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Fiction Couples Don’t Date – By Donnell Bell

Donnell and Coach

Hi Everyone! Cynthia D’Alba here. Thank you to Jeanette Murray for giving up her spot today so I could invite Donnell Bell. I’ve “known” Donnell for a number of years through shared loops and shared friends. She is the epitome of the “never give up” spirit. She’s written for years and just had her first book (The Past Came Hunting) released from Bell Bridge Books. So you’re assignment for today is: 1) read her guest blog below; 2) answer her question at the end; 3) follow one of the links at the bottom to buy this wonderful mystery.  Oh and 4) Sign up for our newsletter —————–>

Take it away, Donnell!

When I first started writing romance I didn’t have a clue how to go about it.  I’m married to a chemical engineer, and that in itself, should explain why I write romance in the first place.

Personally, though, there were some rules that seemed odd to me:  1) Get your hero and heroine together immediately (in my first book, my h/h met in chapter eight).   2) Children in fiction should be seen but not heard, and they should be young enough not to interfere with the romance plot, and, 3) couples don’t date.

Sad to say, I’ve broken all of these rules at one time or another.  Still, the rule that made the least sense to me was rule number 3.  Couples don’t date.  Perhaps that’s why we see so many books opening with the hero and heroine having known each other before, or a story starts out with a catastrophe and the hero and heroine have to take off on the run.  Both of these scenarios, by the way, work perfectly when a secret baby’s involved, which adheres to rule number 2 — because children in fiction should be seen but not heard, and babies are definitely young.

But no way should your protagonists date, because dating involves chitchat, and chitchat will slow your story.

In my debut novel, THE PAST CAME HUNTING, my protagonists Lt. Joe Crandall and MelanieNorris go on a date.  (But their conversation is hardly irrelevant in my opinion.)  I needed a scene to advance the story, and while I could have had them hash things out in the parking lot, I’m a rebel at heart and my protagonists wanted to eat 🙂

“Let me take you to dinner.  I tell you everything I know.  There’s been a development.  No more secrets.”

            Summoning what was left of her depleted inner strength, Mel said, “Some place quiet.  No crowds.”

            They took Joe’s car to a little Italian bistro up the road.  It was a strip mall, and Mel had eaten there once with her co-workers.  During the lunch hour, the place was packed.  The winter night told a completely different story.  She and Joe were the only customers.  Cops generally sit with the backs to the wall, and Joe was no exception.  Somehow, knowing he watched over her made her feel better.  Or maybe it was the eggplant parmigiana, or the glass of wine.

            She listened as he softened his baritone voice.  In the dim of the quiet restaurant, with its red and white checkered tablecloth and the Italian music turned low, she fantasized for a moment what it would be like for him to whisper sweet nothings or make plans for later between them.  Instead he told her about a newspaper article, a dead corrections officer and the uncooperative Cañon City Police.  From there, he explained that he’d arranged the little tête-a-tête with Simon, and with nothing to go on but bad vibes and morbid curiosity, Joe wasn’t about to scare her.

            Little by little, her brain and her heart accepted his explanation.  Joe reached for her hand across the table.  This time, she didn’t draw back.  She held it, smoothed her fingers over a callus, and for the first time in two days, she felt happy.  Though wouldn’t it have been nice for him to whisper sweet nothings or to plan something for later?

            There are so many terrific romances where the hero and heroine meet on page one, and they take off to save the world, mainly because of the couples don’t date rule.  All kidding aside, I love these stories with their incredible pacing.  But I’m curious.

Have you heard of the “couples don’t date” rule?  And do your couples date in your novels?   I’d love to hear how you set up your stories.  I’ll give an ARC of THE PAST CAME HUNTING to one commenter who sets me straight.

Donnell Ann Bell is a two-time Golden Heart Finalist.  Her debut novel THE PAST CAME HUNTING was released September 19th, 2011 from Bell Bridge Books.   To learn more about Bell Bridge Books check out http://www.bellebooks.com/ or Donnell, you can visit her website at www.donnellannbell.com  

To buy THE PAST CAME HUNTING, follow one of the links below

Borders | Indiebound | Powell’s | Amazon | B & N | Bell Books 


24 Responses

  1. Welcome to ELNR, Donnell! Funny timing on this post, because I was just thinking about this last night when my heroine lamented (internally) that it’d be nice to just date a guy for a while before hopping into bed with him. I hadn’t explicitly heard of the “couples don’t date” rule, but–at least in RS–I think the perception would be that it slows the pace. Plus, the conflict between the H/H generally precludes dating in most stories I’ve read.

    My first two books were contemporaries and the relationship progression was slightly more true to life (maybe), but the recent ones are RS, and there are no actual dates for the main couple. They’re too busy trying to fight their attraction and stay safe. They do eat a lot, though. 😉

    • Yay, Gwen, thanks for commenting. It’s amazing in conferences listening to agents and editors talk about what turns them off, but these couples are alive — at least they sure are in my books, and I want it to be real. Looks like we’re on the same page. And thank you for not letting your characters starve. Good Author!

  2. See, I’m glad I don’t know the rules.

    Welcome, Donnell! I understand where you are coming from. Pacing problems will have me tossing a book down and never picking it up again, so I think there is some validity.


