James and Sarah: A Love Story

I talked in this post about how my initial concept for Her Dear & Loving Husband was a romance between a vampire and the love of his life. Once I decided to incorporate historical fiction through the Salem Witch Trials, the love story between James Wentworth and Sarah Alexander took on another, deeper layer, one even I hadn’t anticpated.

On the surface, Her Dear & Loving Husband sounds like a traditional romance—the big, strong vampire finding the woman he loves. But what I ended up with what was Diana Gabaldon refers to as a “non-romance romance” (which is how she describes her Outlander books—check out this interview with Vulture). After all, the romance genre has very specific expectations. Here are a few tips about how to write romance from Jennifer Lawler:

  1. Follow the formula:

A hero the reader loves and a heroine the reader sympathizes with

A believable conflict

A happily ever after

  1. Focus on the emotional payoff
  2. The love relationship must be front and center
  3. Convey physical attraction

To me (and admittedly, I haven’t read many romance novels) romance novels are about sex. Girl meets guy (or girl meets girl or guy meets guy). Girl and guy are immediately attracted to one another and instantaneously fall in love. They have some problems, and great sex, along the way to their happily ever after. The end. I know that’s a simplistic view of romance novels, and I know that not all romance novels are the same, just as not all historical novels are the same. For the few romance novels I read, I never believed the characters were in love. I believed they were in lust. I believed they were crazy attracted to each other, but I didn’t buy the love part. Maybe some of you out there are lucky enough to have known at first glance that you were in love with someone. For the rest of us, love takes times. It takes patience and understanding, and yes, it may be triggered by physical attraction, but real love, the kind that lasts, needs room for growth. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with books about sex. I’m no prude (I’ve read 50 Shades of Grey). But as for me as an author, writing about sex isn’t that interesting. It’s what leads to the sex that I find fascinating.

I did have to stand my ground in order to write Her Dear & Loving Husband the way I thought it should be written. I had a beta reader for Her Dear & Loving Husband, a romance novelist, and she wanted me to turn the story into a more traditional romance. She wanted me to turn James into an alpha male. For those of you who may not know, an alpha male in a romance novel is a dominant character who is essentially Mr. Bossypants. I’m guessing my beta reader wrote her male romance characters as alpha males. For me, turning James into an alpha male didn’t feel right for my story. The beta reader wanted me to turn James into an attorney who crusades for women who have been victimized and/or abused. No. Really, no. James is a literature professor. That’s who he is. James is strong, physically and mentally, but he has the soul of a poet, and that’s what Sarah, the librarian, finds so alluring. It takes time for them to get to know each other. James, though living in the human world, has to hide that he’s a vampire. Sarah, though living each day as normally as she can, tries to hide from her vivid, frightening nightmares about the Salem Witch Trials. It takes time for James and Sarah to let down their guards, but once they see past the protective walls they’ve placed around themselves, they realize that they are right for each other, for many reasons. This is where their true love begins.

I no longer saw Her Dear & Loving Husband as a romance, which is just as well since following formulas doesn’t really work for me. As soon as I’m expected to do something a certain way I rebel and find a way to make it my own. I understood that I was writing a love story, not a romance, and I allowed myself to tell the story of how James and Sarah fell in love the way I felt in my heart the story needed to be told. While there are certainly elements of a romance in Her Dear & Loving Husband, I always refer to my novels as romantic rather than romance. For me, and for many of my readers, James and Sarah are the kind of couple you root for. You root for them to find each other, and you root for them to stay together. What else could you want from a love story?

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