On happy endings, sexy heroes, and revolutionary writing

Really enjoyed this recent post on Shondaland.com featuring the inimitable Julia Quinn. Here are some of my favorite bits.

SL: What do you think takes a romance novel from good to great?

JQ: There’s a joke romance writers like to make when we’re talking about our books. We’ll be talking about the plot, and then we’ll say in a confidential tone, “Okay, spoiler alert. They get together in the end.” This pretty much always gets a laugh, because if there is one thing we all know about romance novels, and indeed, if there is one thing that defines a romance novel, it’s the happy ending. 

This isn’t to say, however, that romance novels are formulaic. Far from it. You open with two protagonists who meet (or re-meet) and you finish with a happy ending. How you get from point A to point B is wide open. But no matter how varied the plots may be, they all end in fundamentally the same place. Which is why I think that if you want to take a romance novel from good to great, it’s all about the characters.

If the reader doesn’t care about the characters, if she doesn’t have a hollow spot in the pit of her stomach when things look bleak, or she doesn’t feel a thrill as they tumble into love, the book will fall flat. A romance novel is all about the emotional journey, and a reader’s emotions must be engaged. I’m known for writing humorous books, and I’m often asked for advice on how to be funny. (Short answer: I have no idea. It’s just the way I’m wired.) I always caution writers not to forsake the emotion in the pursuit of humor. A funny book will make you laugh, but a funny book that grabs your heart at the same time will stay with you forever. 

Photo: Julia Quinn

SL: What do you most hope people take away from your work?

JQ: I’ve said many times that I’m not going to change the world with my writing, but I can change someone’s afternoon. There is a time and a place for the Great American Novel, and there is a time and a place for clever, well-written entertainment. I love writing the latter, and I love reading it, too.

But lately I’ve been thinking that there is more to it than that. I often hear from readers who tell me that my books have shown them that they deserve better in their lives, that they deserve a partner who treats them well. And maybe that’s why my heroes aren’t typical bad boys. (Seriously, every time I try to write a bad boy hero he turns around and does something decent and nice.) I don’t want a guy who treats women like dirt, and I don’t want to write about guys who do that, either. Then it occurred to me — in some ways, portraying a healthy relationship in literature is the most revolutionary thing you can do.

SL: Going off of that, what makes a male character sexy in a romance novel?

JQ: There are really two parts to what makes a male character sexy. The first is focused just on him. There is the physical — he doesn’t need to be classically handsome, but he needs to be attractive to the heroine. He also needs, in my opinion, a stellar sense of humor and the ability to — at least some of the time — not take himself too seriously. But I also think that a vital component of his sexiness comes in how he sees the heroine. A guy simply cannot be sexy if he doesn’t respect women. If you want to be a hero in one of my books, you have to believe in the heroine and respect and cherish her strengths and abilities. It doesn’t mean he can’t get all protective and macho from time to time — I mean, who doesn’t love that? But ultimately, he’s got to think she’s the bomb, and not just because he likes the way she looks on his arm. And of course, it doesn’t hurt if he gets down on one knee and declares that she’s the missing piece to his soul.

To read the full interview, click here.

More about Julia Quinn here.

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