Okay, I'll admit it. I write love stories. Sure, there are a lot of other elements to my books, but there's always some kind of relationship at the center. So I thought I'd try to look all smart and talk a little about what I've learned from all these books I've written.
I know we all want to think our ideas are the most unique things in the entire world, but there's really only a few kinds of "love stories" out there: the Forbidden, the Reluctant, the Blind, the Deception, the "Traditional." (Huh, the five I'll be covering this week, go figure.)
You can have elements of several in your book, but one will usually dominate. And don't get depressed if these sound familiar to something you've written. These "formulas" have been used for centuries. For some reason, they tug at the human heart—just what you want in a sappy dappy love story. (NOTE: I'm focusing primarily on the romantic element, though every love story has more going on around it.)
So, let's get this show on the road:
The Formula: Guy meets girl (or vise versa). Guy can't have girl because outside force forbids it. They get together anyway—drama unfolds in the form of guilt/deception/discovery/punishment. In the end, they either die for their love or they figure out how to be together and they are finally able to love each other freely.
What is it about forbidden love that always has us rooting for the thwarted couple? Really, we know they aren't allowed to be together—that they are going against family wishes, nature, society, or whatever it may be in that particular book. They are being irrational and reckless. It's WRONG...then why is it so right? Do we all, on some level, feel like "love" is made stronger when people forsake their very identity for it? Do we want love to triumph over everything because it so very often doesn't?
Let's jump a looong way back—Romeo & Juliet. I know: it's really a tragedy, they're just horny emo teenagers, blah blah blah. BUT. You wish they were able to stay together, don't you? You know you do. Deep in your gut you just can't help it. Save a few people (like, maybe Ebenezer Scrooge), I'm willing to bet no one was yelling in The Globe, "Juliet, you fool! Pick Paris! Pick Paris!" (I can see the "Team Paris" t-shirts now.)
Fast forward to the ultimate forbidden love on the shelves right now—Twilight. Um, holy crap, it's Romeo and Juliet with a pretty bow ending! I know: it's really a tragedy, they're just horny emo teenagers (okay, one of them is ninety...but work with me here), blah blah blah. BUT. You still want Bella and Edward together—against all your good sense you STILL WANT IT. Ack!
What? The formula STILL works? You bet it does. Whether you like this kind of love story or not—this story sells. A lot, apparently. Everyone likes a good "WHY CAN'T THEY JUST BE TOGETHER?" book. (Alright, that might just be girls.) And if you write love stories, you better bet you'll be using this one at some point.
I did—Allure was my forbidden love story. Keira Connelly falls for a dragon outside of her Clan. They want to be together; they can't. She tries to accept her betrothed; she can't. She finally gives up and picks Rune—abandons her whole life at the risk of death. Things work out after a while. It totally works. I love that story and so did the people who read it (despite it not being polished enough).
So, welcome to the formula. What can you do as a writer to make this not sound like half the books on the shelves? It's all about the characters and world—that "fresh spin" thing. A forbidden love can unravel in so many ways based on the unique characters that fall in love and the world around them. Um, hence the overwhelming success of a vamp falling for his "prey."
Is your MC looking for the forbidden aspect to rebel? Or is your MC a rule abider taken off guard? Does the love interest feel guilty for making your MC risk so much? Or is the love interest reckless and flauting his or her affection? The answers to those question swing the story in vastly different directions, as do all the other things you can bring to a book. Time, place, society, etc. It's about what you can bring to the formula—the new life you can breathe into it.
Sigh, those poor forbidden couples. Oh, the million-dollar angst.