~ By Victoria Pinder
I was describing the plots of my two books due out the week of my wedding, (God has a funny sense of humor sometimes), and my friend laughed at one part of the plot and said ‘you watched soaps once.’ My answer is yes I did. I was once a huge Days of Our Lives fan. I cheered when Carrie finally slapped Sami for all her evil deeds, but once upon a time, I liked Sami and Lucas too. I wanted to be Hope and marry a man like Bo Brady who loved her, despite everything. And the villains were just fun. Vivian dancing on Carly’s grave after she buried her alive was twisted and fun. A few years back I was almost pulled back into my soap, when Nicole and EJ were married and that couple was just fun. But the show acted like evil manipulative Sami was the soap queen who did no wrong, and I wasn’t interested.
But at some point, contemporary romance writers should all watch soap operas or the prime time soap operas that are prevalent these days. Dallas, 90210, Revenge, almost all shows, all have the elements of a good story.
Historicals are light, fluffy fun where we read about ball gowns and the ton and finding a husband, and I love to read them. Yet contemporaries have this ability to creep into our hearts because we can relate to the characters in a different way. A contemporary has todays look and feel, but personally I don’t want to read in a romance about some city’s skid row. My books take place in Paris, the nice parts of Miami, or upcoming the political world of Boston and Cape Cod, and a cruise ship. Chaperoning Paris is about a cancer survivor falls in love with his high school girlfriend who aborted their child and left town. (This could never be historical as she’d be stoned, and her mother forced the teenage’s decisions.) It’s at the heart of the story a reunion romance where love can’t be denied. It’s so different from Favorite Coffee, Favorite Crush which is a fun read where Penelope has a gold digging mother, and Penelope never wants to fall for any rich man. Jay was her high school crush, and he needs a date. Penelope is perfect for his plans, and despite their differences they fall in love. The one I’m working on now is jet setting around. So we still have this element of here but different. Yet the characters get to act like how we might react. In a historical, the goal for the female is either to find a husband or avoid a certain man for a husband. It’s why I gravitate towards contemporary and those delicious soap opera moments.
If I want my heroine to be able to slap someone like Carrie slapped Sami, then Sami better well deserve it. Carrie took a lot of the manipulation because she was good and honest and wouldn’t believe her own sister would drug the boyfriend so she could marry him. Carrie needed the light to be shown at her for her to march into the manipulator’s wedding to the ‘baby daddy’ only to find out her sister lied about who the father was too. Sami deserved the slap, and in writing contemporary if the heroine needs to slap someone, the lesson is better make sure the reader wants her to take the swing.
What else I learned from soaps and the Bo, Hope, Billie triangle is that no one needs to be a villain. If the characters are human, then no one is pure evil. Bo thought Hope dead. He moved on. Hope returned with no memory of who she was. Yet the love broke through, and Bo was conflicted. Stick to his new wife, or follow his heart. In not cheating, but in longing, Bo made the perfect hero in a triangle. His honor was the problem. And ultimately the new wife walked because she saw how tortured Bo was over the whole thing. The lesson for the writer in this is our greatest strengths are also the biggest weaknesses. Honor is a sexy thing for a man to have in this day and age. Men don’t get out and come to the door on the date, so Bo had this larger than life quality of romance and honor that men just don’t always show.
And on the prime times, the settings are key. No one is living in the back alley, or maybe there is one but she’s about to be swept into the glittery world of the rich. Even a rancher story is about an established rancher with no money issues. Perhaps there are books that don’t fit this mold, but I don’t read them. (I’d love to be told of a romance that isn’t someone financially stable without the worry of money.) In Favorite Coffee, Favorite Crush, Penelope returns home to Miami, but she’s not heading into Hialeah or Overtown or Calle Ocho to live. Heck she might be unsaid looking for a place in Kendall, but even that is too middle of the road for her. No, she’s about to move into Coconut Grove, hang out in Coral Gables, and of course go to a party on South Beach. These are the rich sections of town, where the millionaires and billionaires of the world own property. And that party on South Beach takes out the realism of pretentiousness that permeates the air that locals go to, and it’s all about the mystique of the Miami tourists see. We’re not discussing the face eating zombie druggie that made national news (though I do have a friend who writes vampire tales and that might fit into her Miami vampire. I’m unsure.) But for romance, ensure that people want to visit and see the places we write about. If the story includes a bit of gothic or mystery, the scare is always acceptable. But even then I’ve not read a romance where it’s the poor violent section of town that you’d avoid.
So my advice to any contemporary romance writer is to pay attention to the soaps, even the prime time ones. Takes not on the love story arches that made the show memorable. Ignore the horrible stories that turned you off. But if you are interested in the transformation story that a character went through or the tenacity in business that someone has… take notes. What is it really about the character or the setting. If in the future, I write a hero that has honor such as Bo Brady, it’s not suddenly fan fiction with new names. Now if you steal all the characters and situations, then you have a bigger issue. But for one snippet of a human characteristics, you’re fine.
Contemporaries allows us to write what we love. We have today’s world and rules where we don’t have to search for a husband. This makes writing and reading contemporaries delicious.
And pay attention to the stories you’re drawn to as a reader because it helps when you write what you love. So I own up entirely to once loving the fun Days Of Our Lives in the past, and I’m hoping that post Alison Sweeney’s departure, who knows, I might get back into the show. Perhaps not. New life with the new husband is dawning, and life is an adventure waiting for all of us.)