Justine: Slow Burn in Romance

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This past Sunday, Jilly brought up a “blunder” with her recent contest entry. She’s writing a romance, but the relationship between her H&H is a slow burn. However, she got dinged by a few of the judges because there was little evidence of romance in her story (at least the first 50 or so pages) and none in her synopsis, yet this was a contest for romance writers.

I find it coincidental that Jilly got this feedback recently, because I’ve just read two books by Sarah MacLean (in her new Scandal and Scoundrel series) and one by Lenora Bell where there isn’t much evidence of romance right off the bat, either. Yet they were clearly romances, and quite enjoyable ones at that.

One of the things we learned early on in the McDaniel Romance Writing Program is that we have to get the H&H together on the page as quickly as possible. How *I* have always interpreted that was that they should demonstrate/show/feel some sort of attraction for each other, but after the last couple of books I’ve read (and Jilly’s feedback), I’m not so sure now. Maybe it simply means that the H&H need to be together, but not necessarily interested in each other.

Between the books I just read and the circumstances of Jilly’s story, I’m starting to wonder if we are seeing a new evolution in romance stories, or is this simply one or two authors? I’m speaking primarily of historicals, which is what I usually read, and an evolution that goes beyond bodice rippers and “the great misunderstanding.” Are we starting to see stories morph from a “get them hooked on each other from chapter 1” kind of plot to “there has to be definite interest, even if they don’t act on it, by the ¼ mark.” Are romance authors spending more beginning-of-the-story time on developing the plot rather than developing the romance? In other words, are we writing historical fiction with romantic elements instead of historical romance?

Of course not EVERYONE is doing it, but to have a few recently-published books I’ve read in the last several weeks demonstrate this seems quite coincidental. Or have I simply drawn the historical reader lottery and picked up three books that just happen to focus more at the beginning on plot than relationship building and physical passion?

MacLean and Bell’s books have me thinking about the evolution of my plot and characters (which is also a historical). I have my H&H on the page together from chapter one, but it’s been bugging me that, while there’s a sizzle between them, it’s not really the right TIME for a sizzle to happen between them. Yet there’s a part of me that’s afraid to NOT have the sizzle, because I am writing a romance.

At the same time, I’m also telling a story. A rather complex one. And the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to feel that pushing my characters together romantically too soon would make their situation seem forced and trite. Yes, I think I need my characters on the page together, but perhaps the attraction and romance needs to wait.

What do you think? Are you a fan of a clear and obvious romance right off the bat, or do you like a slow-burn kind of love story?

7 thoughts on “Justine: Slow Burn in Romance

  1. I think it depends on the story, Jeannine. Immediate physical attraction, whether acted on or not, can be fun to read, if it suits the characters and makes their arc more difficult. I think you can have a strong, powerful, satisfying romance without it though, as long as there is a strong connection between the characters from the first meet. It doesn’t always have to be insta-lust. If the reader can see the H&H belong together and will eventually be a couple but can’t imagine how the heck they are going to get there, you have a great story promise. Especially if you can see that when they DO finally get together, it’s going to be smokin’. I love a book that begins that way. It’s exciting.

  2. I think there’s a difference between a romance and romantic elements. I think a romance reader wants to see a couple in the beginning of the book, and they want to see some sparks of some sort. If they get something else, they may discard the book — or they may put on some other genre hat. At any rate, there has to be something compelling in the beginning.

    I think I write a lot of women’s journey (and sometimes men’s journey) stories, and I think romance and love is a very important part of that journey. But the journey part is what interests me, so I’m interested in establishing a dire situation from which to arise.

    I do think this demonstrates the danger of putting labels on one’s story before the story is finished. “It’s a romance, but it’s not acting like a romance!” Boy, I’ve fallen for that one several times, before I finally think, well, maybe it’s not a romance. And maybe that’s OK.

    I don’t think of Jenny’s books as romances, really. They’ve all got great romance in them, and the romance plot spurs and makes what I see as the main plot possible. But usually, her books are about a woman getting out of a rut. She never writes about a woman having a happy, fulfilling work life and suddenly getting blammo’d by love.

    To tell the truth, very few people write pure romance, even in the romance genre. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is doing the same kind of thing — getting women out of ruts with the help of True Love.

    Really something I’ll need to think about.

  3. I can go either way, but if the romance/sizzle isn’t there, I think I expect a stronger plot.

    And I never realized that till you asked the question.

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth: There’s Always a First Time – Eight Ladies Writing

  5. As long as there are sparks of some kind – whether the couple is attracted/lusting after each other or arguing/on opposite sides of a passionate issue – I’m willing to wait. But if they are ho-hum in the beginning and only become interested later, a story can lose me. I can’t think of an example off the top of my head, but I know I’ve read the ‘long-time friend, grew to realize I like you in a different way’ trope. I don’t know why it doesn’t work for me, especially as I have seen it happen in real life. Maybe because my personal experience was one of ‘our eyes met across a crowded room and we knew’, I look to recreate that in stories I’m reading (and writing)?

  6. Slow burn, any time, every time. I cannot stand love at first sight. Yes, it does happen in real life, but there’s nothing more boring than read about it in a story. I accept and like lust at first sight though, as long as the characters don’t jump into bed on page four. It ruins the slow burn process to me. Romantic tension, the will-they-won’t-they, is my ultimate choice in romance.
    So I don’t mind the general plot taking precedence over the romance at first, especially when I KNOW romance will blossom at some point. Scattered clues of a future relationship make me giddy. I love the wait.

    • The slow burn is one of the things I love about Heyer’s romances. Her characters don’t come together to the very end, for the most part, and even then, it’s sometimes uncertain! Like how Sylvester is going to remove his boot from his mouth and win Phoebe.

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