    Any scene that advances the plot and adds tension is okay in my book. And that includes the other no-nos – driving the car, eating in the kitchen, and having coffee with friends. If it’s all idle chit-chat, then it doesn’t belong, but if the heroine finds out while sipping her coffee that the hero was married to the girl sitting to her left, you have an opportunity for tension. Or if the initial date between H/H is absolutely painful because of the awkwardness ending in quick sex in the bathroom stall, well, I want to be present for that. Basically, I think an author can make any scene work if it is well-motivated, has a purpose and advances the plot.

    Good luck with the book, Donnell. I haven’t ordered it yet, so I’m reaching for my kindle now.

    • Liz, I think you do know the rules, you listed some of them, you just are wise enough to ignore them and use what makes sense to advance your story. You nailed it. Chitchat and anything that doesn’t directly drive the plot doesn’t belong in the story. Great scenario you conjured up! Thanks!

  3. the lack of dating had never really occurred to me until I sat down to write a date and realized I had no frame of reference from the books I’d read. I think that date scene was one of the hardest I’ve ever written simply because romance books don’t *do* that.

  4. First, Cyndi, thank you for that lovely welcome! And, oh, gosh, Jeanette, I’m sorry you had to give up your spot! Off to chat with your commenters!

  5. welcome Donnell! sooo glad you’re with us! every time I see your name I think about *that* workshop we attended with Cyndi in Orlando and I have myself a good little chuckle.

    I never thought about characters dating. huh. and I write contemporary…so this is kind of sad. Does dragging him to family functions count as dating? What about blackmailing someone into a wedding date? Going to the restaurants where she works for supper??Meeting at the bar for drinks…even though she’s really there b/c she’s friends with your sister???

    • Keri, one of my fondest memories was meeting you and Cyndi D’ Alba at Nationals. You had lost your voice and Cyndi was your interpreter/pitch go-to person. It was priceless. Hint: That would make an awesome romantic comedy 🙂

      Oh, but I digress. I think maybe editors and agents must see a ton of manuscripts that simply have the couples sitting down to get to know each other. It’s rather ho-hum, and they are so sick of it, they shout at at conferences. Don’t do this!

      But the scenarios you are depicting are fantastic shows of not only fantastic plotting but characterization. Imaging blackmail someone into being a date for a wedding. Yeah, that’s a yawner. NOT! Sometimes couples just have to… date 🙂 Thanks for your very nice comment!

  6. Welcome to the Blog Donnell.

    I am not a writer but I do read an awful lot of books. I’ve never really paid much attention to the lack of dating aspect either. I can definitely see the difference between a “date” and a scene to further the story. I like the idea of a little romance in my contemporiaries and a lot of times people (women) associate romance with dating.

    I also like a little history before they jump into bed together (even in erotica’s) because it makes the situation more believable.

  7. Hi Donnell! I am SO THRILLED to have you here at ENLR. And know that you are welcome here anytime!

    Dating…funny you should bring this up. I want my current “couple” to go on a date in Dallas. Since I don’t live in Dallas, I had no idea where to send them. I do, however, have a very good friend in Dallas so she has sent me a list of great date places to use. I do believe that I shall break this “rule” in my next book! 🙂

    • Thank you, Cyndi, and I shall read it! Because I know if you put it in your book, it’ll have a dynamite purpose for being there. I have a son who lives in Fort Worth. He and his friends go to Dallas for the big time. Let me know if I should ask him. Thanks for inviting me here today! You’re a rock star!

  8. Hi, Cyndi and Donnell!

    Good excerpt–it made me hungry. LOL

    I like the question, too. My books are home-and-family stories, and while the heroes and heroines don’t often “date” per se, they are VERY often thrown together at barbecues, picnics, and other town functions that always seem to involve food.


    • Thanks, Barbara! I know. It’s kind of like watching TV. What’s up with all those commercials talking about food. But seriously, have you ever read a book where the couple is so busy solving a case, or on the run, he never showers, goes to sleep or eat a meal. The trick is not to overdo it, but to show the human side of your characters 😉 Sorry about making you hungry 🙂

  9. Hey, Cyndi and Donnell! I allow some dates, especially if it makes the couple have to make nice when the would prefer to make love.(torture time) I’ve seen dates in books, I think. Dates allow characters to interact and tell us things about their personalities.

    Someone said eating scenes were a waste of space. Maybe that’s where the “rule” started. I think it’s really a matter of taste. (snort)

  10. Everyone pretty much said it all, but I’ll sum up. 🙂

    Adhere to the Pirate’s Code. These are all more like guidelines, than actual rules. 🙂 Pretty much anything can be done in a book if it’s done well and is a compelling read.

  11. You goofs, I’d stick to the rules of they road, Cyndi. In fiction, I agree they should be guidelines, but you won’t believe how some are adamant when they hear it once. How did anyone ever write a story?

    Everybody Needs a Little Romance, thank you so much for giving me the chance to prattle on! It’s been a pleasure. Hope to see or hear from you soon!

  12. Hi Donnell,

    I’m late as usual but what a great topic. Of course what caught my eye was that whole rule thing.

    I’m a great one for breaking them myself! I think there’s always a place to break every darn one – just understand them first – then toss them in the wind.


  13. Huh. No, I’d never heard this rule before. Interesting though. Good luck with the book, Donelle!

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