Editor, author and vice-president of the Romance Writers of Australia, Wendy Davies, was the guest speaker at an online presentation hosted by EdNSW on 3 May 2022. She writes romance stories under the pen name Wendie Daniels and her website has a useful Editing Articles page.
Romance fiction is one of the highest-selling genres in the world. “The next highest – crime – doesn’t even come close,” Wendy said. Her understanding of the romance market, especially what its readers expect, and her passionate advocacy for romance writing were evident.
Wendy has been editing romance “for five years or so”. She likes questions and asking them plays an important part of her modus operandi. Her presentation was semi-interactive, using excerpts from her own romance writing (that is, her stories Good Enough for Love and Loyal at Heart) to showcase the genre. Participants were given time to read examples on screen and were invited to respond to specific craft questions in the chat.
Romance stories are all about the relationship between two people, generally a man and a woman, but not always. They can be set in any era and place, and they can contain lots of action, including sexual action.
Romances thrive on emotion – the more intense the better. They usually have recognisable universal themes and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. The love story is central to the plot. Romances have an emotional arc that takes us from the moment our characters meet, all the way through to their happy-ever-after or happy-for-now conclusion. A romance must end in one of these two possible ways, according to Wendy.
Things for romance editors to look for
As always, the most important thing editors do is to help authors create the best story they can, while maintaining grammar, spelling and continuity. But specific things to look for when editing romance are:
- identifying and understanding the characters’ goals, motivation and conflict
- ensuring the plot and our hero and heroine’s emotional arc are closely entwined so that their love story remains centre stage
- making the hero and heroine as real as possible by making them deep, three-dimensional characters who readers identify with
- showing emotion as much as possible, but particularly at the story’s major turning points, while telling should be used only when necessary.
Wendy addressed each of these by expanding on the sorts of questions she asks when editing romance. She uses these questions to determine where a story may need to be deepened or strengthened, or unnecessary scenes cut. Here are some teasers:
- Are the characters’ goals and motivations clear right from the start?
- Is the plot believable? Are the emotions the characters experience realistic and appropriate?
- Has a combination of the five senses been used when describing the character and their situation?
- Is there a balance between showing and telling, for the story to win the reader’s heart?
Deep characterisation often sets the romantic genre apart. This entails making the story as immersive as possible for readers, with characters who have good and bad points (just like we do). As editors, we may need to encourage our authors to go deeper to understand their characters as if they are real — “to practically become the character”, according to Wendy.
Showing the emotions characters are feeling, not telling
Wendy likes this succinct definition taken from a Reedsy blog post Show, Don’t Tell: Tips and Examples of the Golden Rule:
“In short: showing illustrates, while telling merely states. Chekhov said, ’Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.’”
Next, participants were tested with three examples and asked to judge whether each was “showing” or “telling” or a bit of both. Wendy remarked that there needs to be a balance between the two, between showing emotion and telling the story, for the story to win the reader’s heart.
Romance stories are not all the same – they are as different as every person reading this. “And the quality of the writing is well above par too. It has to be – just to survive in this crowded marketplace”, Wendy concluded.
A recording of the presentation will be available to purchase via the IPEd events page (or free if you paid to attend).
By Paul Anderson