Coast to Coast Romance

What makes a Romance Novel?

August 15, 2021 Ann Jensen & Skylar West Season 1 Episode 1
Coast to Coast Romance
What makes a Romance Novel?
Show Notes Transcript

Show Notes Episode 1 What make a Romance Novel

Romance stands on three points

1. The ending, HEA or HFN

2. The main plot of the story is the growing emotional/physical connection between the main characters

3. Must include at least two people and when, where, and how did they meet. Telling the story of two separate people that come together.


The primary romantic characters should meet or be introduced to the reader in the first quarter of a book. They don’t have to be together romantically that quickly but if they don’t at least meet the story is more about an individual’s journey rather than the romance itself. For the majority of romance novels they will meet and have some type of spark by the end of chapter two.

How fast should a couple connect physically? 

Depending on the heat level of the romance novel this answer can vary wildly.

The higher the heat the faster the connection usually occurs. The most common in a steamy novel is for the spark to be instantaneous not instalove but perhaps insta-lust. There is a physical draw, and the reader should feel that from the moment the two characters meet. In most romances by the end of the first three chapters, there is an expectation to see a physical draw between the lead characters. Even in sweet romance there should be sparks, or an emotional bond. 

A romance wouldn’t be a romance without that connection. Could you imagine a mystery novel wher the mystery doesn’t start until two-thirds of the way through the book?

What is heat level?

Heat level has two elements 

1. Steam - This is the push pull of physical desire. Do they want to snuggle and hold hands or rip one another's clothes off.

2. Explicit - What sexual activity is described on the page? Do the author close the door on the sex scene or invite you to watch? 

HEA vs HFN (Happily Ever After vs Happy For Now)

HEA: Sleeping beauty is the ultimate HEA in the end, love conquers all. That can happen in a single book or a series. The reader is left with the sense that everything has been resolved and the couple has no more dragons to slay. It is often accompanied by a wedding or baby possibly in an epilogue that wraps up and small loose ends.

HFN: Is often used in series or short stories where an HEA is not believable. The reader feels like the couple has overcome their current issues and are happily paired up even if everything is not completely settled. It is the belief that the HFN could lead to the HEA eventually that leaves the reader satisfied.

Contact Information:

