So I sat down yesterday to write my blog and I must have been in a snarky mood because my husband read it and remarked that it sounded like a rant. Reading over it later with that in mind, I realized it WAS a rant and I needed to tone it down a little. Or write about something else. He's a Libra so he's very aware of balance and I was significantly 'unbalanced' when I wrote it. So I deleted it and now I'm going (hopefully) to write something on a little more even keel.
As a romance writer, I'm primarily a romance reader and I love to read, watch, or listen to love stories. They're uplifting and comforting and allow me to escape from the difficult things going on in my life for a short time. Despite this need for escape, I also need just enough realism in my fairytales to allow for my suspension of disbelief.
Take Cinderella, for example. I like the story, the whole rags to riches thing, and of the main character getting rescued from a truly detestable situation. However, I'm incensed that Cindy doesn't get off her butt to change her situation and decides the only way to get out of it is by a man saving her with marriage. The feminist in me sneers wildy. Even worse, Cindy meets Prince Charming in a disguise, so she's not being honest with him, and falls madly in love with him just from spending one short evening with him. Uh, well, maybe. Love at first sight might work, but mostly for dating, not marriage for the rest of your life. Love on the heels of a crystal shoe. Nice.
The versions of the Cinderella story that I do like are: Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson (introduced to me by my friend E. K. Yenawine) and the movie Ever After, starring Drew Berrymore, Dougray Scott, and Anjelica Houston. In both these versions, Edna and Danielle (Cinderella) do something about their situations and only look on marrying the Prince (or anyone) as just tasty garnish on the casserole. They aren't looking for handouts or playing the victim. This appeals to my own sense of self-worth and independence. Also, these two women get to know the men they fall in love with. No one night stands for them.
Speaking of E.K. Yenawine, she and I wrote a Cinderella story of our own after watching just a little bit of a terrible musical Cinderella at the video store (back before DVD's - gasp! I know; I'm showing my age). Our story had the wicked stepmother and stepsisters, the missing father (he was drunk with grief from the loss of his first wife), the handsome, rich prince (lead singer in a rock band) and the step family making the heroine's life unbearable. However, like Cinder Edna and Ever After, our story gave the heroine backbone and time; time to interact with the hero and get to know him so when she does fall in love with him, there's a basis for her feelings. She's not looking for handouts or for a rescue, but she certainly will take help from the man she loves. Toward the end, when the "prince" asks her to go with him, she takes a vacation from her responsibilities to get to know him better and finds out all sorts of things about him, some of which she doesn't like. Stay tuned for that!
This kind of story grabs me because the characters are likable, or easy to relate to (I know; bad English!), and I can put myself into their positions, either the male or the female. I believe they would act the way they do and it makes the fairytale even more enjoyable. I also believe they would get together in the end because they were given enough time to like each other, despite their faults (and oh yes, they have them).
So what makes a good romance story, then? My opinion is: likeable characters that have some redeeming qualities other than being young, handsome (pretty), and rich; a conflict that is tough to get through, but workable enough for the characters to grow; and interaction between the characters that's plausible enough to allow for a suspension of disbelief.
The best way to do this is put yourself in the position of the characters and think about what you'd do in the same situation. How would you react? What would you say? What would you feel, especially if you didn't know what the other character was thinking or feeling? How would you react to his/her reactions? In this case, don't ask, "What would Jesus do?" ask, "What would I do?" Make the interaction real enough that you believe it and that will make your story great.