For the last several years, I’ve put out two books a year. One of those books usually falls in the category of what I’d call a pure romance; i.e., a character-driven story focusing on the emotions two women experience when they meet and fall in love. Etched in Shadows, Life After Love, Rhapsody.
Alternately, I write plot-driven stories — adventure, suspense, drama — with a romantic subplot. Stories like these are explorations, bolstered by what feels like an hour of research for every half hour of writing. I begin knowing next to nothing about life in the navy (West of Nowhere), the process of cleaning up an oil spill (Anyone But You) or the quest for Mars (T-Minus Two). No matter how much reading I do before I start writing, I can’t get through the first page without stopping to look something up. And bookmark. And look for images so I can best describe the scene, since I know my editor’s going to scribble “needs visual” in the margin.Where’s the line between “enough information to be convincing” and “too much detail for a romance novel”? My rule of thumb is try for the minimum necessary to tell a good story, but then I run across bits of research that I think my readers will find interesting. Next thing I know I’m down the rabbit hole. And so are you.
“Writing is an exploration. You start with nothing and learn as you go.”
So said one of America’s greatest historical novelists, E.L. Doctorow. Doctorow had a fascinating style, fictionalizing history with stories of peripheral characters (e.g., Billy Bathgate, Daniel Rosenberg) on the fringe of real events. Though his work was filled with rich detail of famous figures and the era in which they lived, one never lost the story, never felt sidetracked or overwhelmed by minutiae.
Oh, to write that well.
So what kind of romance reader are you? One who likes to explore and learn while you read, or one for whom the details fade in the background as you focus on the relationship of the characters? Or somewhere in the middle?