Sunday, November 7, 2010

Formula for Romance

While I’m not an author of romance novels, and probably never will be, I have heard that there is a formula for romance novels that must be followed. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I did run across an article on the Internet called The “Secret Formula” Revealed by Stephanie Mittman (

While it doesn’t get into the details that I’d always heard rumors about, like the heroine had to be kissed by page ten, it does give seven vital ingredients for the perfect romance novel. Without going into great depth, the seven elements are: a loveable heroine, a great hero, something that throws them together, an insurmountable object to overcome, a black moment (something that, once revealed, will keep the hero and heroine apart forever), a monkey wrench, and a happy ending.

That’s it. It seems pretty simple. I know it isn’t really, but it sounds easy. So I was wondering, what are the seven vital ingredients for your genre? Horror? Mystery? Science Fiction? Fantasy? Memoir?

Have you thought about it? I haven’t. But I might now.


  1. OK, I'll try--for mystery. #1 a likable sleuth, or at least an interesting one. #2 a dead body (or bodies), preferably not too long into the book--by the 3rd chapter is a good guideline, but sooner is better. #3 a killer (or killers) #4 a degree of mystery or confusion about who did the dirty deed, putting obstacles in the way of figuring out who is the killer . #5 other viable suspects #6 a REAL reason for the sleuth to get involved. #7 a REAL solution that ties up the ends, establishes justice (unlike the real world), and doesn't make the reader throw the book across the room.

  2. Kaye, what an intriguing concept. I like your suggestions for mysteries.

    What about the sleuth's personal life? Romantic interest or family? Is that vital, or optional, do you think?

  3. I was trying to keep to only 7, Ramona. I thought coming up with 7 would be hard, but once I got going, it was hard to limit it to that. There are probably 12 at least. Could your suggestions be lumped into my #1?

    For a cozy, of course, she needs a family, probably with problems. For noir, a loner works well. And once you get into sub-genre in mystery, you need about 24!

  4. Kaye, yes, I think my comment could be lumped into #1. The phrase that pops into my mind (from where, I can't recall) is to give a character a "rich, full life." That covers all the bases: job, family, in-laws, love life. So, can #1 be an interesting sleuth with a rich, full life?

    I think the fun challenge of an exercise like this is to limit the basics to 7. It makes a writer think about the truly necessary basics.

  5. I don't know about the others, but I have plenty of #4. Except more confusion is in my head than in the manuscript. I think I'm going to have to work on that.

  6. towrite, I think you probably will have to work on getting the #4 into the ms. But if you just keep writing it may resolve itself. :) Good luck.

    Ramona, it IS a challenge. I'd like to see some other genres here.

  7. O.K. I'll never write a romance novel (don't read them either, not supernatural, etc., just my personal preferences) but the seven element of mystery are good. Who's up for suspense or thriller?

  8. Norma Huss, fellow Guppy, tried to post this, but couldn't. So I'm doing it for her.
    She has a Ghost Story Formula!

    I tried to post an answer to the blog, but I can't seem to do it, even though I got myself a Google e-mail address. It doesn't want to accept me. Loved Kaye's 7-part mystery formula and Ramona's input, and all the back and forth. They wanted more input.

    How about Formula for a ghost story?
    1. An appealing protagonist.
    2. A ghost.
    3. A reason for the ghost to haunt the protagonist - with confusion reigning.
    4. A reason the protagonist doesn't like it, does like it, or must do something the ghost wants, or not do it, or manages to banish the ghost - with more confusion reigning.
    5. A black moment where the seeming co-existing of protagonist and ghost are completely disrupted.
    6. A monkey wrench where the protagonist and/or ghost learn there is an even greater obstacle to the hoped for solution.
    7. The happy ending. Or the terribly unhappy ending. Ghost story readers aren’t necessarily expecting 'happy.' (a) The happy ending comes from such plot points as protagonist solving the ghostly problem so the ghost goes away, or, the ghost proves to be so helpful the protagonist wants to keep said spirit around. (b) That black moment and the monkey wrench prove to be harbingers of the terribly dire results.
    Addition: And if some of those dire problems include a newly deceased body, you've got a mystery as well. (I must admit this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, and I hope it's not off-topic.).

    Yesterday's Body, EPIC finalist