I confess, I am a bit of a romance writer groupie. Love is in the air when I’m writing and I revel in it! It’s a double-edged sword though.
While reading some of the purple prose and pretending that the perfect prince doesn’t exist (yeah right) can certainly give us all the feels – more than makes sense really – it can be a guilty indulgence. And with Valentine’s Day tomorrow, ‘tis the season for heart-pounding romance!
To help you get ready to give your readers the sizzling heartburn they’ve come to expect from you, I’ve rounded up a list of my very best romance writing tips.
1. Romance writers should always pull at the heart strings
Every romance writer should know that the romance genre is all about making us feel something. We want to feel emotions — love, grief, fear, anger, and so on. We want to laugh out loud at a well-placed joke. And we want to cry when characters face tragedy.
When you have your characters meet and fall in love with each other, they’ll have to deal with obstacles on their way to happily ever after.
Falling in love can make anyone do crazy things — but if you give them believable motivations for those acts, you won’t feel like you’re writing about characters who don’t fit into reality.
One good way to do this is to use the same kind of emotional hooks you’d use in any other story — something that gets us to identify with your protagonist or makes us feel a certain way about the conflict.
There are so many ways to create a connection between the reader and your story, and they all revolve around showing emotion in your writing.
2. A romance novel without conflict is like pancakes without any syrup
We know what you’re thinking: Isn’t it supposed to be all about the love? And the answer is yes, but romance depends on conflict to make it believable and interesting. Without conflict, your relationship is just two people who really like each other. Conflict is what makes us care whether they stay together.
When I first started writing romance novels, I had a hard time with the “conflict” part of story-telling. I mean, sure, I know that conflict is necessary in every novel. I get it.
But how much conflict was too much? What was the right amount? And didn’t focusing too much on conflict distract from the romantic aspect of the story?
After all, I thought, my genre is ROMANCE. Why do I need to give my readers a bunch of angst and tension?
Here’s the thing: Conflict isn’t just drama for drama’s sake. Conflict serves a purpose in your story. It’s there to make your characters (and your readers) suffer.
Conflict is the lifeblood of any good romantic story. If your characters are getting along too well, if everyone’s problems are being solved easily, if they’re all agreeing with one another and nothing interesting or challenging is happening to them, then you have a boring story on your hands.
Not only that, but conflict is also essential for creating a sense of anticipation in the reader. You want them to be wondering: What’s going to happen next? Are my two favorite characters ever going to get together? What obstacles will get in their way before they can find true love?
Conflict provides those questions and makes readers eager to turn the page and uncover the answers. It creates an impetus for reading, and it’s a major driving force behind plot.
3. Make characters’ emotions believable
Sure, it’s a romance novel, but readers don’t want their characters’ emotions over-the-top or dripping with saccharinity. If you want your readers to feel like they’re experiencing true love rather than overblown lust or infatuation, make sure your characters’ feelings feel real.
Writing fiction that touches readers’ hearts means letting your characters’ feelings shine through. You have to create a deep emotional bond between your characters and your readers long before you start writing romantic scenes. Your reader has to really care about your MCs and what happens to them.
Here are some ways you can do this:
- Show emotion through body language, such as clenching teeth or wringing hands. Don’t rely on dialogue to convey feelings unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Develop your characters’ personalities and motivations before you start writing. This will give you a clear idea of their likes, dislikes and expectations for their future relationships.
- Avoid telling instead of showing: “He was nervous” instead of “His hands shook as he reached for her.”
Characters who are believable in their emotions are ones that readers can relate to. And once your readers believe in your characters, they’ll be hooked.
4. Keep the high and the low points throughout the book
The main thing you want to avoid is making your romance writing flat.
Think of it like a roller coaster. Picture a scene from your story and try to imagine what your character is going through at that moment, how they’re feeling.
Now ask yourself: Is this someone who’s scared out of their wits (low point), or are they overjoyed? If it’s the former, you want to make sure that in a few pages (but not too many) your character has something to look forward to, some hope of escape or small victory…something good happens!
Then gradually increase the stakes, ramp up the tension, and bring them back down before hitting them with another low point. Give them another taste of hope, bring them down again…and so on.
Take your time! Don’t rush through the emotional ups and downs and be sure to follow through with each emotional beat. The more time you take with each beat/arc, the more deeply your readers will invest in your characters.
5. A romance novel is all about the set-up
In a romance novel, the story is all about the set-up. The stakes are high, right from the get-go. The two main characters meet, and sparks fly.
