A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a divorced mother. On discovering I was a romance novelist, she proceeded to provide me unsolicited ideas for my next novel. One of her ideas involved a military wife who falls in love with a man on base while her husband was involved in covert ops somewhere overseas.
I shook my head and said, “If I do that, I’ll have to make her husband pretty despicable and probably abusive. Readers don’t think of adultery as romance.”
As I pondered the scenario, the writer in me wondered, “When is adultery romance?”
Romance novels have clear guidelines. The leading character (especially the woman) should not be involved in a relationship at the time the romance begins. Beyond the guidelines, I have my own religious views, which do not condone adultery in any form or fashion. But as an artist, my mind was already thinking of scenarios that would work.
One scenario that would justify the new relationship is an abusive controlling philandering spouse. But what if that spouse was actually a nice person?
A few years back I was at a party when a friend of mine told the story of her friend, Jane, who called her in the middle of the night. Jane was driving aimlessly frustrated with no clear plan except that she was leaving her live-in boyfriend. Everybody in the group gasped. The consensus: he was such a nice man. He cooked, he cleaned, he took care of the bills and he was committed. But according to my friend, that was the problem. He took care of everything but he was a dud. Jane was emotionally frustrated and bored to insanity because her boyfriend offered no excitement or romance. He just took care of business.
I of course didn’t know the man and was only slightly acquainted with Jane. A few parties later I met Jane and I understood why she was dissatisfied. She wanted the kind of romance I write about in the novels, where the man wines and dines her and offers emotional excitement. She wanted someone who made her heart throb and her palms sweaty every time he came near. I could imagine in a situation like that, Jane would be vulnerable enough to leave her boyfriend (or have a steamy affair) for someone more exciting who can meet her emotional needs. Could we make that adulterous affair into a romance story that readers would enjoy and even root for?
Needless to say, Jane did return to her boyfriend, trading the excitement of the novels for the everyday mundane of a steady, comfortable, secure relationship. I have no doubt she had a laundry list of changes she would like to implement. But my question still stands: could we really make adultery so romantic that readers are rooting for the adulterous relationship, even though the spouse is a nice, committed person?
What do you think? What scenarios would work ?