Tale as old as time

Abby Zidle, senior editor at Gallery Books, knows what makes a good romance novel: the characters. Good characters can carry any storyline, from the time-honored tropes to something new and different.


What makes a good romance novel?

So for me it’s “have I met someone that I like and want to spend time with?” and if I have, you could tell the same old story. I mean some of my favorite romances are not necessarily an incredibly unique plot line, but the chemistry, the charisma, of the characters is what makes me want to stay and can reinvigorate what could otherwise be a very classic story. And honestly I think that’s why the genre keeps thriving because it’s so character driven.

Isn’t love character driven? And that’s why what we loved in Jane Austen we still love in a new way in Georgette Heyer or in Nora Roberts or in Sabrina Jeffries or in any host of wonderful writers that we’ve seen. It’s a tale as old as time and yet constantly renewing itself when you meet it in a new person.

What are some common romance tropes?

Well, girl meets boy. They’re sort of all the same and yet all completely different. But absolutely there is the woman in jeopardy story, very common in a romantic suspense kind of situation. There’s the marriage of convenience […] when you have a couple, often who profess to hate each other but are thrown together for some reason and have to pose as a married couple or genuinely get married depending on the situation in order to achieve their goal, whatever that is. Perhaps it’s pursuing a villain. Perhaps it’s hiding from someone. Perhaps it’s fiscal, save the family farm; well, okay, I’ll marry this heiress, but I don’t have to like it.

Fortunately, by the end of the book, yes, you do. And it’s all about throwing these unlikely characters together in a way that forces them to stop fighting and start working together […]

[…] I think the best ones have a sort of screwball comedy feel about them that Hepburn and — Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy feel — where you drive each other crazy and then you can’t live without each other […]

[…] The secret baby story, certainly there have been hosts of them. And it’s either: couple separates for whatever reason, woman finds out she’s pregnant, doesn’t tell hero for years and years or—and then returns and so there’s this confronting the “You are her father and I didn’t tell you and you have lost time but we are bonded or we’re more mature now.” It can be an adoption story. It depends who had the baby and where you found the baby […]

[…] The “bad boy returns” storyline. Or it’s really almost a prodigal son story if we trace it back far enough or a prodigal daughter. Sometimes I like those better. The teenager who left town on a flaming motorbike determined to conquer the world and comes back with tail between his or her legs and has to grow older and wiser is absolutely a romance trope. And I think it’s, there’s always that maybe the big world out there isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and there’s something to be said for your home and learning to appreciate what you didn’t see when it was right in front of you.

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