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The tale of romance is enduring and powerful. With imagination and structure, it’s always a viable option for an aspiring writer. To help you master this literary genre, you can follow the writing tips below.
Study successful romance novels
Romance novels may be one of the most popular books in the world, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to write. To pull off a novel that people want to keep reading into the wee hours, your story needs to combine powerful prose with tight plotting. The best way to learn this skill is to read as many romances as possible.
When searching for what to read, consider your own tastes, and also pay attention to the market—romance readers enjoy certain things, and as authors, you need to keep up with what they want. While it’s highly recommended to read classics and bestsellers, give a chance to amateur but top-notch works which you can find on platforms like Commaful. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, pick one and start reading.
Every time you finish reading a book, take notes immediately after reading the last page to remind yourself of everything you liked and didn’t like. These notes will help define your writing as you work on your own book. Similarly, read the summaries of the books you liked best—you’ll find that a lot of these include the basic elements of romance. They round these out into just a paragraph or two, but be sure to write them down and study them.
Watch romance on both big and small screens
Consider watching romance film adaptations as well. The basic beats of any love story are important, but novels and films do have different ways of communicating them. Seeing them side by side can teach you even more about how to write love stories—how do one communicate longing for a kiss, compared to seeing the kiss happen? How can a date be more dramatically evocative on screen than on the page? The two media are both covering the same thing, you just need to examine them from different angles.
Writing a romance novel doesn’t just mean smashing characters together based on Hollywood tropes and making them tick like clockwork. It means getting to know their desires, their hopes and their fears so that you can give them a more authentic and relatable romance. So that you can tantalize your readers and play by the rules of emotional tension.
To that end, you need to know how to subvert the relationship tropes that you see in romantic films, while still playing into them at all the right moments. Enemies to lovers, fake relationships and love triangles are some of the easiest tropes to identify in the film world—the rest is just about crafting authentic characters and throwing them at each other with appropriate timing and chemistry.
Obviously, watching all the favorite romance films isn’t going to cut it. Remember that some of the best sources of research for how to write romance novels will be on television, where the genres improve and evolve year after year.
Know your tropes and don’t be afraid to play with them
Writing romance does mean you’re going to have to lean into some common tropes to compensate for readers’ naturally high expectations of drama and swoon. If you’re struggling with how to write romance, reference a few bestsellers and take note of common themes and narrative methods. How do the books start? What tropes do they lean into, and how can you leverage the same things to make your book a blockbuster? Ask yourself if you’ve created the right kind of tension between characters. Are there enough obstacles launching and hindering their relationship?
Then, try experimenting with the tropes. For instance, if you’ve involved a fake relationship into your romance novel, you can write about how the couple get discovered right away and how it affected them.
Avoid the common pitfalls of making romance novels
When writing romance novels, the classic mistakes you want to avoid include over-complicated plotlines, unlikable main characters, and unrealistic dialogue and actions. Readers want clear storylines and believable characters, so make sure your characters are true-to-life, and avoid contrivance and clichés. Writing detailed and tension-heavy plotlines is effective drama, but each one of the succeeding twists needs to be cleverly built on the one that came before it, and satisfyingly linked into the next in an engaging, cohesive way. Writing kissy or ‘sex-sounding’ dialogue is hard to avoid, but just be aware that over-describing of intimate moments might irritate your readers.
Understand the structure of romance fiction
To bring your own romance novel to life, you’ll want to pay close attention to what makes all stories successful. Suspense, conflict, complications, a dash of humor—these are the basics. And romance novels are a good place to study how to add these elements successfully.
While not the only genre that populates this structure, the romance genre is the one that mostly abides by these rules—and for good reason. Millions have been sold over several decades proving that the techniques the romance masters use can engage audiences over and over again.
The biggest fail-safe way to draft a successful romance novel is to structure the narrative so that the romance develops over the course of the conflict. Put any two characters in the same space and things will be guaranteed to get awkward fast. Causing romantic tension and then introducing obstacles that push them even farther apart is the easiest way to make a romance work. Give the couple a long time to fall in love, and make sure you add enough obstacles for real drama.
