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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Compare mystery and romance writing rules? Nov. 3, 2013

Just how different is romance writing when compared to mystery writing?

Phyllis Humphrey, of our chapter (RWASD),  has graciously consented to allow me to use her blog post about mystery writing rules so I can compare them to rules for writing romance.

Phyllis wrote: 

The twelve great rules for mystery writing are as relevant today as they were five years ago when Hallie Ephron wrote an article about them. For a slimmed-down version, go to

Bob's comments about romance writing are italicized.

#1. Coincidence or an Act of God. Coincidences happen in real life, but the rules are more stringent in fiction. If your sleuth is in a bathroom stall and overhears two strangers plotting a murder, Rewrite!

ROMANCE: If your hero or heroine overhear someone else solving the impasse between them, Rewrite!

* #2. Concealed Clues. Mystery readers want to solve the crime along with your detective, so if your sleuth knows a fact you haven’t revealed to the reader, Rewrite!

ROMANCE:  If your hero or heroine is withholding their true feelings or contemplated actions from the reader, not each other, Rewrite!

* #3. Plot-Herding Characters. Don’t let your characters do things normal people wouldn’t do just because your plot requires that. If your character, all alone and unarmed, goes into a scary place to confront the villain, you’d better give him a darned good reason, or else... Rewrite!

ROMANCE:  If your hero or heroine both inexplicably head for the same place, let’s say the top of the Empire State Building, Rewrite! Coincidences in romantic comedies which are written to snag laughs and fit the plot are the exception.

* #4. False starts. Readers need a mystery, or something exciting, to keep reading, so if you give them an immediate information dump, or a “flash forward” instead, Rewrite!

ROMANCE: Many romances are guilty of (especially in the heroine’s internal POV) rehashing every possible problem and then doing it again and again. Or the heroine overanalyzes the future giving away every possible scenario. Unless your heroine is a detective, enough is enough, sprinkle in some external plot and let them react to that, Rewrite!

* #5. Narration in dialog form. Sure, there are things you want the reader to know, but if your dialogue is stuffed with “reader feeders,” Rewrite!

ROMANCE: “Do you remember the time you did this and that?” “Yeah, it was yesterday. And you did this and on top of that, you did more.” No matter how far or close in the past this is unaffectionately known as the information dump. Rewrite!

* #6. False finish. These days readers expect the sleuth to have a final confrontation with the enemy, or at least a credible, though unexpected, solution. If you’ve picked the least-suspected person to be the villain and it’s not believable, or the sleuth spends pages explaining to the gathering how he put all the clues together, or if good luck, or divine intervention or a sudden rescue party solves the problem... Right. Rewrite!

ROMANCE: Divine intervention is no way to solve problems of the heart unless you writing a story about miracles. The hero and heroine need to understand why they can’t live without each other. And please don’t tell me all they have is chemistry. Rewrite!

* #7. Too many viewpoints. There’s a reason so many whodunits are written in first person. Readers have no problem following one person and trying to solve the crime when, or before, he does. Your story may require two viewpoint characters, but if you write more than three, and especially if you switch viewpoints in the middle of a scene, Rewrite!

ROMANCE: 99% of romances have two main points of view, if you have only one POV, unless there’s an exceptional reason . . . Rewrite! If you are uncomfortable writing the male POV or stuck on some point, try asking a guy or email me, I’m a guy.

* #8. Sidekicks as Stereotypes. Please, no heart-of-gold ex-hookers, no eyeglass-wearing, clumsy computer nerds, no incompetent cops. Dream up an interesting original or else, Rewrite!

ROMANCE: The same goes for romance, but I’d add a twist and that’s all that’s necessary. For instance, the heart of gold hooker was a nun. Rewrite!

* #9. Zigzag Timeline. Don’t switch between time periods if it can be avoided. If you make the reader wonder if this is 2013 or 1990 too often, you’ll lose her. Rewrite!

ROMANCE: The worst thing in a romance is to wonder bending your arcs of love and hate to the point they resemble a bowl of spaghetti. No reader can decipher such drivel. Rewrite!

* #10. Fa, la, la, gathering clues. Remember the theme of all fiction is conflict. If your sleuth is brilliant, fearless and cunning at all times, if he always stumbles upon the necessary clues, if witnesses always tell him the truth, let’s face it, it’s boring.  Rewrite!

ROMANCE: Try not to make your hero or heroine perfect. HelenKay Dimon is fond of giving her main characters, flaws. You’ve heard of this technique, no doubt. Rewrite!

* #11. Overstaying your welcome. If your sleuth reveals a suspect to be the murderer, and then decides he’s not and chooses someone else, or the killer escapes and the last hundred pages are just a “007" chase scene, Rewrite!

ROMANCE: Don’t make the last 100 pages a, can I tell you one more thing that happened since they married or declared their happily-ever-after. A short epilogue can add charm; a long one can add weight. Rewrite!

* #12. The small stuff. Mystery readers are relentless about wanting things to be accurate, so make sure you have no glaring errors. That applies to punctuation and grammar too. Do it right, or Rewrite!

ROMANCE: Need I say anything more than, Rewrite!
Inexplicably a seemingly unrelated video appears below which mixes romance with mystery.
Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James in a clip from McMillan and Wife (Series run 1971 -77):


1 comment:

  1. Bob: You did a great job of adapting Mystery Mistakes to Romance. I especially loved the "chemistry" cliche.