My latest novel, One Summer In Rome, is my ninth romantic contemporary fiction novel. As well as the humour and love aspect it touches on some dark issues yet does – I hope – like all my previous books, leave the reader feeling in some way uplifted.
Within the publishing industry romance authors are sometimes faced with a negative attitude regarding their lighter, Happy Ever After work. It’s a view I don’t understand. Romance is one of the most prolific and sustained genres that industry has known. And Mother Nature has, after all, wired us to seek a partner and pleasure.
Personally I believe feel-good stories are incredibly important. They offer a break and a sense of escapism, for readers. What’s more, the characters, the themes are often relatable and providing a positive ending, a positive handling of these subjects can offer a degree of solace to readers suffering the same problems.
Nothing makes my day more than reader feedback saying that my work has, for a few hours, made their life more cheerful or inspired them to change their own life.
So here are a few of the many ways you can add in the feel-good factor to your light contemporary romance novel.
Your main character is crucial and at all costs avoid avoid her/him being too complaining. This is something I struggled with for a long time, with the early manuscripts I wrote before I got my first publishing deal. It’s important, over the course of a story, to see a the main character undergo some sort of change (otherwise what is the point of the journey?) and often this means them being faced with a set of challenges they must overcome.
Goodness, during my first attempts at novel-writing this meant they used to whinge. It’s okay for a character to moan – but for the feel-good factor make sure you demonstrate their positive traits as well. The reader needs to see them trying to help themselves improve their situation by taking action, by trying to see the bright side, but not giving up, by showing courage and determination – or if they can’t do this to start with, make them likeable in some other way. Perhaps they are especially kind. It’s very important in the opening chapters. In real life we’d readily provide a listening ear to family and friends who are going through tough times. We don’t expect them to see the cheery side. But the reader isn’t emotionally invested with your character during those first pages, so bear this in mind and make sure he/she has redeeming features. I mean, which sort of upset stranger would you prefer to spend your time with? A person crying and ruing all the mistakes they have made – or someone blowing their nose, putting their tissue away and drawing up plans to start over?
If your character really is in a position where they can’t help themselves, the feel-good factor can be added in by giving them a dose of self-deprecating or dark humour. It has never ceased to amaze me, during the course of my life, that at the most challenging times humans can see the humour in darkness and that contributes to helping them get through. I recently underwent counselling and the group therapy sessions were often filled with laughter even though each person in there was struggling to take control of their life and get better.
A sense of community – this is a sure-fire way of creating a sense of wellbeing within your book. In my 2015 bestseller Game of Scones, for example, villagers pulled together to save their economically failing businesses. The feel-good factor is created by people helping each other in the face of adversity – by formal rivals swallowing their differences for the greater good. By self-less neighbourly acts being committed. Having a community pull together will have the reader rooting for a wider cast and the setting. The ending will warm readers hearts even more if it doesn’t purely focus on bringing together the heroine and hero. And that community doesn’t necessarily need to be geographical – it could, to take the group therapy as an example, be a set of people pulling together – school parents, colleagues, whatever.
This ties in with another factor – have your protagonists overcome adversity. This will get the reader cheering for them from the sidelines and when your characters reach their goal the reader will feel an immense and rewarding sense of satisfaction. Perhaps they need to overcome an emotional problem like anxiety. Maybe they have set up a business and it becomes a success. Perhaps they finally stand up to a difficult boss. Take my debut, Doubting Abbey. Abbey has to pass herself off as an aristocrat. Even though she is really a down-to-earth pizza waitress, she must outwit and charm the posh folk. In One Summer In Rome the challenges of facing disability and prejudice must be overcome. In Game of Scones Pippa gives up the rat race and seeks the simple life on a Greek island – will she be able to adapt to life without her executive luxuries?
Goodies – that’s the best word I have for adding things to your novel that make people feel great. We’re talking… beautiful locations like sunny Italy or scrumptious Cornwall. How about setting your novel in a cake shop? Yes it’s been done before but I don’t think those locations will ever stop a book being more appealing. Talking of food, mozzarella, tomato, cheese… One Summer In Rome is set in a cosy pizzeria – what could make you feel better than that?! Oh, and pets. Warm scenes can often be created with animals. In The New Beginnings Coffee Club a small kitten helps turn around the life of a little girl. And there is a micro pig called Frazzle for added cuteness in Mistletoe Mansion. In One Summer In Rome a stray dog reveals a hidden kind side to a rather aggressive character. “Goodies” will leave the reader glowing from tip to toe.
Best of luck! If your story makes you feel good then there’s no doubt it will the reader too!