A lot of writers hear that romance is the number one selling genre and with that in mind decide they want to write a romance novel. Let me start by saying I think that is a horrible reason to want to write a romance novel and one that is laden with possibilities for failure.
Romance readers read romance novels. They love romance novels, and they can smell a “writing for the money” book as clearly as a dead mackerel left to roast in the sun for days.
But let’s assume you do love romance, but you also love other types of books and when sitting down to start your romance you find yourself not quite hitting the mark.
Here I think I can help.
So, you want to write a romance novel?
Where do you start and how is this different from where you start with a book that isn’t a romance novel but has romantic elements?
You start at the beginning—the very beginning.
When you think about your book, are you thinking about one character’s journey fighting evil, etc. or are you thinking about two people getting to know and love each other? Where is your focus?
If it is on that one person and how he/she overcomes adversity and changes throughout the book, you have a problem.
You do not plot a romance like this.
If you want to write a romance novel, it has to be about two people and their journey to find love. They may, in fact should, change along the way and they may, in fact should, face challenges that aren’t just about the romance along the way, but the heart of the story comes from them getting to know and accept each other.
You don’t think about one character. You think about two all the way through.
This doesn’t mean you can’t write a romance novel told from one person’s point of view all the way through.
While this structure isn’t as widely used as alternating points of view, I have read some great romance novels that use it. But that one character can’t get sidetracked fighting evil and forget about the other character. The fighting evil EXISTS in a romance novel to make the hero and heroine change and to force them to discover their love. It is not and cannot be the main focus of the book.
Write a romance novel, Where to start?
When I plot a romance, I start with the hero and heroine. I nail down the goal, motivation, and conflict for both. I figure out their fears, what caused those fears and what they do to hide them from others. I know both characters as fully as I can.
Write a romance novel, What next?
And then I put them at odds. I set it up so if the hero gets what he wants, the heroine can’t have what she wants and vice versa. I set this up in the very beginning so they have to give up something very important to them. Something that at the beginning of the book they can’t imagine living without. But they do it to find love.
This makes them change. This makes them make a choice that is painful for the character and this gives the reader that “ah” moment that makes the entire book worth reading and makes the book a romance.
If your characters aren’t doing that, if the choice is easy or they aren’t faced with that choice at all, you may have romantic elements in your book, but you don’t have a romance.
Make your characters sacrifice for love, and give the reader the “ah.”
Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check out her books at www.LoriDevoti.com and RaeDavies.com. Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.
Hey Lori – I”m procrastinating, putting off doing my homework lol – I wish I had read this post earlier – like a year ago. I have a real love-hate thing going with romance – I even blogged about it a while back to try and clear my head – and it’s been driving me insane. I think I’ve figured it out thanks to this post though – I’d actually been ignoring the romance and putting all my effort into the characters.
I suspect some of that is due to the types of love stories I love to read – Stephen King’s Bag of Bones is one of the saddest, most beautiful love stories I’ve read (and boy is there some pretty heavy sacrificing lol)for example. Also, when my daughter got caught up in the Twilight thing I read the books and enjoyed them – not for the vampires, I skipped the battles and the werewolves – I liked the evolving love story between Bella and Edward. But when I’ve been sitting down to write, I’ve been all tied up in “oh that’s the smushy stuff – it’s incidental” then of course getting stuck. Duh – it’s the other stuff that’s incidental lol.
Angelique, I’m so glad this was useful to you. There is, of course, nothing wrong with writing a book that doesn’t revolve around the romance. It just isn’t a “romance” then. In my first published book (which I sold to a romance line) I had to add romance to it after I sold it. My editor told me it read more like women’s fiction–so I got a nice early lesson on the difference between romantic elements and a real romance. 🙂
Just came across this on twitter and had my Aha! moment. I love romance novels; they comprise 75% of what I read and my heart dreams of writing them and I have been working on various project for years But I just realized I never think about the two of them from start to finish I either have a great outline and story goal for hero or heroine and then struggle to get them into scenes together.