So, imagine my surprise when I realized I've read several Harlequin romances in the last six weeks or so, all of them written by Heather Graham -- The Presence, Phantom Evil, The Uninvited, and The Unholy.
Read them without looking at the publisher. Graham almost added insult to my ego by being published by Harlequin. You know ... the publisher who prints tons of books with the plot density of a Barbara Cartland romance that used book stores are reluctant to trade.
[Yes, I know many romance readers still love Cartland's novels, and she was one of the most prolific writers in history ... etc. But remember. I'm not a romance reader ... and have less interest in adolescent sighings. When I was a teen, I thought the girls who went all gushy were silly.]
I love that Graham hit the stereotype out the field. Even Harlequin doesn't follow the formula of simply girl/boy meets boy/girl ... girl/boy loses boy/girl ... girl/boy gets boy/girl ... any more. [Yeah, I know it can be boy meets boy and girl meets girl, now days ... but romance is romance even with a daub of erotica.]
At the same time, the meets-loses-secures formula follows the basic three-act screenplay, book, and movie story-telling paradigm. What makes your story different is how you embellish the structure. That what makes a story stick in people's minds. The characters, the scenery, the twists, the action, the tension, and a host of other details make or break a book.
I'll even to give you the secret as to why I read the 'romances' up front. Graham mixes her genres up by using a romance as the linchpin holding a paranormal thriller/mystery together. A whole lot of authors do this. Kay Hooper, with her Bishop novels, adds a dose of supernatural with such a liberal hand you can't miss it. Sharyn McCrumb's mysteries take a subtler approach by adding the supernatural with her Nora Bonesteel character as a go between.
I'm sure you can come up with hundreds of examples with this prompt ... so I don't have to go plowing through the mess on my bookshelves to find examples.
So how does Graham do it besides writing a good mystery with enough twists to keep a reader reading? Sometimes the supernatural is front and center as the evil impetus to murder. Other books, the supernatural elements are auxiliary help in solving the mystery. In all cases:
- The Leading men ... is attractive, but more important, is knowledgeable with information that can help the MC master her new psychic/supernatural skills ... plus being good in bed.
- The villains possess just enough supernatural mojo, however acquired, to keep the good guys hopping as they process the clues to solve the who-dun-it.
- Her Main Characters, female, usually have one psychic power which they acknowledge or makes them uneasy when it's pointed out to them. Coping with the "skill" [?] and learning how to use it is one of the subplots which adds depth to the characters.
- The secondary characters stand out as individuals
Maybe the beagle ate the submissions I have pending to agents and publishers. Not that it bothers me that much. I rather write. [Yes, the world of Hag Stone Magic is developing quite nicely. Now I have to exhibit the craft skills to make MacKenzie come alive in the mind of the reader ... though I'll probably wait until the revisions to worry about that. First the characters have to do something.]