It's been a great year, and to celebrate, I have collected all of the answers to the question "What makes a great romance?" that I have received from people I've interviewed on this blog over the last year. 'Cuz every time I interview someone, I ask them that. I say it's just for kicks, but really, I ask because I don't know.
So sit back and enjoy, and please, share your answers as well!
September Adams: There are several important – well, non-negotiable – requirements for a good romance. One is sexual fusion between the main characters. And yeah, I mean fusion in a scientific way. Another requirement is forced proximity. I read that in a romance novel how-to once, so I can’t claim that one for my own. The last requirement is a fair amount of romantic/sexual adjectives. And when I say fair, I actually mean excessive. I saw a great list once in a “How to Write Erotica” book and it’s been the closest thing to a Bible I’ve ever owned.
Katey Hawthorne: Characters who don't suck. There are so many awesome ways to work a romance angle, but I seriously think the thing that makes a story great is a character I want to see win. With romance it's sort of double-important because it's so closely focused on the emotions of the people in question. If they're annoying--as in too perfect or too blah--I just want to throw things and stomp around.
MC Blackman: For me, the same foundational things that hook me into any good work of fiction: interesting characters that I care about enough to spend several hours of my life with, and who I think about when I’m not with them. Smart, fundamentally solid writing is essential. Also, a compelling story. Sorry, but sex isn’t enough to sustain my attention. I’m that reader who skims through the sex to get back to the story (I still read all of the words, but faster). If the writing or the story feels amateurish, too contrived, too clever, too formulaic, too shallow, too gratuitous, or too overwrought, I’m out.
My Mom: Unbelievably naive and idealistic people who crush each other’s dreams, let each other down, then continue to love each other anyway.
Lisa Henry (This is her never-before-published answer because I, um, just realized that while she did send me this answer back in July, I forgot to include it in her interview. Sorry, Lisa!): The first thing you need is characters that people will give a damn about. Then you have to make them give a damn about each other. With me, it's all about the flawed characters. I like to read about, and write, characters who grow and become better people because of love. In fiction there are actually more rules than in real life. This means that in romance characters really have to earn their Happy Ever Afters. And I'm a huge fan of that. I love it!
Kay Berrisford: A good romance should be slightly frustrating, but in the best possible way. Okay, so what do I mean by that? Basically, when you’re reading a good romance, you’re so desperate for the two MCs to sort things out and get together that you want to turn over the pages quicker than you can read. Apart from you don’t want to turn over those pages and rush it, because you’re loving the story and you want to spend as much time as possible in these people’s company. So a really good romance is always a book you can’t put down. You need to read it in a single session or dash back as soon as possible. It really gets under your skin.
As for the exact ingredients e.g. setting, level of conflict, that’s all subjective as far as I’m concerned. Personally, I like a high level of conflict between the MCS—lovers to enemies is a trope I adore—and an interesting or high concept setting (preferably fantasy or historical). And, of course, I love ANGST, ANGST, ANGST, TORTURE, TORTURE, ANGST. But none of this is essential like the above, just my taste.
Huge thanks to everyone who sat in the hot seat over the last year! Thank you for answering this question for me.