How To Write A Good Romance
Elements that are essential for your romance story
February is the month of love, and what better way to celebrate than with a good romance novel. I hear you snickering over there, and that’s fine. You’re probably thinking of those cringey bodice ripper covers from Harlequin back in the day, but I assure you, romance is so much more!
Romance might not be your cup of tea, but according to the Romance Writers of America, it’s a billion-dollar genre, so there are plenty of people out there who’ll drink that tea and not think twice.
It’s one of the most versatile genres, too. Romance can be a subplot, an overarching series plot, or be the main plot of a story (the classic romance). And it’s not just for straight readers, either. There are plenty of LGBTQ+ stories on the market today (thought representation could still be better).
And then there’s the sub-genres!
Contemporary: A romance set in modern day.
Historical: A romance typically set before 1950, often in the Victorian era. They’re kind of a throwback to Jane Austen.
Paranormal: A romance set in a world with paranormal elements like vampires, werewolves, and ghosts (think Twilight). Some like to throw sci-fi and fantasy romance into this category, while some firmly believe that they belong in their own separate sub-genres.
Romantic Suspense: A romance with suspense, mystery, or thriller elements.
Erotic Romance: A romance where explicit sexy time is integral to the story. The key word here is integral because a romance novel can have explicit scenes and not be considered erotic. If the explicit scenes can be removed and is still a complete story, it’s not erotic romance.
This is not an exhaustive list of the genres. If I were to list out all the sub-genres and the sub-sub genres, I’d be writing for years. The point is romance can be set anywhere at any time because:
Romance is about emotional connection
The main element of romance is two people falling in love. I know, you’re thinking DUH! But it’s not quite that simple.
Your main characters should have some kind of flaw, an emotional wound, or a misbelief about why they can never fall in love. Maybe they’ve been hurt by a past relationship, or they’re busy focusing on their career, or they’re trying to solve a mystery right now and don’t need to be distracted by pretty eyes and a sexy smile, thanks.
Both of your characters need a reason to say no to love because the story is mainly focused on their emotional journeys (yes, both of your love interests need a flaw to overcome). At the end of the day, a romance novel is about two people finding love against all odds (Romancing The Beat by Gwen Hayes).
The external plot directly impacts the character’s misbelief or flaw
Your story is going to need a subplot, and this subplot will provide the external forces that will force your lovers to confront their internal, emotional belief about why they can’t fall in love. That sounds like a lot, so let’s break it down.
Let’s say your characters are forced into close proximity (this is the catalyst for your story) because they have to work together on a major project for a huge client their marketing firm just landed. The problem is these two can’t stand to be in the same room together (I love a good enemies to lovers trope).
By being forced to work together, the two begin to see each other from a different perspective. That annoying way the hero laughs is actually kind of cute, and the heroine’s bad habit of chewing her bottom lip when she’s thinking is kind of endearing.
By working closely with each other, they begin to get to know one another, thereby breaking down their walls and their misbelief about why they can’t fall in love.
Get on the trope train!
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now, tropes are not clichés. Tropes are story elements that are conventional to any genre, not just romance. Some common romance tropes are enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, second chance, love triangle, forbidden love, the list goes on and on.
Don’t shy away from tropes because you think they’ve all been done before. They have all been done before, but not by you. Can you put your unique spin on them? Can you combine two or three?
Tropes help to anchor your romance somehow and gives your story direction and even conflict. Use them because readers will be expecting them (tell me you’ve written an enemies to lovers romance and I will tell you to shut up and take my money right now).
You need a happy ending
And I don’t just mean that kind. The hallmark of a romance novel is the happily ever after (or happy for now). It’s the completion (no pun intended) of your characters’ emotional journey from saying no to love, to saying yes to love. Readers expect this, so don’t skimp on it. In order to make your story “land” (or be emotionally satisfying for the reader), the characters must end up together, at least for now.
Does one of your characters die at the end? You might think you’re being cool and edgy, doing something that’s never been done before, but you’re not writing a romance. A happily ever after is a must.
Don’t shy away from writing romance. It’s not as easy as it looks, but it’s also not as hard, and it’s really fun once you get the hang of it. It’s also one of the most lucrative genres out there today, so the possibility for financial success through writing is a real possibility, so what have you got to lose?