Subverting the HEA

Sometimes secret babies and amnesia aren’t enough. Author Suzanne Brockmann says the classic romance tropes are useful, but you have to be willing to spin them to create a fresh, engaging story. Brockmann writes her own take on “happily ever after.”


What are some common plots in category romance?

So it’s a romance. And we know going in there’s a guaranteed happy ending but what else? What sets these individual books apart from all of the other romances that are out there? And so I really – when I studied that I learned that it has to do with the familiar story. These are stories that we tell each other over and over again across time in our society.

Category romance, I found had a lot of themes or story lines- common story lines that were used over and over again. Something like secret baby; two people who connect on one steamy night and obviously they didn’t use protection and then there is a baby that one of them, probably the guy, doesn’t know about. And so then you have these characters who meet later in life. And oops, honey, we had a kid five years ago and for some reason that’s a popular story. Another one would be marriage of convenience and that could be either literally, we have to get married in order to X, Y, Z. Or it could be can you come to this party with me and pretend to be my date, because I know my ex is going to be there and I really don’t want to show up alone. So it’s these similar themes that run throughout.

How do you use these plots in your writing?

I took all these familiar themes and I wrote a series of books. They were called Tall, Dark and Dangerous about a team of Navy Seals and I used one of these tried and true category romance story lines in each of the books. So I wrote a secret baby book. I wrote a marriage of convenience book. I wrote an amnesia book, I wrote a kind of a makeover, kind of book with a Navy Seal who had to pretend to be a prince in order to be a target for bad guys. And so I used all these familiar story lines, and what I tried to do was I tried to spin them in just a little way to make the stories different enough for the readers. Because to me it was a balancing act between providing the familiar, this is why these readers want to read these books, but I wanted to set myself apart.

One of the things that I’ve tried to do in my books is to give that option to the readers. To tell stories that, maybe, don’t end happily, that end tragically, or that end with sacrifice, included in this novel. So what I try to do, because I have the spine of the book, which is the hero and the heroine, who win their happily ever after. And that’s my contract with the romance reader. You know, these two characters are going to get together at the end. But any other secondary character, it’s completely up for grabs. I can kill them off. I can have them go their– they can connect with somebody and then, go their separate ways. I think that’s one of the reasons that my books are so successful is because I am allowing the readers to experience additional emotions to the “and they lived happily ever after.”

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