Writer’s Tip: The Qualities of an Ancient Romance

Playful couple at homecoming

Romance, we love them as much as we want them. They inspire us to find the happy zone in our relationships and sooth the savage beasts. But how we aspire to feel in our comings and goings with others can be difficult to translate into a novel. 

Tropes establish the criteria of a romance, but don’t necessarily fulfill the emotional journey a reader craves. The conception of romance writing developed from laying out the desirable qualities of a man and woman before tropes were categorized. It began with a man having the pressure of behaving a certain way when circumstances would lend to his reacting selfishly. 

One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is how often I hold the door open for men. It’s really a test I conduct and I’m surprised by how may males fail. Yes, I am aware about the conflicting feelings felt by mankind on the topic of gender, yet, as a Southern gal, I still find value in chivalry. If nothing else, everyone prefers associating with others who respect their place in life and who are polite and kind, which is exactly why romance novels feed us a dose of healing energy. If we can’t find that civility amongst our social dealings, we certainly can tap into that burst of glory in the well-planned organization of words.  

The Inspiration for Romance

Romance novels solidify the qualities of chivalry. It began with man’s guilt. For eons, as early as pre-historic eras, man sought to find patterns between his choices and natural disasters. Imagine those men in sheepskin leaving offerings at the base of active volcanoes. 

Basically, man felt responsible for the weather and nature’s conditions. With man’s tendency to view the universe as revolving around himself, he developed a fear in nature inflicting natural disasters on him as punishment for his foolishness. If you think about it, this is an incredible amount of pressure for a man to take on. His hometown will be scorched in lava if he kills more rabbits than his family can eat. A tidal wave will crush his neighbors if he thinks about dating a woman who is uninterested in him. 

Cause and Effect

The Greeks clarified the expectation that conducting oneself outside the perimeters of acceptable behavior results in destruction and suffering. By then, man had developed desires outside the instinct to survive. Where man had walked miles to find drinkable water, he then acted on impulses to murder a relative in order to gain a political advantage. He fled responsibilities when faced with temptations, which on the surface seemed selfless and ideal, yet resulted in fate still torturing him. 

Self-Indulgence in Motives

Fate was introduced as the element of life man is unable to control. No matter how practical and disciplined he behaves, fate continues on its pre-ordained course. The underlying message is that man can’t undo what is pre-destined. Thus, he might as well reap and sow to his heart’s content.

Sensuality in Expression

The 12th century French court enjoyed convenience and comfort. By now, life was about more than finding food and running from severe weather. The questions became, what was man to do with his keen intelligence and free time? 

He devised fashions and decorated castles. He planned parties and designed communities. He invented gadgets for improving the standard of living. With all the pruning and prepping, he noticed how much effort a lady put into her appearance and presentation. There were those who adhered to the rules of courtesy and hygiene, and those who stuck with barbaric tactics. 

Rules of Behavior

As the population increased, the need for respect increased. As man’s personal space was encroached upon by another, the more aggressive he became in protecting what he considered to be his stuff, otherwise known as, an extension of himself. The greater his aggressiveness, the more guilt and rules of behavior were piled on to establish which men deserved more leeway in his extensions and which should be limited. 

The more man valued another’s territory, the better they got along. This idealized conduct was emphasized in writing, and the birth of man’s own words describing his relationships with others became simplified into the romance genre with boundaries of chivalry.

Story Arc

Man remained the intelligent survivor he was back in the pre-historic day, yet, his increasing free time left him feeling vacant. He had additional hours where he wasn’t testing his brain. 

Writings shifted from being about the words to telling a story. Narratives altered the purpose of words so that the meanings challenged man’s intellect. British literature provided depth to the medieval narratives by idealizing the  love affair and implementing turning points. They mastered the simplicity of plotting, and stories no longer conceptualized what man viewed as reality. Instead, the stories were meant to elevate the standards of behavior practiced by man. 

Emphasis on Surroundings

The setting plays a strong role in romance novels. Just as the French aristocrats invested their creativity and wealth into decorations and fashion, a romance gives the promise of fantastical descriptions of where the characters meet, live and present their complicated feelings. Where other stories mention what is in the room for the value of the characters having props to carry out their intentions, a romance seasons the scenes with fuzzy blankets and enticing colors. Anything to emphasize the sensory preceptors, and kickstart the hero opening up about how he feels and what he thinks and why he wants things to change. 

Quality of Setting

The surroundings gauge the mood and emotions of us all. A sterile white room reminds us of doctors and medical treatment. An ivory interior at a ski lodge brings on thoughts of staying warm after long hours on the invigorating slopes. 

As you write romance, include the details in the room, those that invoke feelings, good or bad. Whichever emotions the characters are expressing determines the items you bring into focus. At times, you will want to match the comforting textures with the buildup to a trusting relationship. 

Other times, you should contrast the adversarial context with poignant elements around them that emphasis how wrong the situation is. A heated scene with a disagreement between the hero and another is a perfect time to have expensive items to be damaged. You can show how important a feeling is to a character by having his actions take precedent over the value he gives to material things in the extravagant setting.

Quality of Words

The language used, the selection of words and the pattern for organizing the order of those words, creates a romanticized quality. By having the characters speak one way with the sub-characters be in contrast with the way he speaks to the love interest when no one else is listening elevates the significance of his interactions with that one person. 

In general, man’s defenses are lower when his vital life force and standard of living are not threatened. If a stranger breaks in line at the grocery store, it is less of a statement against one’s livelihood than if the love of his life never speaks to him again. The hero will respond to a slight with an exaggerated flare when committed by the woman he is pursuing.

