I challenged myself recently to step outside of my writing comfort zone. (Ha! As if I ever had a writing comfort zone.) Let me just say that contrary to what non-writers might think, writing is hard! One doesn’t just doodle with an idea, jot it down on paper, and have all the major publishing companies fall all over each other to pay the largest acquisition rights. That only happens in movies and TV shows. I discovered that painful lesson the hard way. But seeing as how I never know from where I may get writing inspiration, I often take classes that I doubt I will ever use. After attending a workshop at a writer’s conference, I decided to try something different—a romance novel.

Now let me preface this by saying that I don’t read romance novels. I don’t particularly like romance novels unless they have some underlying great storyline like being set in a historically factual background or suspense. Even then, I can usually do without the romance part, especially if it is one of those “in your face” romances with the man and the woman constantly panting after each other in ways that never happen in real life, unless one is being stalked. I also don’t like books where I know how they will end before I read the first page. But apparently romance novels are popular, as evidenced by the number of old ladies in my church who read them. I know this because their used books often end up in the church yard sales, and sometimes the titles or covers are contrary to what I would ever imagine sweet little old ladies reading.

So, if romance is popular, why not give it a try? How hard could it be to write a romance novel? I mean they’re basically all the same story with different character names, occupations, and settings, right? Sort of like a Hallmark movie. Mix and match plot A with small town setting B, big city career woman C, and old boyfriend or hunky new guy in small town D. Oh, and big city career woman’s reason for going to small town. That pretty much covers everything except the rippling abs and the heaving bosoms. Oh, wait. For Christian romance, everything needs to be from the neck up. Or maybe the knees down. Better yet, ankles down. Don’t want to get too racy.

Well, it turns out, like everything else I’ve ever tried to do that looked easy, writing a romance novel wasn’t as easy as I thought. There are only so many ways a heart can flutter or a person can gaze into another person’s eyes without becoming repetitious. Even the most hard-core romance reader probably gets tired of the same old tired cliches. So the author has to constantly mix up the limited ways to make hearts race and gazes burn. Plus, there has to be ongoing conflict. Otherwise, there’s no story. You can’t just start with boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after. Or reality sets in with the obnoxious in-laws, screaming kids, and the bickering over housework and money, and the wife ends up running off with the UPS man. But since reality has little to do with romance, that scenario would never end up in a romance novel.

There are only so many conflicts one can throw into a romance novel, since the plots are generally all the same. A – boy and girl meet and they dislike each other. B-boy and girl realize they are attracted to each other, but for some reason can never be together. C- they finally realize they can be together, but some outside influence is working to keep them apart. D- they are driven apart. E – they overcome all obstacles and end up together. There are only so many reasons for the two to dislike each other. There are only so many reasons why they can never be together, i.e., characters being in the witness protection program or suffering a terminal illness. Those scenarios have been written to death. Oops, that last line was unintended in the case of a terminal illness. Of course, the character couldn’t actually have a terminal illness—otherwise they couldn’t live happily ever after. No, the character has to find the one doctor capable of curing the misdiagnosed terminal disease. How many ways can those same plots be written before they all look the same?

But you’ll be happy to know I made it through writing my first romance novel, even if it did go against my usual style of writing by being boringly predictable. (And please don’t anyone hurt my feelings by pointing out that all my writing is boringly predictable.) Now I just have to wait and see if it’s what the romance publishers are looking for. If so, I may have found a new niche. And I didn’t even use the witness protection program or the terminal disease. I still have two whole plots left!