Ten Books You Must Read Before Writing a Romance Novel
They say you can never stop learning, and if you really want to hone your craft you must research, study and learn. Throughout this week we have done our best to offer you tips and advice on how to write a romance novel that you can submit to Harlequin. However, we cannot that before you can write a romance novel, you must learn how to write a novel period. So our editorial team has compiled a list of books you should pick up to sharpen your writing voice. Check out the list below:
Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
The perfect read for those who find pleasure in the finer points of grammar and putting words together. This is not “beach reading” unless you love how language works and are a consummate grammarian. Still, it is recommended because writers need to stay strict about writing effective sentences. The author has a biting wit and uses examples from the classics, which will remind readers why great authors are great. This is one of those books that will encourage the reader to avoid common mistakes and think strategically about crafting sentences.
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler is one of those books that carefully lays out the plot points each story should contain. Inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the author takes the reader through each step the protagonist must face to reach the end of his journey. While the writing process can be vague and unpredictable, this book helps the writer plot in a methodical manner. In many ways, it provides the light at the end of the tunnel for the writer who has no idea how her/his book should end. Like McKee’s Story, The Writer’s Journey is an essential book for the story crafter.
On Writing by Stephen King
For any writer, Stephen King’s On Writing is a fun read and quite useful. Not only does King reveal an interesting story about his struggles and triumphs, but in the second half, he gives useful “nuts and bolts” advice to writers. This is truly a book that will sweep you away. It is inviting, succinct and full of charm. By the time you finish, you’ll realize that King has given you valuable tools of the trade and insight into his life. It is both a story and a guide.
Four Screenplays: Studies in the American Screenplay by Syd Field
It may not seem like a must-read for those involved in book publishing, but when the editorial department at Harlequin read this book, it spurred a valuable discussion on the importance of structure and character development in every story.
Mr. Field’s discussion of Thelma & Louise is a welcome reminder of what good character portrayal is. We are instantly connected to these two women, we believe them. Not because they tell us who they are, but they show us—through their actions, dialogue, relationships. Whether a movie or a book, more showing and less telling makes for an intriguing story!
For movie buffs it’s a bonus look at how a few of our favorite movies came together. When I went back and watched Terminator 2 after reading Four Screenplays, I saw it in a different light—no longer was it just an action adventure movie with fantastic special effects, but also a very carefully structured story with an android we could cheer for!
So please do pick up this book if you get the chance—it’s a good read on the art of telling stories.
Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon
In less than 150 pages and in an easy-to-read style, Dixon has written a how-to book that explains the key elements to any story. First, you must have characters the reader can identify with and care about. Those characters need to have goals or a call to action (or else what’s the point?) and clear motivations (the why). Finally, if your characters are skipping along and happy with their lot in life… uh-oh. You’ve forgotten conflict! This last element is non-negotiable. As Dixon states: “People with perfect lives are boring, and…well…frankly, they’re irritating.” Darn right. And no reader wants to be bored or irritated!
If you want to learn about the craft of writing, start with Goal, Motivation & Conflict, and “go write!”
Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
As an editor for Harlequin Books I’m always captivated by a great title. Save the Cat! is one book title that stirs your curiosity. But even more it provides another take on the creative process. True, the book is aimed at screenwriters, but there is much to be learned if you are writing a novel. It covers key things such as structure and scene development, never mind how to describe your book when you pitch to an editor—the infamous logline.
As for “saving the cat” — it’s the critical scene where we meet the hero and he does something—like saving a cat—that defines him and endears him to the movie audience. Or in the case of a book his actions endear him to the reader. Snyder’s book is chock-full of great advice and common sense. His premature passing has left a gap in the world of screenwriting. Check out www.blakesnyder.com for more information!
Story by Robert McKee
Though intended to help screenwriters, this in-depth, well-thought-out guide covers many topics that directly cross over to writing fiction. Conflict, characterization, scene and act structure, as well as problems and solutions, are some of the relevant subjects that are analyzed.
The editorial department at Harlequin has spent a fair amount of time reviewing McKee’s work and how it applies to the challenges that we face with manuscripts from time to time. Recent discussion groups have focused on chapters 8 and 9, The Inciting Incident and Act Design. We’ve also attended his three-day seminar, which is quite a show—a lecture spiced with Hollywood anecdotes and rules to be adhered to! Check out www.mckeestory.com for more information.
The book is organized efficiently and logically, and while some points speak to us more than others, overall we believe it’s a useful aid for reminding us of the key basics of storytelling, and feel it might be worth looking at if you’re in the market for the same.
The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner
Lerner’s book is subtitled An Editor’s Advice to Writers, and that’s just what you’ll find here—the kind of passionate opinion a sage mentor might proffer over lunch. You won’t find any checklists in this book, but you will get a peek inside one veteran editor’s mind.
Part one is a taxonomy of author temperaments—are you the self-promoter or the wicked child?—that will have burgeoning writers asking themselves some hard questions: Do I like the idea of being a writer more than the idea of actually writing? What does it take to be a “natural”? Can I promote my book and preserve a sense of modesty? Though these sketches may feel too sweeping at times, they do answer the questions so many authors must secretly ask themselves.
Part two looks at the publishing process from the inside. Ever wonder what editors are thinking when they read your submissions? Have you been trying to crack the code to discover what that form rejection really means? Well, here’s your chance to find out from someone on the inside. You can visit Betsy Lerner at www.betsylerner.wordpress.com.
Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies by Leslie Wainger
This is a must for every romance writer. A veteran editor for Harlequin these last thirty years, Leslie Wainger knows everything about writing a romance novel—period, game over, end of story. With her direct, witty and informative style, Leslie Wainger will give you all the goods you need to get started writing your romance. She takes you through the entire process with such important points as researching the market, putting together memorable characters, and generating chemistry between them. All you need to do is use your new knowledge and write a great story. Run, don’t walk to get this fabulous book!
In addition to the fabulous book recommendations, we also suggest that you search the blogosphere and look for smart, savvy writers in fields you don’t usually work in, and whose points might not be the ones you’d always agree with. Authors need to continually challenge themselves to break out and experiment, look beyond their own mind, and grow. So do look at the great blogs by romance authors and agents that are out there (because there are some fantastic ones!). But after keeping up on our side of the business, try a few beyond the romance world. You can browse Copy Blogger; Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds.com (be warned–he’s challenging!), Ask Allison; and Liz Strauss’s Successful Blog among others.