Primitive Guilt Shifts to Judgment

The same way man originally felt guilt for his choices, he evolved to measuring the behavior of others. In a romance, the hero explores how he feels about being slighted. When a stranger is rude, most of us don’t bother to analyze how his behavior relates to our childhood. But to have that one person we believe fulfills a hero’s sense of lack devalue him creates a threat to his concept of wholeness. Where a civilized person ignores a scuff by a person who doesn’t have a value in his life, a romance novel provides a forum for a civilized person to experiment with the outcomes of his expressing a wide range of feelings he isn’t allowed to share in reality.

The romance hero is given a stage where he can safely share his thoughts about the one he loves. He can explain why he is such a klutz when it comes to sentimentality, and justify why he gets confused by her conflicting messages. 

A romance allows the hero to be open with his feelings before he responds to the unfair situations thrust upon him. Keeping these expressive qualities of what created ancient storytelling in mind keeps the romance alive, in books as well as life. 

What’s Your Favorite Type of Romance?

Every story has a romantic element. The ebb and flow of the arc of a relationship includes scenes where the heroine and the hero share a moment of intimacy, acknowledge their connection, and share the love. 

The type of romance you love reveals the issues you are facing in your life. The issues in your life tend to crop up in your plot. Do you long for a knight to rescue you at sunset? Are you debating over whether you deserve love? Is there a particular kind of man you keep finding in your life? Which type of romance is your favorite?  

Complicated Relationships

Romance adores those indiscretions that no relationship could withstand in real life. A novel is fiction, after all, and it is a playground for intertwining a variety of relationships. The gossipy tidbits we love to uncover provide scandalous scenarios for storytelling. If the actions of either the man or woman would be an embarrassment, then it belongs in a scandalous plot, but not without the lead couple pulling themselves out of the chaos for a happily ever home-life.

The Boys Out West

A romantic man possesses the courage and skills for survival. He has mastered his abilities to take the materials available and outwit nature. Once he meets the heroine, he views her as being important enough to belong in his clan. He doesn’t have to debate over when to apply his savvy wits. He knows he’s specially gifted at enduring hardships, and he accepts his duty to share his gifts with others by saving their lives, too. Feeling safe and protected reminds the heroine she is valued, and those are romantic feelings. 

The Double Trick Back

Romance fills the pages with sensuous fabrics, melodic voices and manicured landscapes, and yet, these hyped up images of indulgence set the tone for the villain of the novel to fall for the heroine. No matter how bad his deeds are, if the atmosphere is right, and the girl understands the impact of his sordid background, the two can overlook his hurtful mood swings and rude words. For the girl to find love with a mean man, the story must establish why he grew into the unappealing person, and it must allow his motive to be justified. The story wraps up with the villain recognizing his flaws and the heroine offering him forgiveness. 

A Sensitive Man

A romantic setting cannot unfold without the hero getting in touch with his feelings. He shares his affections with the girl either through his tender actions or his caring words. He doesn’t have to be a gentle man, just a guy who can’t resist the warm and fuzzy feeling in his gut when he’s near the woman.

Bad Boys

Ladies have an innate ability to nurture an injured soul. Those bad boys aren’t really thoughtless and stern. It’s just a shell and the perfect match for him is the only heroine with a magical key to unlock his heart. The allure of rogue heroes is in the lady playing a feminine role of the rescuer. She wears the armor and she is the savior willing to invest in his happiness. 

Rich Hero to the Rescue

Contemporary novels adore the super rich man because in modern times, wealth gives him power. Add to the mix a girl with simple tastes, and you have tension. The man’s typical methods for winning over the heart of a desirable woman falls on deaf ears when she values integrity, honesty, and kindness instead. The free pleasures in life create romantic settings. A walk through the woods picking wildflowers, a treasure hunt for seashells at sunset, or snuggling under blankets in her backyard, all guide the heart to falling in love. 

Type A Heroines

Women are stepping up to the plate when it comes to asserting themselves and living out their dreams. The days of passively watching the world swirl by are over, and the independence embraced by women create nifty conflicts in novels where the man didn’t get the memo about strong ladies having the will to get their way. These alpha girls aren’t just argumentative for the sake of creating tension. They have a goal to protect the hero, claim their own rights, and enjoy being in love.

Happily Ever After

A romance calls for everyone getting something she needs and a few things she wants in the end. The man wants to be in a relationship with her. The girl desires the life-changes the hero creates. Both consider the other to be a worthy partner, and attractive advocate. They belong together and for that reason, they will find happiness and peace in every hardship they will face throughout the rest of their lives. After all, there does need to be some truth in fiction.

The core of novel-writing revolves around the type of hero you portray in the story. The hero’s qualities play a role in developing the heroine’s character arc. For every action the man makes, the girl will respond, and her reaction must always create tension. 

Therefore, if the hero is rude, she will not mimic his tone. Hers will be in contrast to how he carries himself. If you create a strong-willed female, make sure to give the hero scenes where he can exhibit his emotional side. This touched-by-an-angel attitude can be presented through his work, where he cares for the sick or heals animals, or through his relationships with weak sub-characters, like an aging grandmother or an irresponsible little sister.

Knowing what you favor gives you the means to create a likable hero. You want to enjoy his company, and have fun when he’s in the scenes. The underlying feelings you have about a certain type of personality will surface in the tone of your dialogue and narrative. Pick your favorite type of romance, and share a description of the hero.