Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
I've always been a sucker for a good love story. I'm not sure it would even be possible for me to write a book without one. And fortunately romance is a genre that always sells well. While nuances of the genre boom at different times (Amish romance, paranormal romance, romantic suspense etc.) romance as a whole pretty much always sells.
But what is it that makes the romance storyline matter to the reader?
Why did we cheer for Matthew and Mary on Downton Abbey? Why are Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy so timeless? What is it about Flynn and Rapunzel that we love so much?
I think fictional couples are made great by the same thing that real-life couples are: They are better together than they are apart. As an individual, they are a whole, complete person. But that other person empowers them to be even better. And as a result, life is improved for all around them.
While the story of Gatsby and Daisy from The Great Gatsby has some romantic moments, as a couple they're a drain on their community. Same with Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. They're not healthy people as individuals, and their romance isn't healthy either. Fascinating to read about, maybe, but not something you want to model in your own life.
In contrast, Elizabeth Bennett is her own unique person in the opening of Pride and Prejudice. We like her. We want what's best for her. Mr. Darcy is also his own unique person in the beginning of the book. The reader understands that the two of them could go on as they are and still have a happy life. But as the story progresses, we see how Elizabeth brings out the best in Mr. Darcy and how Mr. Darcy (eventually) brings out the best in Elizabeth. They are made more fully themselves by being together.
I've been listening to the audio recording of a class by Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler. In the class, Michael Hauge said something about romance stories that really struck me. He talked about how all characters have a way that they perceive themselves, an armor of identity that they wear. But inside, they also have an "essence." Who they are when everything else is stripped away. Michael shared that in a love story, the hero and heroine are in conflict with each other's armor or identity. They're not able to be at peace with each other until they can each live in their essence.
I instantly saw the truth in that statement, and the value in applying it to the romance threads in my story. When falling in love is part of the character's growth, that's when the romance matters most.
What "armor" does your main character wear? How do they hope others perceive them?