‘Intelligence’ and ‘steely determination’ are the central tenets of the Mills and Boon writer, says Roger (who writes as Gill Sanderson from his caravan in the Lake District). So too is a sound understanding of a format that works. Julie Moggan’s documentary True Stories: Guilty Pleasures is not solely about what makes a Mills and Boon romance so compelling for readers. It’s also an insight into a narrative format that makes this a popular and lucrative genre (a Mills and Boon book is sold every four seconds), so Roger’s take on the format is worth dwelling on for a minute. Certain things are a must, specifically:
- the man must be an alpha-male. He will be handsome and charming, imposing even. But he cannot be too hairy, or have a hairy back, or have red hair, or be fat. And he must have a ‘good name.’ In short, he has to be ‘the type of man that every woman might fancy.’ Quite specific then. Interestingly, there is nothing about the ‘type’ of woman that is the protagonist in these stories.
- It helps to draw on generalisations, the most popular being that men have a fear of commitment and that they can’t say ‘I love you’ with any degree of ease. Another good plot device is the protagonist coming face to face with a richer/younger/prettier rival, who happens to be her man’s former lover. This seems to add the necessary ‘barrier’ needed to create romantic and sexual tension.
- As any writer knows, ideas are all around. Roger looks for the ‘peopleness’ in situations, such as the small actions and looks couples give each other over dinner or when walking together. It’s the small things that become the spark for something of substance.
- Romance – meeting someone and falling in love with them – changes people. The characters are not the same as they were at the beginning of the story, so character development is important. Think about your own relationships, how did meeting someone change you?
- Mills and Boon are not known to shy away from their sex scenes, which are more explicit than when Roger first started writing for them. But sex must be in the context of love or a loving relationship, always consenting and never forced. Roger didn’t say, but it probably helps if the underwear is silk.
Ultimately, the stories make romance spectacular by ‘celebrating the power of love.’ A good romance must have a happy ending and be believable. What, you may ask, is believable about portraying love as a holy grail, where only the truly deserving gets their prince/boss/sheikh? That question was left unanswered, but maybe it’s the work-based scenarios that make it real for readers. It’s believable that you would fall in love with someone whilst engrossed in work together. It’s believable that you would be aware of a more glamourous rival for your man’s affection, and it’s believable that there will be misunderstandings between you both before you admit your love for each other. So if romance is rooted in an everyday scenario like work (however far-fetched that job may be) then the reader will think it believable.
There is an art to making writing look effortless or ‘easy.’ Mills and Boon writers, like chiclit writers, are often accused of ‘churning out’ books, much to Roger’s disapproval. If it looks easy, or like it could be churned out, it’s because someone has spent hours toiling over the script to make sure that it’s pitch perfect. Happy writing everyone.