My final reading post. *wipes away a tear*

Let’s do something lighthearted; things have been getting excessively heavy, intellectual and downright rant-y in the posts up until now.

I’m really just going to have fun here. Switch up the format and potentially jeopardise my future writing career.

Okay, so this is my favourite reading of the week. It is the submission guidelines for a certain South African publisher of romance novels. No names mentioned. Because aforementioned writing career probably depends on publishers not hating me.

(I have the horrible sense this is going to come back to bite me.)

Right. So I read this. And now you will too. Complete with my snarky little annotations.

“Publisher X would like to invite authors to submit romance manuscripts written according to the following guidelines:

 Typical format of a Publisher X romance

  • 30 000 words
  • Roughly 10 chapters”

 Well, that’s short. But okay. Guess this is kind of a novella shindig.

Typical style of a Publisher X romance

 Think Mills & Boon”

 Oh dear.

“• The story must be set in South Africa, preferably a big city like Johannesburg

  • The story is told from the main female character’s perspective
  • The story is told in the third person
  • Both hero and heroine should be black South Africans.”

This feels… unusually prescriptive.

The heroine is:

  • an independent, spunky, smart woman;
  • financially independent;
  • in her mid-twenties to early thirties;
  • extremely self-motivated;
  • determined to achieve success; and
  • committed to overcoming past hardships.”

Let’s call her Cindy. Cindy (24) is an independent women who don’t need no man. Cindy lives in Durban and works as a… um, marketing manager? Yeah, and she dreams of owning her own beauty consulting company one day. She used to have a deadbeat boyfriend who never told her she was pretty. This made Cindy sad. So she dumped him, but sometimes she wants him back because she is now lonely.

 “The heroine feels:

  • financially responsible for her family.”

Oops. Didn’t factor that in. Okaaaay… Cindy’s sister has a young daughter. Cindy helps pay her niece’s school fees.

“The heroine has:

  • a strong spiritual base;
  • at least two girlfriends on whom she can rely for moral & emotional support; and
  • a modern outlook on life and on the role of woman in society.”

Cindy goes to church every Sunday and sometimes also on Tuesdays. Her best friends (read: providers of exposition) are called Keisha and Zizipho. They’ve got Cindy’s back. And their own boyfriends, to make sure she feels insufficient as a woman.

See also: Cindy is an independent woman who don’t need no man.

The heroine likes to:

  • visit local hotspots to see who’s who and to be seen.

Are you kid…

Cindy likes to visit local hotspots to see who’s who and to be seen.

The heroine should:

  • experience personal growth and self-discovery; and
  • realise her own worth and inner strength.

Cindy sometimes feels like men are not interested in her.  Beneath her perfectly groomed façade, she worries that she isn’t pretty enough. Over the course of this epic romance, our hero will tell her repeatedly that she is pretty. Then she will no longer be sad because she realises he is right.

The main male character (hero)

The hero is:

  • strong
  • Intelligent
  • good-looking
  • slightly older than the heroine (late thirties to early forties)
  • successful in his career
  • more traditional in his outlook on life than the heroine (cause of tension).

 We shall call him Hlekazi. He is strong and dislikes wearing shirts. At any given opportunity, he will remove his shirt, revealing his perfectly sculpted abdominal muscles to Cindy. Mmm…

He has a powerful jaw and a voice low enough to confuse whales when he visits his third holiday house in Hermanus.  He’s 41, so there is a slight age difference between him and Cindy. He thinks women belong in the kitchen, but that’s okay because he really does love Cindy a lot. Besides, he thinks it’s cute when she talks back.

The plot

The main plot-line:

  • revolves around the heroine & hero’s struggle to build a romantic relationship
  • outside forces (at work or in their communities) try to keep them apart
  • their own conflicting beliefs about modern society and the role of women also threaten to keep them apart

Although Cindy loves Hlekazi at first sight and Hlekazi loves Cindy at first sight, a series of banal miscommunications and facile obstructions will act as hurdles on the road to their predestined relationship. Cindy’s jealous co-worker, Mildred, will spread nasty rumours about Cindy, and Hlekazi will believe them. Or appear to. Cindy will believe that he believes them. Whether he actually believes them is, perhaps, irrelevant.

Hlekazi wants Cindy to be more domestic. Cindy isn’t sure how she feels about this.

Keep sub-plots to a minimum:

  • Only those that influence internal growth in the heroine should be developed.

Everything will be about either Cindy’s feelings or Hlekazi’s abs.

