Sounds impossible, right? Well, it’s not. At least, I hope it’s not. Because that’s exactly what a category romance writer has to do. We have to take fake fiancées, ugly ducklings, and romance with best friends’ brothers and make it fresh. In today’s market, this is arguably harder than ever. It was one thing to make a marriage of convenience story work when people actually got married for convenience. But in the twenty-first century? How do you convince readers today to believe in the magic you’re weaving? How do you draw readers into the familiar love story and yet serve them something that’s up to date and contemporary?
I can’t speak for every category writer, but for me, the best way to keep category fresh is to start with the characters, not the trope. For me, the friends-to-lovers, marriage of convenience, or fake fiancée story line must be secondary to the characters I’m creating. My hero and heroine have to be real people with flaws, dreams, and vulnerabilities. My readers don’t fall in love with plots, they fall in love with people. So that’s where I start.
Once I’ve got my characters, I search for their unique conflict.Readers have got to know and understand that conflict; maybe even find it familiar. For example, in my book RULES OF NEGOTIATION, the heroine was facing the familiar struggle of working women to balance career and the desire for a family. The hero was an overprotective alpha male struggling to deal with his sister’s depression—a problem he couldn’t fix.
With conflicts settled, I next turn to weaving a plot that compliments them. That way, what could otherwise be a stale or overused trope becomes the perfect backdrop for an original story. Take my latest book, THE BOSS’S FAKE FIANCEE. This book didn’t start out as a fake fiancée story. It started out as Garth and Melissa’s story. Garth, I knew, was an intensely private, reclusive billionaire who had some serious relationship issues. Melissa was recovering from catching her boyfriend sleeping with her best friend. These two people were not looking for love. Bringing them together would require something serious. Something like…a fake engagement.
In the book I’m working on now, FALLING FOR MR. WRONG, I’ve got Ross Bencher (Melissa’s bother) who is a single parent of three trying to make up for his divorce by only dating somber, responsible women. And then there’s Kelsey….who is into high altitude mountaineering. Opposite attract, right? Oh, and she’s got a terminal fear of families and relationships, so naturally, she’s forced to play nanny to Ross’s kids to help out a friend. A perfect fish out of water!
That’s what I mean by starting with the characters. I could never sit down to write a “best friend’s older brother” romance. For me, the trope must grow out of the two people who are the foundation of the story.
So that’s my trick for keeping contemporary, category romance the same…but different. It’s all about the characters. The trope is just the frame into which we put a beautiful painting, and where we find our happily ever after.