Early on, when I started writing Wild Lavender, I remember thinking that the worst thing about my favorite romance novels was that they came to an end. So I set out to write a novel that would not only keep the reader reading, but would keep the reader reading! My first draft hit the 304,000 words mark and was called Aubrianne, Daughter of the Ring—ugh, right?
Fortunately, I was introduced to an author of Regency Era romance, and she quickly, if not kindly, set me on the right path. It went a little like this:
“So, how long is your manuscript?” she asked, sipping her green tea.
“A little over 300,000 words,” I proudly replied over my iced coffee.
She pulled out her phone and typed some numbers into the calculator app. “Your manuscript is roughly a 1,000 pages. Much too long for a romance. No agent in their right mind will rep a book that long”—oops, that last bit might’ve come from one of my rejection letters.
At the time, I was well into Gabaldon’s “Outlander Series” and remarked that it wasn’t impossible. “Dragonfly in Amber is over 700 pages.”
“Yes,” she observed, “but you aren’t Diana Gabaldon.”
I still smile remembering her words. Since that day, my monster tome was cut into two books only to be welded back together. There were glaring formulaic errors, such as the hero not being introduced until 50% of the way into the manuscript. As it is essential for sparks to fly between the love interests in the first few chapters, the epilogue was completely rewritten. Even the hero, Larkin, was renamed Lorcan for a while. Why? Because he needed a manlier name. I hated it and changed it back after a month; I’ve never been one for formulas.
Entire plot lines, including a mystical ring worn by the heroine—hence the Daughter of the Ringtitle—were chopped. Characters were sent to the guillotine without mercy: Gorman, the antagonist’s henchman, had a partner in crime named Odo. And I will forever mourn losing Bert the Cart Driver. Readers will never enjoy the chapters titled “Strawberry,” or “Bellybutton,” or even “Swords and Shears.” Many chapters were rearranged to introduce the hero earlier, and new ones were added to round out the antagonist.
As for a formula, I’m still a little lost as to what that means. I’m sure there is a great one out there, I just haven’t had a chance to look. When I wrote Wild Lavender, I woke each morning with a new chapter in my head. There is a reason agents ask for a word count up front, and I learned my lesson well. While writing The Queen’s Dance, I made sure not to stray into too many sub-plots and ended up with around 130,000 words. However, the whole hero saving the damsel formula diverges from traditional roles; Claire tries to save Trian and… Never mind; I don’t want to give anything away.
I am well into book three in the Aurelian Guard Series (working title: Anwyl and Warin), and the role of the protector hero is back. Much of the conflict between the protagonists comes from Warin having to save the princess over and over and over again—at least from his point of view. Do I have a plot line? Yes, but it is very loose and ever-evolving and will never fit into any typical formula where “x + y = happily ever after.” But don’t worry, Anwyl and Warin do manage to kiss by page 17.