Guest Blogger: Jessica Barksdale Inclan

Thoughts about Writing Romance

Hello! It is wonderful to be blogging here. My name is Jessica Barksdale Inclan, and I am the author of five paranormal romances—the fifth, Intimate Beings comes out the 30th of this month!

I haven’t always been a writer of romances. In fact, I have moved around in many genres, writing poetry, short stories, literary/contemporary novels, and romances. Once a few years ago, a friend and I decided we were going to write a screenplay. We read a few screenplays, read a couple of screenplay books, and we (writers both, published, long time in the field, etc) thought we could write a script that would be so great we’d end up getting an Oscar for our writing. We didn’t exactly say that, but we thought we could. We fantasized a little about our eventual success. We imagined who would play the roles in the movie.

To our credit, we worked really hard at our script (a couple of years went by), and when the time came to have a “real” screenplay writer read it (I know a couple from my UCLA teaching), we learned the hard sad truth that our screenplay had problems. Firstly, it was a novel with intermittent dialog. Secondly, it just didn’t work.

So we tried again (another year or so went by), this time reading some more screenplays, getting the screenplay writing program, working hard. Another screenwriter friend/former student read it, and wow. Not so good again.

Finally, we gave up. No Oscar for us, at least, not with these screenplays.

When I started writing romances–or, actually–before I started, I imagined that it was no big deal. Tell a love story. But then my screenplay writing experience kind of reared its ugly head, and I decided I needed to do some intense study. I spent one summer and fall reading about 100 romances. I went down to Orinda library, checking out a dozen books at a time reading one in the aisles before I left. I read and read and read. And then I wrote the novel that would become When You Believe.

At the first read, my agent thought I was heavy on the paranormal and light on the romance, so I went back at it. And the good news was that someone bought it. And the better news was that I liked what I wrote.

Contrary to the beliefs of some out there, he writing was hard. To understand that writing a romance is hard was the same as realizing that writing a screenplay is hard. It’s the same sort of knowledge that comes to most beginning writers–the ones who want to quit their day jobs and sell a romance and make it big. Danielle and Nora big. I taught a one day class about a half a year ago, and in the class, a woman actually said that, something like, “I am tired of working and want to write romances.”

She meant it and was extremely peeved with me when I did not nod in agreement to her plan. I’ve met countless writers who want to write the next big mystery or thriller right now. Immediately.

Can I teach them how? they ask.

Damn, if I knew, I’d do it myself.

The point is, I had feelings myself about romance writing. I thought it was a slam dunk until I started reading. I saw that these writers were doing things I didn’t actually know how to do. Plot was important, but more important was this connection they were building between the main characters, the couple, male/female, female/female, male/male (I stop at this point. While there might be other couples out there, that’s as far as I go). Okay, a ménage a trois or several showed up, but really, there was always this underlying connection between two people. That was the thing I had to learn how to do and do well.

And I had to pull different tools from my toolbox. My editor said, “Look, you need to describe people, places, and things.” I had to start working on the color of my nouns. Coming from a literary background, I eschewed the description of anyone’s “heart-shaped” face and the like. Well, romance readers want to know what people look like. So I learned how to do it, and do it in a way that aligned with my ideas about writing.

Here’s what I know. I’m not Nora or Danielle. I probably never will be that popular or even close. I’m not exactly sure I want to be popular in that way, either. But both of these women know how to really capture the connection between their two main characters and pull and twist the reader throughout the entire story, making us feel they will never get together. Will they? No. Will they? Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes!!

But I also know that this writing isn’t easy, something you can do and quit your day job tomorrow (I still have both of mine). It’s as hard as anything, any kind of writing. It’s as hard as a screenplay. A mystery. A thriller. A literary piece. A poem. There are skills and talents you can learn, but some you may never be expert in. You may laugh at certain forms of writing, but my feeling is you never know until you sit down in front of your writing machine and try.