Ann Jensen

Skylar West

Hi, I'm Ann Jensen coming to you from the east coast of New Jersey. Hi, I'm Skyler West coming to you from the west coast of Canada. We are two romance writers using our life experiences to break down and share with you all things romance, how you find your next book, boyfriend, discovering genres and tropes and looking at what works and why, and what doesn't work and why. So the purpose of our first few podcasts is to connect with the audience have some fun while we do it. So am I know that you have some thoughts on the access points to what makes romance romance? Perhaps you'd like to cover with us? What those three points in the access are? Sure, for me a romance stands on, you know, kind of like a tripod, three points, whether it has an ETA or an H fn, which is our happily ever after, or happy for now, the journey of the main plotline of them being separate, and then being together as a couple. And you must include at least two people, and when and where and how do they meet? Okay. So, for me, that is the core of what a romance is, it's telling the story of two people who aren't together then do come together. Okay, so based on your could sort of your tripod, or the triad of romance, right? The three components, the two people when they meet, so there's a lot of thoughts, there's a lot of conversation and pin opinions and desires around when those two people join. And then how fast from the meeting point to the launch of the actual romance? What are your thoughts on that? So in my opinion, if the two characters don't come together in the first, I'm going to say quarter of the book, then it's a story that's more about individual's journey instead of the journey of the relationship. So I want usually within the first three chapters for the characters to at least meet and have some sort of Spark, it doesn't have to necessarily be the romantic Spark, but it does have to be the beginning of the relationship. Okay, so let me ask you another thing, then, because both you and I writes romance with a bit of a steamy edge to it. And so based on that subcategory, or sub genre, whatever you want to call it, how fast and say one of your my books, do you feel that a couple should connect, and then things get started between the two of them. So whether or not they actually physically Connect, that desire to physically connect in an erotic romance should be happening almost at the same time. Now, a lot of people accuse that of being Insta love. I wholeheartedly disagree, I think when you get into the steamier side of romance, you can start with Insta lost, I guess is the best word for it. Right? Right. And even when it's in a situation, you know, as we'll talk later about enemies to lovers, or they don't necessarily like each other, they still have that physical draw towards each other. Right? And the reader should feel that from the moment the two characters meet. Okay, good answer. I agree with you. I think that in traditional romance, regardless of the trope that's included in that, that by the end of the first three chapters, we need to know that, you know, there's something going on, there's a connection that's going to be created, and it's going to take us eventually into a conclusion, or if it's a series at least be the first part of that conclusion. And I think also that in the type of books that you and I put out thus far that the connection that you're describing is that it's almost a pre determined connection, meaning that regardless of the trope or the sub genre, there's going to be two people. And something's gonna happen between them. Yes, absolutely. Yeah, we know that. Yeah. And it's, it's interesting, because even in my sweet romance when the two people meet, I want to know that there are sparks, I don't want it to I don't want it to feel like to Friends Meeting, right. People who are even if that attraction is a negative attraction, like I just feel, you know, angry or you know, like it has to be an emotional bond that starts absolutely there needs to be a chemistry that connects the two disembodied characters into this connection where something's going to occur and I like both things that you said because you mentioned really like if you hate them to start off with you're talking kind of an enemies to lovers type idea and which is extremely popular. And the other one is, is the friends to lovers. And I love that too. Because there's this moment, you know, somebody but there's this moment when all sudden it clicks. Yeah, right. And I'm not sure if I like more than when one of them has secretly had a crush and the other one all of a sudden frames their eyes, or when both of them just get put in a situation where all of a sudden the thoughts go from friendly to romantic, right? I mean, I like both of those things. And, you know, go going on that I don't think the steam level matters, because in any romance, you want the emotional journey, and you want to see that emotional journey. Start early. You know, I don't think anybody would like a mystery book, if the mystery didn't start until three fourths of the way dumb down the book, because very true, wouldn't be a mystery. So right. Same case being for romance. If the romance doesn't start, or have a spark in the beginning, the reader is just going to be confused. Okay, so you made a good point about the heat level. So why don't we talk about that for a minute, when you say heat level? Are you talking about the heat of the story? In general, the connection of the two main characters, or what the two main characters do or do not do for heat level? For me he level is two elements. One of the elements with heat level is their physical desires, are they instantly wanting to pull each other's clothes off or kiss each other or hold each other's hands, you know, going down down the spectrum of heat level. And then the second element to