Do all romance novel hero/heroine pairs have to bicker through the first half of their story? Or have a blood-feud or professional rivalry or some other I-hate-your-guts kind of reaction at first?
I received my contest results from the MORWA contest on Friday night, and I’ve been mulling over them this weekend. My results were very mixed—of the three judges, the top score was over double the bottom one! That low-ball judge hated the concept, hated the setup, hated just about everything about it. For each criteria, they could give 1-5 points and I might have gotten two 3’s on the whole score sheet. Everything else was a 2 or a 1. Yikes. I’m trying not to take some of that criticism to heart.
The basic setup Chivalrous (which has a slightly different name for querying) is that Jake and Becca meet as participants in a Renaissance Faire, and are thrown together in a role-play setup posing as bride and groom. They’ve never met before, and throughout the festivities, end up liking each other. A lot. But Jake’s engaged to someone else, and Becca doesn’t know that till the very end of the evening. His relationship with the fiancée is exposed in parts throughout the rest of the novel, but it's not just dumped into the first 25 pages. It is already flawed at the point of this meeting, but Jake isn’t consciously aware of it. It begins to seriously crumble as the pages turn. The first Renn Faire is the so-called tip of the ice berg.
One comment that was common to all three judges was that there wasn’t enough conflict in the very beginning. And I’m trying to figure out just why it’s needed there, or how it would work. Because there is conflict—internal, mainly, on Jake’s part. Looking at the comments on the depth of my characters POV, I could improve how that conflict is shown to the reader (it’s going on my “to-do” list for any possible edits).
For my heroine, there isn’t much to be conflicted about. She’s single. She’s had at least one serious relationship in the past that ended badly, but at this point she’s not bitter or carrying a grudge against all men or anything silly like that. She meets a cute guy, who is clearly enjoying the role-play Renn Faire thing as much as she is, and they hit it off. There’s no conflict until she discovers, rather rudely, that he’s engaged to someone else and willing to shove her aside and pretend that he did not return his attraction to her, in order to save his own reputation.
Jake’s character is flawed, obviously, as this is not the only place in his life where he’s made a poor choice. But he fully believes that he’s doing the right thing, for himself, his future, and his fiancée. During the story, he has a much more complex journey from the person he starts at to the final scene. Not that Becca doesn’t have a few issues of her own, and some hard choices to make about her life. She’s more about firming up her life choices, and really committing herself to take a chance, instead of always relying on a safety net.
I believe in my story, though I admit, freely, that I’m not placing any bets that it’ll ever sell. And I don’t know that I’d enter it (or at least the beginning) into any more contests because I don’t know that it would show well against other, slightly more traditional romance setups. People aren’t going to like the fact that Jake’s “cheating”. They’re not going to like the fact that the H/H both admit their attraction in the beginning (“where’s the conflict?”).
1. I can improve on the POV in some parts of the beginning.
2. I need to pick up the pace a bit. It meanders a bit more than it probably should, and readers want a novel to charge out of the gates at top speed.
3. I will try not to laugh (too much) at the one comment that Jake ought to have been sharing more thoughts on the fiancée, his background, anything in the middle of a swordfight. Come on, ladies. When a guy is in the middle of a physical activity, he’s incredibly singleminded. We might be able to muse about our shopping list and hairstyle for an upcoming event while our body is otherwise…engaged…but Guys. Just. Don’t. Ask them—my husband laughed at that comment too…