The days of the ‘bodice rippers’ are gone

Friday, December 22, 2017
Alli Sinclair interviewed by Cath James

Photo of Alli Sinclair
Alli Sinclair

“A romantic story is boring if the potential couple are a perfect match straight away,” says tutor Alli Sinclair. Ahead of her upcoming workshop, we talked to Alli about what appeals in romance writing and how to write compelling, memorable romance characters.

In your upcoming workshop, participants will learn how to develop strong growth for characters as individuals and also as a couple. Does the character development process differ in romance writing, when you are thinking about writing characters in terms of their relationships?

When I'm developing characters for a new story, I always work on them as individuals. I figure out what their back story is, their hopes and needs, their weaknesses and strengths ... exactly the same way as if I am developing a character for a non-romantic story. The fun part is putting the two different characters together and seeing how their romance plays out. A romantic story is boring if the potential couple are a perfect match straight away. There's no challenge and readers won't be engaged. But if you put two characters who are quite different together, the journey to them finding happiness as a couple is much more satisfying. They will need to overcome obstacles and grow as individuals and also learn about the other person and find ways for their relationship to work. I look at writing romantic stories as three characters - character one (individual journey), character two (individual journey), and character one and two together (the couple's journey).

Reading romance is often referred to as escapism. Why do you think this is? Is it something you tap into as a romance writer?
One of the delights of reading is escaping into a world of characters and situations that we may not get to experience in everyday life. Whether it’s immersing ourselves in 1850s London, attending court in medieval France, working in an emergency room, or dancing under the stars in Spain, romance stories can take readers on journeys into fascinating worlds. The element of escapism can be a savior in our everyday life, especially if we’re facing troubling times.

Writing romance requires working within the conventions of the genre. How do you stop your writing also becoming clichéd?
Romance novels have changed quite dramatically over the years. Gone are the days of the ‘bodice rippers’ and now we have an array of romantic stories that defy ‘traditional’ conventions. Romance stories these days tend to feature characters who come into their own power by learning about themselves, and others, and they certainly don’t rely on someone else to ‘save’ them.

In Australia, rural romance is doing phenomenally well, and we have a lot of Australian authors who have won big international awards and sold romance books in the millions. Romance writers are doctors, scientists, lawyers, farmers, teachers, stay-at-home mums or dads, some didn’t graduate high school, some have five degrees. This broad spectrum of romance writers means there is a big variety of characters and stories and so those ‘clichéd’ stories are a thing of the past. The only expectations from readers (and they have varying backgrounds and life experiences as well!) is for the journey between the couple to be emotionally charged, romantic, and engaging. Of course, they do expect a happy-ever-after or at the very least, a happy-for-now ending.

You combine travel and adventure with romance, what is romantic about being somewhere exotic?
I adore setting my stories in cultures that are steeped in history and tradition. That way I can use setting as a character, and it can heavily influence the actions of my other characters and their outcomes. I’ve spent years living and travelling overseas and have been to some amazing places and I love sharing my passion for a destination with readers. For example, in my latest book, ‘Under the Spanish Stars’, the story is set in Granada, in southern Spain. Not only is this a picturesque region that is heavily influenced by the Moors and Romans, southern Spain is the home of flamenco. Setting the story here was a wonderful opportunity to combine history and culture, including how flamenco has influenced Spanish politics over the years. My main character is Australian and as her story unfolds, the reader gets to experience Spain through her eyes. And aside from a chance to escape into a new world, reading books set in exotic destinations means you don’t need a passport and you don’t get jetlag!

Whilst women still make up the majority of romance readers, the number of men is increasing – why do you think this is?
If you look at a lot of fiction that isn’t classified as romance, there is often a romantic element between the characters. Reading a romance novel is just an expansion on that element. Men are starting to realise that romance novels can challenge their way of thinking or help them understand different aspects in their personal life. Sometimes it even helps them better understand their partners! I know of male soldiers in warzones, and policemen and paramedics, who turn to romance novels to help them escape the trauma their work can bring. Also, with an array of romance novels available - medical romance, special ops, rural, travel, historical, contemporary, paranormal, sci-fi - there’s a storyline to suit most and men are being drawn into these worlds and enjoying the emotional journey. There has also been an increase in men writing romance and this has helped open the romance genre to a whole new set of readers.

About Alli Sinclair

Alli Sinclair is a multi-award-winning author published in Australia and overseas. Her stories combine travel, adventure and romance with a dash of mystery. An adventurer at heart, Alli has climbed some of the world’s highest mountains and immersed herself in an array of exotic destinations, cultures, and languages. Alli’s stories capture the thrill and adventure of romance that take readers on a journey of discovery. Alli can be found at

About Cath James

Cath James is Programs Intern at Writers Victoria and coordinates the activities of the Castlemaine Word Mine. She has written for the Weekly Times Home magazine and elsewhere about food and sustainability. She currently works in strategic communications.