heat level to me is what is displayed on the page. I've read some very, very, very steamy books that close the door once it comes time now, I'll admit, personally, as a reader that disappoints me. Wait a second. All this heat and build up? And then you close the tour? Is there a name for that? I'm sure there must be a name for that. Yeah, but so to me, you can have a really steamy book, where it's a physical attraction without necessarily showing it on the page. The actual act to me, it's almost like you have a steam level and an explicit level. Just word for it. Yep. Yeah, for sure. And it's interesting, because as you were talking about the closing the door, or having a lot of build up that takes it all the way through, but not necessarily detail. or explicit steam. It makes me think of that old book, lady. Lady Chatterley's lover. Yeah. And I don't know if you ever read it. But when I saw the cover, and I read that the title of years ago, I went, Oh, this is the book for me. And wow, was I mean, I love the idea. And I love the older authors that can literally draw out one scene and an entire for an entire chapter. Hmm, like one. One connection? Yes. But it's but I kept, you know, reading looking for, as you say, waiting for the waiting for the payoff. Right. And but it was, it was just that it was suggested because that was right from the get go. There was the suggestion there. But the the going from the suggestion to the act, had all of this build up. Hmm. And the act had very little It was very inconsequential in every way. right for me, and I found that really interesting. Whereas you think about that numerous series that Diana golden has written I shouldn't say Newark, because she, I think start writing them in the early 80s. Yeah, I know. Do we feel old or what? Because remember that book we picked up? Wait, that was 20 years ago. Okay. Exactly. or longer? But yeah, I mean, when you think about, you know, here's a married woman who here's another trope of romance, right or sub genre. She's time traveled. Mm hmm. So I believe they call that you know, science fantasy. And so she's time traveled and she's married and yet she has a gets another husband. So now she's got a husband and each time, but the how quickly, she connected physically with that new husband. Like, she didn't leave that out that it was a little it's not a steamy, necessarily romance book. She doesn't shy away from those physical interactions. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. No, I think that is a very good were to me. The heat level isn't as high in her books, but the explicit level is high. Right. Very interesting. Yeah. And it's to me, I think when people forget the to want, you know, the reader goes hand in hand, it can sometimes be jarring. Yes. 100%. So here's another interesting example. I know you Are as much of an avid readers myself but I just finished a book by a Scottish author Sasa Daniels. And it was called the alphas prize. Now she's got an entire series and this was book five. I have not read them all. But I will, because I enjoyed book five so much, right. But basically, this is your typical shifter romance. So I guess a subcategory of science fiction, paranormal, paranormal. Yeah, yeah. And in this, she's got a twist on the pre arranged marriage. So in the destined fated mate. Yeah. So, you know, she doesn't get married off until her brother's actually peeled with her punishment. It's like, you're gonna marry somebody you hate. That's like, okay, where's this gonna go, but she runs from this person. And when they finally Connect, and she's with the wolf pack out of Russia, and she's the from the wolf pack out of Italy, her sister's in now involved in the wolf pack in Scotland. So it's interesting how we're dividing now countries a covering that, but she did a really good job of, there's more to come. She hasn't quite made up her mind yet. She hasn't decided that he's Yes, he has her. Yes, this is what she's supposed to be doing. But there's still a chance that she might say, by the way, they might say no, or find a way to leave. And so it kind of keeps you like really turning those pages until you know, she's locked in. Of course. I won't tell you when that happens. I don't want to ruin it for you, but but the heat level stays very consistent. Right? All the way through. Like there's, there's not that one moment that you wait for. It's that you get a lot of those moments all the way through. So they're it's very well peppered, right. Yeah, yeah, no, and I I've read a lot of faded made books, and my favorite are the ones where either one of them is human, and unaware that they're fated mates. So they they have to fall in love while the other person is, you know, like, okay, we're fated. Let's go. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, you just, you just need to accept it. Like, I know this instinctively. Let's go. Yep. I also enjoy when they're faded, and you get that connection in the beginning, but then the love grows. Right. So you know it. But again, it's the journey. Uh, you know, getting back to the the tripod, what we enjoy about romance is that journey, even if, say they have sex in chapter one, that doesn't mean they're in love that that doesn't mean that there aren't going to be problems or obstacles to overcome or anything like that. We're going to follow their emotional journey. And I write romantic suspense. And in most of my books, well, all of them so far, the threat to the relationship is external. It's not an internal threat. But the book is still about going from lust to love. Right? while they're overcoming these external obstacle external obstacles, that's a really good point, because I would have to say that mine are almost identical. In my paranormal series, angels and demons, is the threats are always from the outside. Right, right. It's always an exterior or