to read their stuff.  Wattpad is high stress for me. I’m an introvert. I need lots of quiet time. In order to be successful on Wattpad, you need to engage with other Wattpad users. I mean, seriously engage with them. You have to leave comments on their comments, read their works, comment on their works, mention you have a book up, and on and on it goes. I couldn’t keep it all straight. And that drains me of my energy. I think other introverts get what I’m saying, but extroverts probably think I’m nuts. But for my sanity, I had to let it go even though I met some great people over there. That was a sad thing for me to do, but I know it had to be done.

I won’t be doing anything else on You Tube, at least for the time being. Not that I was uploading more videos on You Tube anyway, but I actually had made a list of future videos to make. I had even gotten some videos in and was planning to upload them. But after all this, I better not. I need to scale back and find my focus again. Maybe someday I might actually have the time and inclination to dive back in? But for now, it’s going to stay as static as it’s been for over a year.

I’m not reviewing any more books. Believe it or not, reviewing books stresses me out. I know, I know. It’s silly. It’s just a review. But I have a terrible time knowing what to say in reviews. It’s even worse than writing my own book descriptions. I can’t just say, “I like the book.” I have to say “why”.  And that takes me, on average, two to three days to figure out. Then I wonder if the review sounded stilted because when I write it, I feel like it is.

I’m sure there will be other decisions that will pop up, but so far, these are the main three things I’ve decided to cut from my life in an attempt to clear time out to do my best work.

End Note

If anyone thinks this is easy to do, it’s not. It’s easier to sound brave than it is to feel it. I worry that this is going to be the end of my writing career. I’m pretty much throwing away the advice of authors and marketers who make more in 2-3 months than I do in a year. There is a lot of apprehension in veering off into a different direction. But I’m reminded of a saying that was on the wall of my Psychology teacher’s classroom in high school that still inspires me to this day. “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” (This quote was by Eddie Rickenbacker.)

I’m just going to move on ahead and focus on my writing. I know if I do that, the fears I have will grow smaller because my joy for my work will get bigger.

 

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Things I Notice That I’m Reverting Back To As I Focus on Writing for Passion

For the past couple of days, I’ve been retraining my mind to think the way I used to before I started writing to market. I made some surprising discoveries that I didn’t even realize about myself as a writer.

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Stressing word usage hinders my voice

For one, I like to start sentences with “And” and “But” a lot. This annoys some people, but I notice it’s something that helps me get into the story faster, and it helps my voice flow along easier. If I don’t have to stop and think about the way I’m wording sentences, I feel freer to concentrate on the actual story. I’m actually more relaxed when I’m writing. I didn’t realize that worrying over word usage during my writing made me feel so tense. I’m also allowing a little bit of “modern” language come back into the story. That’s been one of the biggest complaints I’ve gotten in my work. “Sounds too modern.” So I had started paying attention to that kind of word usage, too, and this also made it difficult for me to relax.

Now, I can hear someone say, “You write historicals, Ruth. Since you do that, you have to be mindful of your language usage.” Yes, that would be true if I was writing to market. But now I’m not doing that anymore, which means I can write the story however I want. I don’t have to write with the critique group in the background yelling at me to change the way I just worded a sentence. Does this mean, I’m going to intentionally put something in like, “This dress is off the hook!” No. Of course not. Most people would probably think someone just took the dress down from a literal hook instead of taking the sentence to mean, “This dress is gorgeous!” I’m just going to say, “This dress is gorgeous!”

However, if there’s a gray zone that something falls into where “maybe it is, maybe it isn’t”, I’m going to put it in and continue on my merry way because I’ve found that stopping and rewording things has been hurting the flow of my writing, and this might be way some of my work “seems” different. So I’m warning everyone ahead of time that if the way I wrote back in 2009-2013 with books like Eye of the Beholder, A Bride for Tom, or The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife bother you, you probably don’t want to read my future books.

For me, simple is better

I have read historically authentic romances from Regencies to historical westerns, and some of them have taken more work than it was worth to figure out what the heck the author was saying. I get that a lot of readers love that kind of thing, but I don’t. When I read something, I want it stated in simple English so I know exactly what is going on, when, where, and how. I don’t want to pull out a dictionary or pause every other paragraph to follow what the characters are thinking or doing. Maybe that makes me unsophisticated, but I’m not trying to impress people with my knowledge of the time period or with sophisticated words. I just want to tell a story that delves into the beauty that exists within marriage. That’s all.

When I read a book, I don’t mind simple language and few historical details as long as I get a story that keeps me turning the page to find out what happens next. So basically, I’m going to write my books for people like me. And yes, I realize this is not everyone’s cup of tea. But hey, there are more books out there than there will ever be time to read, and a lot of them already have the authenticity in them that will make readers who prefer those things happy.

I need to let heroines be who they really are in order to have fresh stories

Also, I’m not going to worry about whether something a character does or doesn’t do will make someone happy. In the past, I used to give free my characters complete control, and while they still make the big decisions (like on how the plot unfolds), I have toned down their reaction to things if I thought it might upset someone reading it. This is especially true for the heroines. When they started to get a little to “strong”, I would stop and find a way for them to tone it down so they didn’t come off as too “you know what”.

The reason I did think is because it’s one of the things I got the most complaints about (besides my word usage). For example, Harriett Larson didn’t fall right into Stan Craftsman’s lap right away when he started being sweet to her in His Convenient Wife. Some people thought she was being unusually mean by not letting him into her heart sooner. But seriously, it was too soon for her to trust him, which is why I wrote that book the way I did. But since I’d gotten complaints about it, I started toning my heroines down so that they pretty much “fell in love” with the hero as soon as he was sweet to her.  Most of the time, I avoided any plots where the heroine would fight the hero at all.

Also, if a heroine wants to pursue a hero, I’ll let her. I also get complaints about Rose Larson because she wouldn’t leave Kent Ashton alone. Catching Kent is one of my most unpopular books. But given Kent’s background, he wasn’t going to make it easy on any woman to get through to him. Only a heroine who was strong and determined was going to break through his wall. Now, I thought the book was funny, but a lot of people found it irritating.

I’m not toning my heroines down anymore. In fact, Annabelle Larson (Richard and Amanda’s daughter) is going to be very strong, and she’s going to give the hero a rough time time because he’s going to force her to marry him, which won’t make her happy. And just because he’s a sweet guy, it doesn’t mean he’s going to get an automatic pass on robbing her of her decision on who to marry. She’s going to make him earn the happy ending. Looking back, I think part of what boxed me in was limiting plots like this and heroines like this. Restricting what a character can’t or can’t do makes it extremely hard to come up with something fresh and exciting. I realize it’s not fresh and exciting to some people, but it is to me, which is how I’m going to be able to avoid writing carbon copy romances.

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Conclusion

I know the changes I’m making aren’t going to please everyone, but I felt it was important to warned you about what’s coming so that you don’t pick up one of my upcoming books and get disappointed. I realize some writers think that everyone on the planet will enjoy their work, but I know that’s not true. Certain people like to read certain things. I just want you to know what I’m going to do so that you can make an informed decision.

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The bottom line is that I’d rather have you spend your time and money on books that you really want to read. Life is too short to read books that aren’t interesting to you. I have a husband and four boys (and those boys are now getting into their teens). So I understand that life is busy, and people need to be selective when choosing what books to read. I really do hope you find the books that are the perfect fit for what you’re looking for. 🙂

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