Romantic tension should be built up until a satisfying conclusion is reached between the heroine & hero:

  • i.e. when all obstacles between them have been overcome and love triumphs.

Hlekazi will propose to Cindy. She will enthusiastically enter into this romantic union with a man she met two weeks previously.

One or two intimate scenes should be included (though only between the heroine and the hero – no other boyfriends/lovers).

Sexy times.

(Cindy forgets to be a good little choir girl.)

Your target readers:

  • All those thousands of people who love Mills & Boon!

I worry about humanity.

  • Upwardly mobile black female readers.
  • In terms of typical South African readers, think of those who currently read True Love, Move and Drum.

Let’s see. True Love’s current issue: “I lost 20kg in three months!”

Cindy is now dieting.

Drum: “It’s his baby!”


Move: “It was not easy, but the Lord saw me through.”

Cindy now also goes to church on Thursdays.

Guidelines towards a structure

Really, there is no authorial freedom here.

Chapter 1

Introduce the heroine to the reader by placing her in her own day-to-day environment and allowing her to interact with either family or her girlfriends or both. Think of this as an introductory chapter. Give some description of the heroine but not too much. It might be a good idea to introduce the hero briefly in this chapter.

Cindy leaves work and muses how nice it would be to open her own beauty consultancy company. She gets a lift to a family gathering from her girlfriend, Keisha. Keisha talks about her awesome-sauce boyfriend and Cindy feels sad. At the family gathering, Cindy talks about her niece’s school fees. She goes home and looks at pictures of her old boyfriend. She sighs a lot.

Chapter 2

Expand on the “normal” life of the heroine. Give some indication of the direction the plot will take, i.e. introduce a new element to her life (hero or new circumstances).

 Cindy goes to church. There is a new member of the congregation, Hlekazi. Cindy cannot take her eyes off him and his abdominal muscles, which are on display because Hlekazi is inexplicably shirtless (perhaps it is a hot day? Perhaps he needed the shirt for the purposes of rescuing a kitten?). Hlekazi’s eyes find hers from across the crowded pews. Cindy inexplicably faints (perhaps it is a hot day? Perhaps she needs to be rescued?) and Hlekazi inexplicably feels the need to carry her to the hospital in his strong, manly arms.

Chapter 3

If the hero has not been introduced in chapter 2, now is the time to bring him to introduce him – though chapter 1 is often best. This is also the time to indicate the reasons for the conflict that will develop between him and the heroine.

 Don’t worry, I’ve introduced him.

Cindy makes a miraculous recovery and resolves to bake cookies for her mysterious saviour. She bakes cookies and the chapter ends on a cliffhanger as she knocks on the door of Hlekazi’s six-storey mansion.

Chapter 4 – 8

Develop the physical & emotional tension between the heroine & hero, as well as the conflict between them, caused by both outside forces and inner beliefs.

Hlekazi loves her cookies. Then they inexplicably have sex.

Meanwhile, Mildred-the-nasty-co-worker inexplicably plots to ruin this blossoming love affair. Cindy is inexplicably fired from her job, but she does not run to Hlekazi for help because she believes he now hates her, despite him having given no indication of this. Cindy worries that she won’t be able to afford her niece’s school fees. She selflessly and stupidly sells her flat so that there will be enough money for the sweet little girl’s education.

Chapter 9

Final build-up to the climax, which should be a confrontation between the heroine & hero: conflicting viewpoints have to be faced and dealt with.

 Hlekazi finds the now-homeless Cindy and takes her home with him. He gives her a stern lecture about trying to be independent and stuff. Cindy is in a bad mood and points out that they are living in the twenty-first century.  This makes Hlekazi sad. Cindy apologizes and they have more sex.

Chapter 10

Immediate aftermath of the confrontation and final romantic union.

Cindy realises the error in her ways and decides that she will no longer try to do things on her own. Hlekazi asks her to marry him. She says yes. They have more sex and live happily ever after.

Absolute no-no’s:

  • No disillusionments for readers
  • No death of either hero / heroine
  • No death of their ideals


Cindy wakes up in Hlekazi’s bed and decides that, actually, she has had enough of this shit. She then proceeds to commit axe murder, steal her former-fiancée’s family heirlooms, sells them and moves to Hawaii, where she opens her own beauty consultancy.


Well, I guess that was a little unnecessarily nasty to Hlekazi.

On the bright side, if my career in journalism or publishing doesn’t work out, I can always be a romance writer.


One thought on “Inexplicably

  1. Pingback: A hero’s quest | Scrawling

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