Anyway, respect the way others structure their novels, but don’t feel like you need to stick to everything they include. Instead, figure out your own techniques and rules for writing your very best romance novel.
Do your conflict resolution before you start writing
To write romance novels, you’ll need to create emotion-packed stories full of sexual tension, conflict, and resolutions. Many writers tend to write the conflict right away, but, in reality, a better approach is to develop the resolution before you begin writing the action scenes. If you develop the resolution first, you can create novel situations while keeping the romance part sexy and interesting. Choose at least two story ideas, one for what leads up to the conflict and one for how you can resolve it. Develop them fully before moving on to actually writing your novel.
Keep the conflict active
One of the biggest issues for new writers is creating a romance without any conflict. Toward the beginning of your book, your characters are usually in two different worlds and that juxtaposition looks like the origin of conflict to the novice writer. Later in the book, the characters will settle down into their new lives as a couple, and this too might look like a lull in the action, but it isn’t—the characters are actually starting to form a real bond, but the writer needs to show their tensions as well.
Ask yourself, “What gives this romantic couple trouble?” They might be from different cultures with different backgrounds, or come from families that disapprove of the union, or perhaps they’re teenagers trying to tie up the last strings of their youth before they come together as a couple. Whenever you have elements in your novel that push your characters apart, that’s when opposing forces start to have real conflict.
Picking the perfect pacing for a novel is also very important when writing romance, because you want to have one of the key relationships right at the front and center. The reader should be able to get to know your characters very quickly, and clearly too, so you can start creating a bond right away despite the conflict.
A sharp jab of hatred here and there is a great way to up the conflict in your romance novel. However, as the novel progresses, you want to ramp up the affection as well. This affection doesn’t have to be chaste kisses on the hand or genteel walks through the gardens either—your characters can have a racy, fiery relationship.
Draft an outline and character list
One of the key steps in writing a romance novel is to outline your book. If you have an idea of what you want to happen in the book, sketch out at least an outline. You can use this to flesh out your novel project as you go, but it will also provide you with a checklist of essential elements to cover.
As you write, you’ll need to switch gears from subplots to love stories gradually. As such, you have to make a character list in addition to your outline. Your character list will demonstrate which characters require attention from chapter to chapter. For example, a romance story whose plot is driven by a love triangle must feature the third wheel more strongly than the other supporting characters in the story.
Make a character microcosm and macrocosm
After you decide which page of a romance novel trope chart you’ll base your character off of, further define your main protagonists. This calls for character microcosm and macrocosm. You might want to use paper dolls for this as well.
For the microcosm, choose a few personality traits that define your character at their barest, and provide physical description along. For the macrocosm, draw a short list of potential conflicts with other characters. For the workable middle, give yourself a brief paragraph or two about why they meet in the first place.
Now that you have a rough plan in place, write each character on an individual card and arrange them in the flow of the novel. Tweak their personalities as needed so that they play off one another in a way that is organic to the story you want to tell. Remember that while you need the bones of the trope in place, the best romance novels switch up how it gets to the happy ending —everyone wants to read an unsolved murder mystery that ends with true love, but everyone is bored by the ninjas who fall in love. Your innovative part of the story doesn’t need to be equal to the trope part, but it does need to make a reader eager to see what will happen next between the main characters.
Create believable characters
At the center of every great novel is a pair of vivid characters that swoop readers off their feet with their charisma and flaws alike. Make them believable, but without extra details that make them seem “real.” For example, romance heroes can’t remember what they ate for breakfast or date a woman only because her face reminds him of his mom. Instead, portray them doing and reacting like real people do.
Put yourself in the head of your major characters
Going through all the aspects of each of your characters using the points above will help you get to know them on a deep level. This is particularly useful when you’re writing the second book in a trilogy, especially considering a major difference between writing a book and writing a trilogy. When you are finished the first book in a trilogy, the second will include many new characters. This means that you need to put yourself in the head of only your protagonist. You also need to know what’s going on in the head of the protagonist’s love interest.
