Feb 8 2011 7:00pm

That Delicious Sigh Of Satisfaction: Kleypas, James, Ivory and Rodale

What makes some romance writers so . . . delicious? One of the big reasons we keep picking up romances—and nearly 75 million readers do, according to industry research from Romance Writers of America—is their ability to deliver those wonderfully satisfying “ahhh” moments.

For many romance devotees, there is no better reading experience than closing the final chapter and sitting back with a great, big sigh of satisfaction. What exactly is it that some of romance’s biggest authors, like Lisa Kleypas and Eloisa James, deliver with such consistency?

Strong characters. Even when you hate them, you love them. When Eloisa James’ heroines behave like the aristocrats they are (think This Duchess of Mine and the rest of that series) we love them anyway, because James gives them appealingly human insecurities and self-doubt, while never letting us forget just how economically and socially powerful these women are.

Genuine conflict. There is nothing more irritating in a romance than a couple that just fails to communicate, no matter what the reason. Most of us contend with enough communication issues in real life, and they just aren’t all that appealing in romantic fiction. There are always exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking, the central conflict has to be considerably more significant than just a lack of communication to hold our interest for 300 pages.

One of my favorite examples of the payoffs of deep conflict is Judith Ivory’s Black Silk, which first appeared in 2002 and was reprinted in 2009. Both the hero and the heroine have a lot of flaws, not the least of which are mulish stubbornness and unwillingness to change. You cannot take your eyes off what seems like a train wreck of a match.

Yet Ivory delivers that delicious ending in a big way by keeping you guessing until the last few pages of the book if there will even be a happy ending. It isn’t until the very final scene that you realize these two very different, but evenly matched, individuals are going to stop fighting against one another and start fighting for one another, because the characters themselves don’t realize it until that moment. Happiness doesn’t come easily, but it comes with a huge payoff.


Believable change. No matter how flawed the characters, they can’t be so bad that they become loathsome, nor can they change so quickly or thoroughly that they become another character entirely. There has to be some thread of goodness or possibility that enables change to happen. Lisa Kleypas has a knack for creating memorably flawed heroes and heroines for whom change doesn’t come easily.

Another author who nails the flawed character transformation is relative newcomer Maya Rodale. In The Rogue and the Rival, Rodale gives us an antihero with more flaws than character. Locked in a nunnery, away from his favorite vices of alcohol and gambling, this hero falls back on his deepest flaw: an inability to take anything seriously. Ever. It’s a trait he retains throughout his redemption by the heroine, herself a fallen angel with deep trust issues. By the end, neither character has transformed into a saint, but it's clear that they're heavenly together.

And that's what makes these romances so deliciously appealing: they are stories that convince us, if only for a while, that imperfect love between imperfect people in an imperfect world can still be perfect in its own way.

Doesn’t that just make you want to sigh with contentment?

Carrie Netzer Wajda is an independent researcher and freelance writer in New York, and can be found at writetocarrie.com. A devotee of romance and mystery fiction, she someday hopes to actually finish one of the 182 gazillion “first books” she has started writing in her lifetime, and maybe even publish it. In the meantime, she loves blogging about her favorite authors.

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