I found a very useful paper online: The Essential Elements of Writing a Romance Novel, by Leigh Michaels. It's very good and is helping me to reshape much of the character of my protagonist and also his love interest. I've decided to go ahead and rework the document since I just finished drafting the last chapter. If I like it when it's revised, I can put it under Romance-->Mystery and Suspense.
Seeing as this is a first person male narrating, I'm sure it's different in many respects to the traditional female oriented or 3rd person romance. Thanks for all your suggestions.
Well a couple things about your post that might suggest you need to reconsider your audience if you're writing romance. The average romance reader nowadays (according to a huge poll done by the Romance Writers of America) has a post-secondary education and works outside the home. They're definitely not all the Danielle Steel readers of the '80s, nor are they old biddies. Many like strong female characters who buck the system a little. Read some more contemporary bestselling romances beyond Danielle Steel. Read a lot of them, because romance readers read them like an addict smokes crack. They know the conventions, and so should you.
If you think reading Jane Austen is like watching paint dry, you may need to try reading her again with a different eye. Austen addresses some major social issues of her time, as well as women's conventional, and unconventional, roles. She also has a great sense of humour, and a remarkable ability to draw characters. There's a lot to be learned about writing from reading Austen.
You say it's first person from a man's perspective - but what about your heroine? Romance novels are written either entirely from the POV of the heroine, both hero and heroine, or multiple POV (including the heroine). If your focus is on the hero, it's probably not a romance. For women, a romance is about the emotional build-up. Whether there's s*x or not in the story, readers will expect there to be a strong emotional connection. If your hero can't decide between the heroine and another woman, that will be a problem for many female readers. Your hero has to come to desperately need and want the heroine, but something keeps them apart, like maybe he's determined not to marry (this is where reading a lot of romance helps to give you a sense of the things that keep them apart), or he's engaged to another, or he suspects she's an enemy spy...
Your heroine needs to be just as fully developed a character as your hero, with her own internal drive and desires. If it's all about your hero, it's likely not a romance.
Jane Austen just has a way with words too along with her wit. And there's nothing boring about the spat during Darcy's botched attempt to propose. That is one very awesome scene. It's even more awesome in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies when they are actually fighting vs just verbal sparring. Ok, I might be a bit of an Austen fan!
Basic format of romance:
Guy and girl meet, sparks fly (either they hate each other or really attracted, but either way they have chemistry). Guy has issues that prevent him from committing. Girl has issues that prevent her from committing. They each have to work through what is blocking them from the relationship before they get together emotionally. Then at around 75% through the romance arc, a Bad Thing happens to rip them apart. There is the terrible separation where each is miserable, each thinks the other is a piece of work. They have to struggle to get over that hump and get back together to have the happy ending. Now, that's just the character development of the romance part. There's also additional things going on around them, whether you stuff that in a mystery thriller, save the business from going under, alien abduction, or angel vs demon battle to save Earth. Then that plot also needs to develop its arc in parallel with both main character's emotional romance arcs.
Like La Venta said, you have to have development from the female lead who winds up together with the guy too or else it's not going to read like a romance.
Opinions about Jane Austen aside (I'm with Mark Twain on her writing), I hear you about making the heroine a strong lady who goes against the grain. She's one of the Rosie the Riveters in this novel set in 1942. That alone makes her strong and independent. The novel isn't all about the hero, and I'm revising to the aim of fleshing out the heroine. Whether I'm successful or not, I'm incorporating traits from the best women I've known (and that's a bunch).
While I agree reading a bunch of contemp romance novels would likely improve things, I plan on holding out the first in this series until I've well into the second. I understand the main conventions of Romance, I think, but more than that I understand what makes good fiction: sympathetic characters readers relate to; conflict at times mountains of obstacles; pacing and a good story, etc. As for the quality of the writing I see no reason why it shouldn't be at least as good as a well written mystery. I like the idea of wrapping a romance into a mystery, or at least vice versa.
My hero begins with a strong patriotic desire to be the best at his critical role in the shipyards and to help the war effort as well as remaining single. He's tired of one night stands he use to engage in before the war and being thrown into his role in the shipyard with the heroine he doesn't see her as a lovely female--at least not at first. But, since it's first person male pov it by definition gives his perspective and forces him to interpret the two females he's attracted to and to decide before things get too messy just which of them deserves his heart. His caution, indecision is one of the obstacles to the HEA. I don't believe the first person male pov means it won't be a romance. But we'll see. Thanks for your input. My post secondary education hopefully will link up with the audience's post secondary education. I understand too there are various streams of Romance, from Harlequin stuff to postmodern. I doubt there are too many written in the male pov.
