Seducing the Romance Reader
by Susan Leslie Donahue
Romance readers want it all. They do not want to settle for less than total satisfaction. A detective story can risk having seduction lead to the simple coming together of bodies without offending readers. It does not disappoint anyone in the slightest if James Bond enjoys pleasures of the flesh with a long legged spy who dies three pages later.
A reader of romance fiction is more demanding. She buys books with certain definite expectations. She know the difference between love and lust, and will not settle for the latter without the former. She wants the heroine to be rewarded for virtue, patience and determination. The reward, of course, is the undying love of the hero. There must be a linking of two hearts, unity of two minds, fulfillment of two bodies and the cosmic melding of two souls. To satisfy a reader of romance fiction, the writer must make the seduction complete.
Writers of the best romance novels know how to seduce both the heroine and the reader. After reading a great romance, the reader should be satisfied, fulfilled, and ready ready to search bookstore shelves for more offerings from the same writer. She will have been seduced into a blissful state of “Reader Loyalty.” That is a magical, and mutually rewarding, form of love between a writer and reader.
How can a writer seduce a reader? The same way she seduces the hero and heroine of her novel. She appeals to heart, mind, body and soul. She first wins the reader’s heart with appealing characters with whom the reader can identify and empathize. Good romantic heroes and heroines must never be too perfect. A battle scar, a light limp, hair which is an untamable mass of curls, or any other minor “flaw” will make the character more relatable, more lovable. Totally virtuous characters are more annoying than endearing. A touch of pride, stubbornness, or mischief will enliven the hero and heroine and make them more acceptable to the reader’s discerning heart.
A writer underestimates the reader’s mind at her own peril, and would be wise to consider that if a reader shows the good judgment to buy her book, that same reader deserves a fresh plot, logical conclusions and something to stimulate her imagination. Writers of historical romances must be meticulously accurate. Gothic writers have to make sure their mysteries are plausible. Good writers carefully season their stories with interesting facts to provide texture and a feeling of authenticity to their stories. Readers want to be enlightened.
A reader knows when an author has really gotten to her. Her body responds. If she falls asleep after reading a book, clutching a damp hanky in her hand, chances are she will not soon forget the book. Goose bumps, shivers up her spine, warm feelings deep inside, laughter or even smiles, are physical evidence of the effect of a story on the reader. These reactions are not easily measurable, but they are essential to the seduction of the reader. If the writer finds herself wiping away a few tears when writing, or occasionaly finds herself a bit over stimulated and flushed, it is safe to assume the reader’s body will responsd in a similar manner.
How does a writer touch a reader’s soul? She reaches out to the reader on some spiritual level. Barbara Cartland was unashamedly obvious in this regard. Her heroines always paused for a moment of prayer. Western romances frequently touch on the religious traditions of Native Americans. Mystic, pagan, new age and transcendental concepts, as well as traditional Christian beliefs, can add a special dimension of spirituality to a book. Without preaching, a romance novelist can appeal to that innermost part of the reader, where love is the light and sustenance of her being.
What could be more fulfilling than a book which caresses the reader with love, wit, sensuality and a feeling of goodness? A romance novel which combines those elements will seduce the reader from the first chapter to the last, leaving her satisfied, but wanting more.
Note: This article was previously published in the Newsletter of the Chicago-North Chapter of the Romance Writers of Ameica.