By doing so, you help ensure that your protagonists are still the center of your work. They may share the spotlight with supporting characters every now and then. However, keeping their POVs in mind will prompt you to highlight their romance in the next parts.
But even if your romance novel is standalone, putting yourself in your protagonists’ heads remains important. It helps you stick to their priorities and personality. More importantly, it helps you ensure that romance is into their minds.
Portray realistic relationships
While it’s natural to want the characters in your book to live out fantastical situations of desire and jealousy, you can only add tension and drama if the reader understands how the situation affects the characters emotionally. To achieve this, readers have to believe the relationship between the characters.
Showing the characters interacting with each other wholly and at all moments is the way to achieve this. If there is ample opportunity for the characters to think about each other and interact when apart, the reader will understand all of the inner influences on them.
For this, you can draw inspiration from your own experiences and from the people around you. But be very careful not to cover details that make it easy to point out your sources.
Develop the key relationships
While it may seem obvious, when you’re writing romance fiction you really need to focus on the romantic relationships. As in other genres, once you establish these relationships you need to systematically work them through the plot. This is done by increasing stakes and conflict.
High-conflict romance novels tend to be the most popular, and once you’ve developed the relationship and the conflict, you need to develop the characters. Through these character developments, the stakes will naturally be raised, making the conflict more difficult to surmount until the final scenes, which creates a three-act structure for your novel.
In a well-executed romance novel, the third act should include a form of “deus ex machina“, or an abrupt event that resolves the plot, like an earthquake knocking down the walls. In case you’re writing a series, this sets up the beginning of the next book, where the relationship will be resurrected after overcoming the conflict in the end of the previous book.
Establish your setting
Novels are usually set in a place that readers can identify as real, even if details like population or street names aren’t included. That’s because they are meant to be specific, the kinds of places readers could visit with their own eyes. When you’ve chosen your setting, check out nearby tourist sites for names and statistics about things like historic events, natural landscapes, and local businesses. The smaller the region, the more readers will attach themselves to the people and places in your book.
To make sure your literary world is as believable and observed as possible, take advantage of modern technologies like virtual maps and search functions. In this Information Age, most places have social media networks that local businesses can set up, giving you forums to ask what a town is really like. Dive into local history and there are bound to be interesting communities of people online where you can get more details.
Plan and develop your scenes
Whether it’s an interlude between two characters or an action sequence, good scenes are what turn your novel from a collection of pages into a suspenseful story with emotional weight. Writing romance novels takes planning and working skills, but by utilizing this formula, you’ll have an easier time of hitting all the notes this type of story requires. In each chapter of your novel, include at least two scenes that are important to the plot and focus on different characters. At least one of those scenes should describe a conflict that lasts longer than 24 hours but less than a week.
For faster pacing, make events in one scene build on the last. If the plot has forced the hero and heroine to go investigate a mysterious ghost sighting in Paris, start the next scene in the iconic city with them investigating the latest sighting. Also, good romance novel scenes have conflicts that either build toward a new kind of trouble or ratchet up the intensity if the main characters are already in a fight. When the misfortune they’re dealing with reaches the midpoint of the scene, start building toward a solution to the conflict. This will make your book a page turner.
Build your romance plot arc effectively
One of the most important aspects in a romance story arc is the complications, which should be foreshadowed before becoming major in a story. To enhance readers’ connection with the romance arc, incorporate an element of suspense in your story. Hypothetical questions can help you to construct, develop, and evaluate conflicts.
Write what you love and finish your work, even when romance writing becomes difficult. There will be times when you want to abandon characters or formulas, or you’ll worry needlessly what a future audience may think of your choices. However, if you push on, your work will reward you in all the right ways. You’ll learn to set the parameters of how often your main characters should kiss or make love. Aside from that, you’ll become better at establishing how dramatic the tension should be in each scene and even how much graphic love-making you should depict.