C. Gold, you've described pretty much what I have. I respectfully see the "female lead only" as a bit sexist, if I can use modern parlance. After all, it takes two to tango, and I'm sure some men read Romances, especially mystery-romances. If I'm swimming upstream it won't be the first time. The reviews may be awful, but I only have to satisfy the man who looks back from the mirror. I'm taking my time with this and depending on more research and layers of revision. Thanks for your input.
... She's one of the Rosie the Riveters in this novel set in 1942. That alone makes her strong and independent...
An occupation does not define or determine characterization except in stereotypes. She can be a riveter and still be weak and dependent, just as a male riveter can be. She may hate the job she had to take, but is not allowed to quit, as was the case with all workers in the war years.
...As for the quality of the writing I see no reason why it shouldn't be at least as good as a well written mystery. I like the idea of wrapping a romance into a mystery, or at least vice versa....
I don't think it's going to help you, approaching romance fiction as if it's poorly written and you have to uplift it by dint of your writing skills alone. Most of it is very well written, but a poorly written Romance can still be successful, as can a poorly written Mystery, by understanding what the readers want. You can put as much mystery and suspense as you want into a Romance and have a good Romance, but no matter how much romance, sex or love you add to a Mystery, you still have a Mystery, not a Romance.
... I doubt there are too many written in the male pov.
Do Salamanders change colors? I don't know. But you're pretty damned picky. You must have a lot of fun picking on the Internet.
Not quite sure what you mean, but I do think you're making it unnecessarily difficult on yourself by ignoring, or at least trying to change, the tenets that genre readers have come to expect. Every so often a member of the literati will "discover" Science Fiction and set out to remake the genre. Sometimes the results are pretty darn good, as Samuel R Delaney proved, but more often it's a momentary curiosity, of interest to critics and fellow literati, but not so much to genre fans who comprise the paying readership. Robert Graves' Watch the North Wind Rise is a good example. Love Story is an example in your new genre, a well-written romantic story that enthralled millions and crossed barriers, but which no fan would ever consider a Romance. But I do wish you good luck. There's always the possibility that you'll hit just the right combination that will prove the exception to the rule.
I respectfully see the "female lead only" as a bit sexist, if I can use modern parlance. After all, it takes two to tango, and I'm sure some men read Romances, especially mystery-romances. If I'm swimming upstream it won't be the first time. The reviews may be awful, but I only have to satisfy the man who looks back from the mirror. I'm taking my time with this and depending on more research and layers of revision. Thanks for your input.
A lot of romance is not female lead only. As I said, many have both male and female POV. But short of male/male romance, I don't know of a single romance that is solely 1st person from the male POV (though if you find one, please let me know, I'd be very curious to read it). That falls more in the er*tica category. Since romance readership is predominantly female, they want to be able to project themselves into the heroine's place, or at least relate to her, as well as seeing her through the hero's eyes (usually as favourably as possible). If you have no female POV, that will be tougher for readers to do. It's not sexist, it's just knowing your target readership and what they want.
Some men do read romance, though it is a small percentage and it's more male/male romance than male/female.
It sounds like your premise has good potential, but again, if the story is all about what the man wants, and deciding "which of them deserves his heart", that'll raise some flags for romance readers. Sure, a rogue is popular for a lot of readers, but not one who can't decide if the heroine "deserves him" after all his years of philandering. That makes him sound like an arrogant jerk, which won't appeal to female readers, unless he comes to realize what a jerk he is and has to make amends somehow, like Austen's Mr. Darcy. Readers want rogues who feel like they're not good enough for the heroine. Women want to feel good about the heroine, and themselves, after reading a romance. They don't want to be made to feel more insecure.
You might have a mystery with romantic elements, but honestly it doesn't sound like a romance.
Having only a male POV is uncommon, but there are examples of it being done:
The writer of Fifty Shades of Grey put out a version of book 1 from Christian's POV.
There are some modern P&P retellings from Darcy's POV.
Of course, these were done for stories that already had the female's POV.
I have read over one thousand romance books and these were the only examples of male POV / no female POV stories I could come up with. Other books, like Dresden Files, with male only POV aren't romances. It's not because all the authors are women, either. A very good male author, Rich Amooi, writes romantic comedy and has the female POV in there as well as the male in the books I've read of his so far.
Now it could be that the market is ripe for a male only POV romance because there are so few. Or it could be that there are so few because the woman dominated market wants the female POV. We've done our due diligence and cautioned about the problems that might result in trying to market a male only POV romance. Time to let the author try it out and see.
Also, I do think it would be a wonderful thing if men did read more romance, so that men's POV became more common in romance. It would say a lot about the shifting cultural norms, if men felt more comfortable reading stereotypically "mushy" stuff, and expressing their own romantic thoughts more.