uncontrollable challenge that they have to get through. Right. And I think the books that a lot of people refer to as angsty are the ones where the challenges are internal. What someone doesn't want to fall in love. Someone doesn't want to care about this person. Someone doesn't want to get tied down someone doesn't. Someone doesn't think they're deserving of a relationship, someone you know, and so the struggle that you follow is them overcoming their internal obstacles. Right. And I think the kind of the runaway bride trope is a perfect for that. I love that. It's an of course that the famous example of Julia Roberts Runaway Bride movie, but yeah, I find that. And same thing in I don't know if you started the new Netflix series bridgerton. I know it's different than the book series. So I know there's a lot of people that have now watched season one that are going to the books just to kind of do a cross reference, but it's the same thing. It's their challenges are internal 100% so there is a lot of angst. Yeah, no, you'll you'll find this people will be horrified to hear this. I don't watch TV at all good for you. I haven't for almost three years. So I'm a little out of touch with what's on TV, but yeah, no, it's better anyways, right? Yeah, I spend that time reading or or doing other things. But yeah, no, it's one of those choices in life that I made. Now, I wanted to ask you a question on your opinion. So I know that occasionally you've had this conversation with other people about HCA versus hfm. Right? I'd be curious to know what your opinions are for one is hfm. Appropriate versus h EA? or What does HCA mean, versus h fn? Right? Well, and you're right there's a lot of opinions on those two definitions, right? So happily ever after, to me is sleeping duty it is you no matter what the prince is going to save the princess now you can put it in any trope you want to when basically it's a happily ever after, whether it's internal angsty, or whether it's external forces that are making life difficult for the couple. Eventually, in the end, love conquers all. So that can happen in an independent a single book and that can happen in the series. Now I know where you're going with this because in a series that's where you get into the hfm the happy for now, right? Now my books have been accused of being a happy for now and I tend to disagree with that label. And the reason is, is that for my in my status, and it you'll you'll see this in not just angels and demons, but in crowd uncross as you follow these, there is a main carrot main couple introduced in each book, right? And so there's this takeover, or this sharing of the story through these couples. So no matter what, at the end of each book, there is a completion. Yes. Right. And and I believe that in order to have a happily ever after in a series, whether they all are independent in the series, or they all are regulated through a series, another author that does that, is it Lucas, she's got 44 or 48 books in one of her series. And all of those characters continue, right. So there's a new character or a couple introduced new couple for sure in every book. And then the main kind of hub of these characters continue along, as they all kind of become this community of people. And one could could accuse those of being happy for now, because we ultimately don't know how the series ends. But every single book has a happily ever after. Right now I find the the hga fun fallacy to play with simply because I don't know if you know, the play into the woods. But why do I know that? I feel like I know that there is a movie on Netflix if you want to see it. Okay, they recorded the movie. But what what it does is it takes several of the fairy tales. Yes. And at the midpoint is everybody's hga. And then the second act happens, right? So true, the princes go off and start cheating on the princesses, and Rapunzel, who got her babies, you know, is going crazy with twins, you know, having to raise them and you know, and things like that, and more horrible things happen to them. So, to me, even an HCA could be an HSN. But to me, the term h f n is more appropriate for either a series where you're you're just following a single couple. Yes. Along the way, or a short story. Yes. Because it's hard to make a believable hga. Yes. in shorts in a short story. So it's an H f n with the assumption that they'll achieve a ga at some point. Absolutely. And what's funny about the show into the woods that you mentioned is if you go through the history of these fairy tales, right, they're all created for lessons. But perro does a set of fairy tales and that show was based off of a different rendition. Right so in his rendition, Rapunzel does have twins right now and it's it's just total sidebar. My aunt gave me when I was a small child a copy of the original groom's turret fairytales and gave it to me when my father was in charge of me and my mother was away. And so my father just started reading it to me, and my mother came home to read it to me. And she got to the end of the Cinderella story and goes, she read ahead and she was horrified. So she goes and they lived happily ever after. And me as a three four year old child went and she made them dance on hot coals till they died died. That's awesome. You know what's funny about that is I have the same book. I used to teach storytime yoga. So another sidebar. And one of the things you do is you teach yoga through stories. And so there are some really interesting fairy tales in that book. And the the sleeping swans and, and they are all very bloody. And Cinderella in that particular story, every country in the world has a version. And so there's over 208 Cinderella stories, right? Because this is because she's such an interesting arch type. Right? Right. Female arch type? Yeah, yeah. To me, I feel like people when they first come to romance, that's what they're expecting. They're expecting the prince like everything to be shiny. You know, that's the, the, the Disney versions of a romance story, right? And then they stay for the grip. You know, like for the complications and that like, because there's only so many times you can read the perfect tale. You want to see the trials and the tribulations and the conflicts and everything like that. That's what makes it interesting. 