Because I write for a living, people often ask me if I’ve ever contemplated writing a novel. The easy answer is “of course I have.” But it’s like people who smoke and vow to quit. Easy to say, tough to do.
I’ve started the Great American Novel any number of times. I get about a paragraph in and lose interest.
Regardless, the notion has always intrigued me. So I’ve hit upon a plan. I will abandon my dream of authoring the Great American Novel and will instead pursue something a bit less noble, the Great American Romance Novel. Harlequin, are you listening?
How hard can it be?
You know the paperbacks I’m talking about. You’ve seen them at the grocery store. You’ve seen them at Walmart. They always feature beautiful people caught up in lust and passion, a mix that apparently provides enjoyment to millions of readers who don’t know James Patterson from Floyd Patterson but love a sexy story.
I’ll just go with a formula that has no chance of making the best-seller lists but practically guarantees a reasonable amount of financial return.
I’ll start with the two main characters. One man. One woman. As our story begins, they are standing near the edge of a cliff, high above a crashing surf.
He’s buffed and chiseled from stone. His hair is jet black. His shirt is always unbuttoned and hanging open as he stares toward the distant horizon, apparently oblivious to the fact that he is not alone.
She is a blond with green eyes. She always wears an ankle-length gown, off the shoulders. Decolletage abounds. The heat of summer or the ice and snow of winter — it doesn’t matter. Her attire leaves a lot to be desired, specifically her.
Her hair flies in the wind as she rests her head on his chest and silently prays that some day he will glance down and discover her there.
You don’t have to work too hard to picture them in your mind. They appear right on the cover of the book. I have no idea where they really live but evidently gale-force winds off the ocean are an everyday occurrence. Romance is in the air, along with assorted flying debris, I would guess.
As I work my way through a steamy Chapter One and pretend to care about character development, I will utilize a familiar framework trusted by hundreds of romance novelists before me.
My heroine will be a woman scorned, probably ignored or abandoned by a man she thought she loved. She is looking for love elsewhere now, and so far in all the wrong places. Unlucky in matters of the heart, she will be smitten by our hero to the point of irrational behavior.
He will be a textbook definition of the Perfect Male, desired by every woman who gazes into his fiery deep blue eyes. She will try to look away but she will absorb enough eye candy to risk diabetes. She will be shaken to her core by feelings long suppressed and she will wonder how something so wrong could be so right.
Along the way a relationship will grow. It will be rooted not in the traditional values of marriage but in, well, you know. Let’s just say these two will not have the blessing of the church.
There are other techniques that any good romance novelist employs, and I will borrow them all. It is important to mention, at least once a page, our hero’s “rippling abs” and our heroine’s “sinewy curves.”
Here and there I will tease the reader with flashbacks to a somewhat complicated back story involving a weeping willow tree and a dog named Ambrosia.
Ultimately, I will have to decide how to wrap this up in Chapter 23 or so. I figure I have two options.
One, our hero will finally figure out that the passion he shares with this woman really does reflect something deeper than a rain puddle.
He will sweep her into his arms, carry her back to their favorite cliff, the one with the 50-miles per hour wind gusts, and at last propose that they spend the rest of their days in marital bliss. Or if not marital, at least conjugal.
They both will cry out for joy, and many readers will do the same.
The second option: I will have our overheated couple just go all Shakespeare and jump off the cliff together at sunset. All the way down they both will cry out for joy.
Above them, at the edge of the cliff, Ambrosia will peer down into the void. Then, as the last wisp of daylight succumbs to the night, he will trot off to the weeping willow tree, lift his leg, and cry out for joy.
If you think you can get through all that without tearing up, you have a stronger constitution than I. I’m getting all misty-eyed here and I haven’t even written the thing yet.
Going with option two would inject an element of shock into the story. It also would no doubt upset some readers, including you perhaps. However, at that point you’ve already paid for the book, so I’m good with that. I’m not looking for a movie deal anyway. I just want your $8.99. I will cry out for joy.
Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Sunday. His radio commentary, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard every Monday at 5:44 p.m. during “All Things Considered” on WGTE FM 91. Contact him at:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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