Post-event: NBDB’s The Hows of Romance Writing


Last week, I moderated an online panel called The Hows of Romance Writing for NBDB, featuring authors Catherine Dellosa, Steno Padilla, and J.P. Adrian. A replay of the session (in English and Tagalog) can be viewed here:

We had so many questions and did not have enough time to answer each one! But I saved the chat transcript off Zoom and will be answering what I can in this post.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring authors based in the PH who want to get published for a wider (global) market?

My answer: I actually said a little bit about this at the panel but I want to expand on my answer here–I think it would be really interesting and good for us to consider our work global already. Even if we are writing in Tagalog and other Filipino languages, even if we are writing for Filipinos. Filipinos are everywhere in the world, translations are an option, and we should focus on global access all the time even for stories that are not in English.

And if you write in English, as I do, think of what your goals are and who should be reading this, and then work with the people, companies, platforms that can make that happen. If the book is for Filipinos, but the publisher can’t get the book to Filipinos? Or the book is too expensive and Filipinos can’t afford it? We can actually work with different companies/people/platforms in different territories to ensure that each of our goals are met!

Q: Should the HEA ending in a romance story be absolute?

My answer: I think if you’re asking this, you probably don’t want to write romance! Think of yourself as a writer of drama/fiction/tragedy/erotica/[insert correct genre or category] and then this will no longer be a problem for you. Other types of fiction can have a love story as a subplot and if you don’t want the love story to end happily then tragedy is the format you might want to follow. Or if you want the sexual content/intimacy plotlines without the exploration of a relationship, erotica could be the better category for your work.

Be aware if your “subverting” of a formula just means you prefer a different genre/story formula! If you want to write tragedy, or erotica, learn how to write that–instead of calling it a romance because you didn’t actually write a romance. You will find success in correctly identifying what you want to write and then learning it.

Q: Sometimes, the use of red flag characters are inevitable. How can we use these tropes without glorifying them but at the same time, not treating them as mere plot devices?

My answer: Be clear that red flags are red and flagged. I think the “glorifying” happens when authors are unclear about their position about the issue and the character. If as an author you want the readers to know your position, be clear and consistent.

But also, because I want to think that some authors know what they’re doing–perhaps they do intend to glorify a red flag character. That is the uncomfortable truth that we who write and read romance have to deal with. Sometimes authors do this and if we as readers don’t wish to be part of that, then we make the choice not to read them.

Q: How does institutional context (audience-driven narratives; plot conventions; the need to subscribe to popular stories) come into play in producing genre works such as romance novels?

My answer: I actually self-publish my books so I don’t necessarily bend to institutional rules that others might consider. Yes I have editorial guidelines for myself, and yes I follow the HEA convention, but those are choices I made and it’s not dictated by the market or a trad pub. This is a freedom I have because I control my publishing life.

Q: Any tips for someone who wants to write romance but also wants the story lean towards the “sawi-ness” of love?

My answer: Romance can definitely include “sawi-ness” but the position is that sawi can be overcome. If your position is that sawi cannot be overcome, then you’re not writing romance. 🙂 I think people should write what they believe and love–by all means write your sawi-ness! But maybe you shouldn’t consider it romance.

Q: Tingin niyo po ba, possible na maging full-time writer sa bansa natin? If yes, any advice po regarding dito?

Yes, especially if you write romance, and if you self-publish, and also make very good strategic business partnerships in publishing and distribution. I don’t mean “full time writer” na you’re writing 8 hours a day for 5 days a week ha! I mean “full time writer” because you’re earning a decent monthly income from your books, even if you are not writing every day. I spent 12 years writing 27 books and I wish I thought of it that way, because I thought I should be writing all day for work. Anyway ito na yung updated advice: When you have time, write books that can be valuable intellectual property, and then set a schedule to write enough of them (like a series), and then find out who can be your best partners so that your valuable intellectual property can be earning the equivalent of a full-time income for you, so that you will be given the time to write more and create more stories. Good luck sa ating lahat. 🙂

Q: Miss Mina, how can we say that there’s “justice” to a romance story that we’re writing? Or how can we incorporate “justice”?

My answer: I love this question! To me, “justice” is the satisfaction the reader will get in seeing good people receive the love they deserve. I tend to write characters lately tuloy who definitely are principled, and fight for not just their love interest but also their families and/or their communities. This means “villains” also receive what they deserve–if they’re cruel or hateful they will not be welcome in my created world and they will feel it. Sometimes I can’t fix the world’s problems in my book but I will create a setting for the characters where they will feel safe and be surrounded by love and support. That by itself is a statement even if the world is difficult to change.

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About Mina

Mina V. Esguerra writes and publishes romance novels. She founded #RomanceClass, a community of Filipino authors of romance in English.
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