It’s a delicate balance: You want to write a scene that’s romantic enough to make your readers swoon, but not so ridiculous that your readers roll their eyes.
The first time your hero and heroine meet each other, the reader is watching. This is the first impression they’ll have of the other, and it’s important to set up their relationship in a way that makes sense.
The meet-cute is the most important part of any romance novel. From the very first page, readers are looking for that spark between the characters, that moment when we know they may be each other’s soulmates. It’s not enough for them to just keep running into each other in everyday life; there has to be more to it.
Did your heroine catch her toe on a cobblestone and fall right into his arms? Did he rescue her from drowning only to find out she was a mermaid? Did their cats fight like crazy so obviously they were meant for each other?
The possibilities are endless, but the bottom line is this: A great meet-cute will set up your entire novel by making us root for these two people from the very first page.
If you take the enemies-to-lovers approach (a trope that I’m an absolute sucker for), there had better be a good reason for it. If not, this hatred should evolve into something else pretty quickly.
6. Get deep into description, it’s where the fun is
Sensory detail is what makes a romance novel memorable. Get deep into the description. It’s where the fun is!
Character and plot matter, but it’s the sensuality that makes us love a book. Writers forget this all too often. They forget to show us the sights, sounds, and smells of their story, and when they do remember, they don’t look hard enough.
If you’re writing a scene in which a woman has her back pressed against a wall while her lover kisses her neck, don’t just write: “Her lips caressed her neck.” Give us details about how that feels to her: “Tiny shivers ran up and down her spine as her lips grazed her neck.” Or: “Her skin burned wherever she touched her.”
You want to make the reader feel it too.
7. Put the two characters together early in the novel
This might seem contradictory cause a lot of romance novels have the happily ever after equate to the characters ending up together at the very end of the novel. That doesn’t always have to be the case, in fact some of my favorite novels involve the characters getting together early on and then new complications arising.
The initial meeting should be charged with emotion and conflict, as this will help to establish an immediate connection between the two characters, as well as providing fodder for later conflict.
The more different your characters are, the more interesting their interactions will be. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have to come from completely opposite sides of the track — though they can if that works for your story — but they should have contrasting value systems.
An artist who values freedom and spontaneity, for example, might fall in love with a businessperson who is driven by logic and control, or a man who values pragmatism could fall in love with a woman who believes in magic.
Which leads me to my next point…
8. Explore what they truly want, OUTSIDE of the love
The greatest love stories revolve around people who have lives outside of the relationship. Love is most believable when it’s part of a bigger picture – not the whole picture itself.
You should have both characters fighting for something other than their love. The character’s love for each other should never be the only thing that gives them purpose in life; it should just be a big part of it.
If they’re married adults, they have jobs and family and friends and other obligations. If they’re young adults, they still have schoolwork (or at least part-time jobs) and friends and family and other obligations. Even if the book is about just one couple, you need to show the outside world somehow.
You can do this in several ways:
- With subplots that aren’t romances (but are equally important)
- With characters who don’t get romantically involved during the story (but can be as important as those who do)
- With actions and situations that affect the characters who are romantically involved as well as those who aren’t
A true love story would be realistic enough to show there are bigger parts of the universe than just the other person to consider.
9. Show them true romance takes time, not moments
All of these tips tie into one big theme: true love doesn’t happen in a flash. It takes time, an agonizing amount of it sometimes.
This is a sentiment that is echoed throughout almost all romance novels, and one that I think is exceptionally beautiful. Love takes time, and it’s not something that can be rushed. Even if the characters are meant to be together, they still have to go through their own personal journeys to get there.
Why and how can you do this?
- You want to make the characters worthy of each other and the love they’re fighting for.
- Give them reasons NOT to be together and see them fight through it.
- Have them make sacrifices. Real love isn’t picture-perfect and requires compromises on both parts. Show that.
- Show the ugly sides of love. The imperfect parts we all forget about sometimes.
It’s your turn to write a love story of the ages
Obviously, there are no hard and fast rules for writing great love stories, but these tips should start you off on the right foot. It’s your task as an author to add in your own personal touches, to write from heart and soul.
You”ll have a story unlike anyone else’s—one which came from your own mind, one that speaks to your readers with your voice alone.
And isn’t that the best feeling in the world?
In the end, we’re all in the business of telling love stories.
Stories that touch readers and make them feel like every day is a little bit more worth living… so dig deep, find your voice, and let that voice sing its way across the page.