Jilly: A Very Important Kiss

A Very Important KissDo you agree that in the right circumstances a single kiss could be an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending to the first book of a fantasy paranormal romance series?

No prizes for guessing which particular fantasy paranormal romance series I’m talking about 😉 .

This week, in between birthday and Christmas partying, I’ve been tweaking the first 50 pages of my WIP for entry into the RWA’s Golden Heart contest.

This story is very different from anything I’ve written before, and I want to make sure I don’t trip myself up on the GH deal-breakers.

In addition to assigning an overall score, first-round GH judges are asked to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the following questions:

  • Does the entry contain a central love story?
  • Is the resolution of the romance emotionally satisfying and optimistic?

If three judges answer ‘no’ to either question, the entry is disqualified. Which would be hugely disappointing, to say the least.

My previous GH entry was a single-title contemporary romance, so these questions weren’t really an issue. Which is probably why I didn’t pay them much attention until one of the judges in a local RWA contest pointed out that my romantic fantasy synopsis was all horses, swords and power politics. She said that if she’d read my pages as a GH entry, she’d have answered ‘no’ to both questions.

She was right. I’m still thanking my lucky stars for that judge.

I know my WIP is a romance supported by an action plot, not the other way around, so I’m confident the story itself satisfies Question One. I just have to write a new synopsis that follows the turning points of Alexis and Kierce’s relationship instead of describing their adventures. I’m still mortified I didn’t do that the first time around. For me the love story is the sine qua non of the book, so I assumed the reader would understand that without being told. I won’t make that mistake again.

I’ve been worrying about the second question, because this story is the first in a series and the romance is a very slow burn.

My current plan is for six books, and it’s not really a spoiler to say that by the end of Book Six, Alexis and Kierce will have removed all the obstacles to their Happily Ever After. Their growing emotional and physical intimacy will be the key to their success as they team up to defeat the Bad and Very Bad Guys and Save The World.

However. Six books means they have a long road to travel before they retire to the land of hearts and flowers. Alexis has been raised as a monk; she expects to return to the monastery where she will spend the rest of her life doing Useful Monkish Stuff. She’s seen plenty of fit men, but only as sparring partners. Until she meets Kierce, she has no experience of physical or emotional intimacy.

I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun. Basically here’s my question: Do you think it is okay for the resolution of Book One’s romance plot to be a kiss?

In today’s world physical intimacy is regarded as normal and healthy, and in a contemporary romance or romantic suspense it would be a surprise if the H&H did not make love. Whether the story is hot or sweet, I’d expect to read consensual sex at some point in the book. For Alexis, that experience will come much later, though I’m doing my best to foreshadow it.

For now though, a simple kiss would be hugely significant. An expression of her deepest, most secret feelings; a demonstration of emotional commitment; and a measurable waymark in the development of her romantic relationship with Kierce.

For me that would be an emotionally satisfying and optimistic conclusion to Book One.

What do you think?

14 thoughts on “Jilly: A Very Important Kiss

  1. I think yes, it’s fine — as long as the passion, longing and unrequitedness is reflected in all (or almost all) of their encounters. Otherwise, you have a fantasy series, where it would make sense that a couple may not actually be a couple yet by the end of book one. (If you think of the whole series as a three-act structure, then book one isn’t even a complete act!)

    One thing it might be important to think about is how each part of the action/swords/horses part either drives our hero and heroine together, or takes them further apart. I say “might” because thinking about that sort of thing only confuses me and makes me second-guess myself. But for me, it’s not a bg deal if the story is labeled romance or fantasy. The big deal is that there is a good story there.

    I should care more. Romance readers spend more money on average, and generally seem to be pretty nice people as fans. But I can’t write to them, or to whatever stereotype I have of “fantasy readers”. I have to write for myself, and hope other people enjoy the ride . . . .

    • You’re right – in terms of the story, this book is about halfway through the first act, so the end is only the first turning point in their relationship arc.