Deepen the sexual tension
Say you’re writing a contemporary romance with a believable couple that everyone can root for. But frustratingly, your readers aren’t convinced that the main couple will end up together. After all, they’re not having sex!
Perhaps the characters haven’t really interacted that much, because they’re both too shy, and they only flirt with each other—barely touching—in front of witnesses. On the other hand, it could be that they have sex, or are just about to have sex, but then they pull away at the last moment, because they just can’t handle the emotional vulnerability of coming that close to intimacy, even though they’re in love.
Each of these situations provides plenty of sexual tension for readers to come back for more, but knowing how to escalate it more effectively can take your characters from fizzle to sizzle, and keep your readers feeling eager for their next romantic quarrel after the climax.
Focus on character growth, too
A great romance will take the readers on a journey with the characters as the story unfolds. Readers will push through pages after pages if you take them on an emotional roller coaster alongside their beloved couple.
How do you begin a romance? You can start with a hero and heroine who already have a spark between them, and then follow them around as the sparks threaten to ignite into a full-on flame. You can also kick off with two strong and well-developed people who don’t fit together so well at first, but force them together by circumstances beyond anyone’s control—and then watch as they get to know each other and realize all the reasons that they should fall in love. Another option is to start with a couple who don’t believe in love at all, but then put them through a series of tests that prove to them the strength of love. By doing this, you can also show your readers what it takes to be in love and keep being in love.
Show, don’t tell
When you’re trying to show emotion, it’s easy to fall back on telling, as opposed to showing. “He was crying” is telling. “The tears streamed down his face” is showing. Flatly telling your readers about characters’ emotions is a quick way to make them non-believable. Which feels more real between these two: “Sometimes, he talked about his ex-wife and cried” or “Sometimes, when he talked about his ex-wife, he felt a dull ache in the center of his chest.” The latter, which is showing instead of telling, feels more real, right?
In addition to making your scenes more emotional by showing, you can also make them more dynamic by stacking multiple emotions on top of each other. A stack of feelings builds momentum, a narrative progression that makes events feel more exciting and urgent.
Dialog is one of the core elements of a good romance novel. When characters speak with one another, they reveal their values, desires, insecurities and motivations. They may also mirror, undercut, or confirm events that occur in the story. A conversation about marriage proposals is merely polite social banter when it’s happening between two inconsequential characters, but when the same conversation is happening between the protagonists, they reveal their deepest hopes and fears with every word they say.
Read novels, poetry, plays, and films with great dialog. Take notes on the pacing, on how the author distinguished voices through syntax and diction, and on how the characters embodied sometimes-conflicting desires to achieve a greater sense of self. When you write dialog, pay close attention not just to how characters physically act in the scene, but the collection of subtle cues you take for granted when you speak with someone in person—the touch of a hand, the quick flick of the tongue, a flicker of an eye, all can be heightened to make dialog dramatic, sexy, and full of raw power.
Write like you speak the language
When writing your book, keep things simple. Write just like you talk, and read your dialogue out loud so that you catch any problems. If your sentence structure feels stiff, check if you’re trying to avoid slang.
Because the story world is so important, it’s crucial to get it right—that means not just doing careful research on the history or demographics, but actually spending some time there. You’ll need to spend time figuring out how people in that time or place talk, and you’ll need to do that if you want your reader to go along with you—after all, they should never be pulled out of the story by clunky dialogue.
Have a compelling ending
Have you ever wondered why most TV shows have cliffhangers? They’re not just intended to keep you hooked; they’re also a good way to create reader engagement. TV shows, movies, and even books need to make their content engaging. Otherwise, the audiences will lose interest.
It’s the same with your stories. If you’re looking to write an engaging romance novel, you need to foreshadow the ending—without giving it away, of course. Let the characters struggle. Do they get there? That’s for your audience to find out.
Then make sure your ending is worth the wait. You might need to write an alternative or two though. Just in case your original one is deemed unappealing by beta readers.
Writing romance novels is a lot more challenging than it seems. Even so, it’s doable. The journey is also enjoyable and it could turn out a lucrative venture.
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