100% Yes, I agree with you. And I, I know that I just finished writing another book where the first book was the parents, actually. And the second book is the daughter and her story. And but having that original couple come in, and they're now a senior couple, just not not only as their position, but but we know who they are. Right? We love who they are. So now we get to watch how they interact with that next generation and how they create their vibe. And I just think it's so much fun. You're right. I mean, books are about what makes the great 100%. And the more engaging they are. But I also believe that one of the reasons that romance is so popular and remains popular is the safety of it, the safety of knowing that after all the heartache and all the journey and everything that you go through in the end, quote, unquote, good will win or you know, like, the couple will win out, you can feel pain safely, you can feel, you know, worry safely because you're reading it. And you know, it'll happen whereas with other books like suspense or mystery, or just women's fiction, or any of those, it's not guaranteed. No, and I know that me personally, part of the reasons that I will pick up a romantic suspense long before I'll pick up just a suspense is because I will get that happy feeling at the end, I will get that sense of completion that said that happily ever after. Yep. I'll leave the book happier than when I when I entered it. 100%. That's a very valid point. And I think if I was to look at my motivations, which is what you're talking about, my motivations to read, romance are the same, is that I'm guaranteed to happily ever after. And I need that because my life's already hard, right? everyone's life is already hard. I want to read about someone else's, you know, the hard stuff. And because I can relate to that, right, I can have a relationship. Now there's this relatability factor. And by knowing that it works out for them, it gives me this little edge that makes me feel like it's gonna work out for me too. Yeah. And I also think that's why romance readers are able to be as voracious as they are. Because imagine if you read, I don't remember what the actual numbers are. But like the average romance readers between reads between like 10 and 30 bucks a month, something like that. And imagine if you were reading 10 to 30 books that didn't end happy that we're, you know, like, you'd be a depressed, angry person. You lose faith in humanity. It's so true. I love the way that you're thinking. And you know, what's funny about that is, I was just thinking about that. They call it a coffee table novel, it's more in peace. And when I was 19, I set a goal for myself. I was not a big avid reader back then. But I thought if I'm gonna read a book, I'm gonna read, you know, a book that's 8000 pages, or whatever crazy was, I think it took me six months. And then it sat on my coffee table, literally. So I could say I read this, but there was nothing happy in that book. Yeah. Now I've read many books while I was growing up that no, yeah, like if that was all I read, I would not be as happy of a person. There is some brilliant authors that don't write romance. But they have this. They're interesting. I don't know if you know, Herman has, but he's written sidhartha and Damien and a bunch of other books. These are German race. Originally, his words came out in German, and of course, they've been transcribed into every other language in the world, but it every story. There's this love, right? So in sidhartha there's this love for humanity. There's so there's a romance, there's and so you already know, there's gonna it's going to turn out okay, which is super exciting. And the same thing with this book. Damian who's again follows this half the book is this following this kid who's trying to figure out how to deal with all the adversities in life and makes friends with a kidney. Damian seems to be all that and a bag of chips. Yeah. And when those two become friends, his life changes. And inevitably, it follows them to college. And most of the conversations take up in a cat in the tavern while they're drinking wine. Lots of it. So there's this relationship that's evolving, it's not sexual at all. It's it's a humanitarian love, one for another and heat. That's what those are books that I could read more frequently if they weren't so meaty. I call those MIDI books, other books. And yes, Pride and Prejudice, you know, yes, my favorite all time novel, fretted 100 times. I love Mr. Darcy. I think the main heroine is probably one of the best fictional characters of all time, right now love her. And their conversations have everything in them. I mean, there's they're wonderful now I it's interesting. I always saw it sort of like Gypsy Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Love it, the movie or the book, I've done both both. But but because you have that witty dialogue, you know that back and forth where I think I liked it better when I saw this play, or I saw it as a movie, because you could hear that back and forth. So even if you didn't necessarily catch all the meaning of the words, you caught the meaning of the exchange between them. The innuendos are huge, I find. And the other thing I like about that is, if you think about Shakespeare, I mean, all of his stuff that he wrote about was supposed to happen behind closed doors, right? This wasn't, hey, I mean, now we're living in a time where you stop on