      Right now, the ‘romance’ label is important because the GH is a contest for romance writers, hence the deal-breaker questions. I think later it will be important to set expectations. I’m writing for myself, and it seems that the mix I like is ‘romance in a fantasy setting’ rather than ‘fantasy with romantic elements.’ I’d like other people to read and enjoy the story and that means making a clear story promise. Frex, I read a disgruntled review on Amz a few months ago by a reader who’d started a fantasy series expecting a thrilling adventure, and who had discovered by book 2 or 3 that he’d invested in a love story. Judging by the tone of his comments, he felt cheated and angry, even though the series was really well-written.

      • Oh, there’s that, too. If the reader buys into a fantasy and finds out it’s a romance, it can be quite a shock, especially to dudes who like their fantasy “pure”. Me, I like a book that can pull all sorts of threads together and skip through genres. I’ve read more than one great fantasy-mystery-romance novels.

        I think the most important thing you can do is write what you like writing, though. Maybe it’s not going to qualify for Golden Heart until Book Three. There have got to be other contests out there (or the best contest of all: a publishing contract).

        How much romance does a romance judge have to see in the first 20 to 50 pages, anyway? When I get home, I’m very tempted to go back and check through my favorite “romances” and figure out how many actually were romantic in the first few pages. I can only think of one (Bet Me) that has a definite “match ’em up” vibe right from the beginning — and I do admit that that’s the best romance I’ve ever read. I think, though, for a romance, there’s got to be two people, and there’s got to be some sort of spark (but it can be hatred as well as that sinking feeling of falling in love).

        That said, there’s that Heyer where Freddie turns out to be the perfect beau, and even though he’s in the first scene, it’s not clear at all that he’s the love interest (but that was Heyer playing with her own tropes).

        I wonder what the minimal threshold is? It’s got to be higher for judges, I suppose, or else they wouldn’t know what to judge.

        • There isn’t a rule for how much romance a judge has to see in the opening pages – just that the pages + synopsis must demonstrate that the central story is a love story with an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. That’s why the synopsis is so important. Your Heyer example (Cotillion, love that book!) demonstrates it perfectly. If you just read the first 50 pages, you would never know Freddy was the hero. If you read a synopsis of the whole story, you’d know he was; you’d read the opening pages through that lens and you’d see how brilliantly Heyer develops the romance.

          That said, I agree you need to give the reader clues, and some kind of spark – and romance readers are really adept at picking up signals. It must be supported by the synopsis, though, since that summarizes say 250/300 pages of story. When I’m judging, I like to read the pages first, then the synopsis to find out how the rest of the book shapes up, then the pages again. The judge who marked me down also said (paraphrasing) she hoped I’d screwed up the synopsis because based on the opening pages it was clear to her that the hnh were made for each other and if it wasn’t a love story, it would be a crying shame. That judge was definitely worth the entry fee!

        • (-: Yes! Cotillion! I love that one, too.

          You really did have a good judge. Synopsis can be so hard because there’s so much stuff, and only a little space to do it in. (-: Glad she saw the intent in your story pages!

    • Oh, good! I definitely agree with you about the longer, slower journey. I want the love story to arc over the whole six books. As a reader, one of the things I’ve noticed about fantasy series with strong romantic elements is that once the romance sub-plot is fully resolved and the H&H become a couple, I lose interest in the series even if the fantasy adventure plot is really strong.

  2. What do other fantasy writers do? A kiss would be enough for me as a reader, but I think the sex scenes in romance novels are the most boring scenes of the book, so I’m no judge. The GH judges know the ending only from the synopsis you include, right? They don’t read the whole book. I would think that even just a kiss would indicate an “optimistic” ending, so I’d think you would be safe there. And if I were a judge, I’d assume the central love story if two people were on the same page talking to each other. I don’t see how you could go wrong. Good luck! And happy birthday!

    • Thank you, Kay! Other fantasy writers run the gamut from all adventure and minimal romance of any kind, through to non-stop hot ‘n heavy in a fantasy setting. In the middle ground, urban fantasy writers like Ilona Andrews tweak the mix in different series – so the Kate Daniels books (published by Ace) I’d describe as strong romantic elements, but the Hidden Legacy series (published by Avon) is definitely romance.

