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Debra Mullins | What Makes a Book a Keeper?

June 9, 2009

TO RUIN THE DUKEDebra MullinsI recently asked this question on Twitter: “As a romance reader, what makes a book a keeper for you?”  Out of the replies that came my way, the two most common responses were one, a compelling hero/heroine and two, a story that generates an emotional reaction in the reader, whether that means laughter, crying, et cetera.

I think we all read romance novels to escape, at least temporarily, the conflicts of our normal lives.  Even the people with the happiest of marriages, the best of health, and the most wonderful of jobs have some kind of problems.  Everyone needs to play a little hooky once in a while, and romance novels are a great way to do that.

When you read a romance, you get caught up in someone else’s problems.  And even if you’re biting your nails on page 300 wondering if these two will ever get together, you know in the back of your mind that everything is going to turn out happily ever after, which leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction and hope at the end of the book.  (But you still nibble on those nails.)

A book that gets a reader so emotionally involved is what we call a keeper.  But how do you bring a reader so deep into your story that she reaches for the hanky when the dog gets hit by the car?  That she laughs when that guy whose pickup line the heroine flicked off the night before turns out to be her new boss?  That her heart melts when the hero shows up on the heroine’s doorstep with a diamond ring after she was certain he was gone from her life forever?

Character, that’s how.

Don’t get me wrong.  Plot is important.  We need a believable situation where the hero and heroine interact and fall in love.  That might be an unexpected baby, an arranged marriage, a mystery to solve or any other situation that puts both of them in trouble.  But you need great characters to pull it off.

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