the street, and yet make out for a minute with your boyfriend or your husband or your date or whatever, thinks about it. But you didn't do that back then. So you had to have the dialogue to express how people felt, you know, where they were really at. And another one that's like that is Shakespeare in Love. And I've seen this Shakespeare production of it. A Bard on the beach here locally, and it was brilliant. I had me in tears, because the guests there was a Nxd. But it's you feel what they feel. And that's a good book. Yeah. And that's what we're trying to create. It's that emotion that exchange that glimpse into another human's interactions that may or may not be like our own. Absolutely. And then that brings us nicely to the third point, and must include two people to be a romance. Now, I am not in any way. I love myself a good reverse harem. But I think that authors have Hirschhorn set themselves a path that's a lot harder to be more than just erotic, because you have to have the journey between more than one person, you know, and you have to make us grow with more than one person to me. Everyone needs to change from beginning to end. Well, yeah, and they need not changed by the relationship or changed by the circumstances or changed by the you know, like, because if someone's a grumpy fuddy duddy when they start and they're grumpy fuddy duddy when they end, and they never have any sort of Revelation, or growing or anything within them because of the relationship, it doesn't feel as satisfying. So I think all of us need to feel that we become more not that we're not good enough by ourselves. Because that's another problem with some romance is you don't want to character that you don't want characters that are incapable by themselves, but you do want them to become more within the relationship. And I think it's the I disagree with the statement of you know, one plus one equals one, I think one plus one equals three. So they they grow, and they're more than they could have been alone, but they're still a solid person by themselves. And I think we need to show that in a romance is that, you know, they were one thing when they started and they were more and better when they ended, not necessarily that the start point was bad, but well 100% I agree with you. And if I was to think about what those elements are that create the better I agree with you. I think one plus one equals three. There's that what she was, if this is a male, female, obviously there's many versions but there's she becomes better and that she grows. And it could be even simply that you have a female character who is doing her own thing hasn't dated maybe ever, or in a long time, because it just didn't work out that one time. And then magically, you know, she finally gets to go on a date with the one and she grows, because she realizes there's nothing wrong with her. There is nothing wrong with anything that happened. Maybe it was just there was no chemistry, right? He gets to grow from the experience of having a positive outcome. And I think I agree with you that for me, regardless, if it's reverse harem, I read a really interesting book where the girl was with one two, I think it was five guys, but she got me because every book she added in the dynamic of that second or third or fourth or fifth relationship, right. And, and I, I have to say that I prefer if it's a reverse harem, that it's a multi series, like a multiple series so that we can see the rest of each relationship becoming more exactly and ended and she was quite brilliant with it. And in addition to it, she also did backstory. So as she's introducing this new twist with this other person that is part of the group, let's say, there's also more backstory that alludes to why this person was the way they were when she came across them in the first place. Right. But I agree, I think there needs to be growth in characters and in relationships. And I think that a lot of people, a lot of writers, a lot of authors make the mistake of thinking that the only way to show that is through lots of action or lots of talking. It literally can be the smallest of shifts, right, as long as they're constantly occurring. Yeah. Right. And so so by the end of the book, you're like, Oh, look at that he was this she was that they got together. She was kind of this way, he was kind of that way. It's obvious in a billionaire story, obviously. Right? How it's especially if he's the billionaire, how that benefits her. But, you know, I don't mind taking the new Ferrari and a whole new wardrobe in a private jet to Paris. Absolutely. With lots of money. I will say and anybody listening to this, feel free to email me a good harem story, right? Because the few that I've encountered have not been romance, they've just been straight erotica. It pains me yet I would love to not just see reverse harem. I would like to see a well done romance. Yes, for sure. And I agree with you. I've read quite a few where they're more of a trio or more kind of thing, or develop into that, but it is always based around sex. Right, right. So there's, it's not not that that's a wrong thing or a bad thing. And that's Oh, no, it's just a different. I mean, and we can get into this a little bit, but we're running out of time. But the difference between steamy romance versus erotica. And to me, it's the journey to love that makes the difference. The whether it be an internal or external or whatever, it doesn't matter the steam level. It's that it's not just about the physical relationship. There is more there than that. 100% Well, that's fantastic. Can I believe that is a wrap excited to hear how everyone enjoyed our session. Thank you for listening to coast to coast romance. I'm Ann Jensen, and I'm Skyler West. If you'd like to contact either of us. Our links are located in the show notes. Have a great week. Thanks so much for joining us.