      You’re right that for my GH entry it’s all about the synopsis. You have to upload the full manuscript, but it’s not judged. Only the partial and synopsis are judged. So the primary goal of my new synopsis will be to focus on the H&H’s love story, supported by adventure-y stuff. Got some work to do there!

      I hear you about sex scenes. I think it’s because most authors don’t write ’em properly. I recently read the first couple of books in a romantic suspense series and they were pretty good (well-written, interesting characters, great community), except that I’d guesstimate maybe a third of each book was taken up with sex scenes. They weren’t cringe-worthy, the H&H had a good and varied time, but there was no other point to the scenes. The scenes weren’t character-specific, and they didn’t move the story at all, in any way. Which left me, as a reader, feeling unsatisfied 😉 . Great romance writers, like Jenny and SEP, write sex scenes you can’t skip, because they’re particular to those characters in that situation, and they usually cause a seismic shift in the story.

  3. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. I like romance books with our without sex scenes, as long as the author does not go through ridiculous machinations to keep them chaste or to include gratuitous scenes (although, as Kay says, at least readers can skip those). I have also read lots of fantasy series, so am ok with the ‘will they/won’t they’ multi-book subplot. But if I pick up a book labeled romance and it only gets 1/6 into the relationship by the end of the book, I’m going to feel cheated of my romance story. This is just my gut reaction. There could be something about the book/series that does it so well, I’ll accept the premise. I just can’t think of an instance when I’ve seen it work for me.

    tl;dr: I am pretty flexible about romance categorization, and frankly miss the ‘strong romantic elements’ categories RWA used to offer in their contests, but it’s possible I wouldn’t consider this romance. If you run into judges or eventual romance readers who are less flexible, you could get some of those comments that ‘this is not what I thought I was promised’.

    • I know what you mean, Nancy! In real life you’d get a cover and blurb, and it would be clear it was Book 1 of a series, so hopefully you would know what to expect, and would buy in to the story promise (or not) before you started.

      I think you introduced me to Maria V Snyder. Would you call her Study series romance? That love story develops beautifully over multiple books.

      Darynda Jones’s Charley Davidson books won a paranormal GH and a RITA, and have become extremely successful. Honesty compels me to admit that I gave up on the series after the first few books because there wasn’t enough romance for me (your point exactly!) but I felt as though I was reading about 90% mystery, topped and tailed with just enough love story to keep the series moving. If the love story had been a more substantial part of each book, even 50/50, I’d have been very happy to follow its development over the whole series.

      I’ll keep your comments right at the top of my mind as I’m working on my synopsis. Thank you!

      • Agreed that on the bookshelf it will be easier to describe and create reader expectation. I think the GH contest is where it could get sticky.

        Poison Study (first in the series) was nominated for a RITA, but it was listed as General Fiction with Romantic Elements (or whatever it was called at the time) category, which no longer exists in the RWA contests. I’m not sure when those past winners of RITAs and GHs wrote the books that won, but they could have been under the same system that recognized books that did not have the romance story as their core. For legal reasons, the org changed its categories, and while I personally miss them, it means that to win in the contests, stories have to be more clearly romance than they had to be in the past.

        Funny story about Poison Study…SPOILER ALERT…Maria and I met in a multi-genre fiction writers’ group, and PS was the first manuscript of hers I read. Maria called it Fantasy, but there was obviously the slow-burn romance in the story. When we got the final chapter to critique, the one other romance writer in the group and I had a ‘hell no!’ moment, because the consummation of the love story was one sentence. One. Sentence. And it wasn’t even a particularly long one ;-). We demanded she write two full pages (all in good fun, of course). Her compromise was two paragraphs, which, IIRC, her editor made her expand even a bit more for final publication. We romance readers are a demanding bunch!

        • That’s an excellent story about Poison Study, Nancy. One sentence! Nooooo! As a romance reader I’m most grateful to your writers’ group, and to that editor 😀 .

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth: Mistletoe Reboot – A Christmas Short Story – Eight Ladies Writing

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