Considering writing romance novels? Romance is one of the top selling genres in fiction and has been for a very long time.
Romance gets a bad rap and when you say you are writing romance, you may get a superior look or two. Shake it off. These people know nothing about romance novels.
They may have heard it is formulaic, but it isn’t. At least no more so than any other popular fiction genre. What romance and other genre novels do that I think gets them this label is fulfill reader expectations.
That, in my opinion, is a good thing.
What I’m listing here is not a formula.
It’s what romance readers, whether they realize it or not, expect to see in a romance novel.
And why do they expect to see these things? Not because some editor in some mythical publishing dictatorship said they should expect these things… but because these scenes are the only way to show a fully developed change in a romantic relationship from first meeting to full love.
So, if it’s a formula, so is life.
Now to the must have scenes when writing romance.
1.) First Meet –
This is just what it sounds like: the hero and heroine meet on the pages of the book. This can be the “first” meet or it can be a “re” meet. But we have to see that face to face interaction. Until this happens the reader won’t know for sure that the romance plot has really started. This meet can be what we call a “cute” meet. This is something like the heroine’s dog sneaks into the hero’s house and escapes with his boxer shorts. The heroine is then caught trying to hide the evidence by the hero. Or it can be dramatic: hero is shot and heroine is the police officer who arrives on the crime scene.
The meet scene, however, has to have the elements of attraction and conflict. Right off the bat we (the readers) want to see that these people are attracted to each other, but that their pairing is not going to come easy.
2.) Look What We Share –
We ended the meet with conflict. Now we want to show that the pair has something in common beyond the surface attraction they showed in the meet. Going back to our boxer short stealing dog, maybe the dog after its extensive diet of undergarments gets sick. While the heroine is panicking trying to get her pet into the car to take it to the vet, along comes the hero who we learn has a strange way with dogs and gets the boxer-eater safely in the vehicle for transport.
Alas though, this scene can’t end all happy. Since all scenes must end in either conflict or questions raised, our heroine is going to resent something about how the hero conducted himself. Perhaps he raised an eyebrow at Fido’s tutu or suggested Fido could drop a few pounds. At this point too, if you haven’t already, you need to add the overall big conflict between them. Maybe our hero is on the condo board and was actually searching our heroine out to give her notice that Fido is a violation of the building’s no dog policy.
In the reader’s mind we have established that these people share more than just a physical attraction, but the conflict keeping them apart is even bigger than originally thought. (Or as big as originally thought if the major conflict was established in the meet.)
(It is also important, of course, to give the hero a good motivation as to why he can’t just ignore the rules, but let’s just say for now that you have done that and relayed it to the reader.)
3.) Physical Attraction –
We got a peek at this in the meet and you should have been showing this in all the hero/heroine interactions to some degree, but at some point you have to really show this on the page with a kiss or some other physical act. Whether you choose a kiss or a full blown sex scene, remember these acts change things for the characters. The conflict that is keeping our hero/heroine apart is still there, but they kissed! What caused that? What to do now?
This physical act should be a new source of conflict, at least internal conflict.
4.) Emotional Commitment –
You may think your readers have figured out that your characters love each other, but when writing romance, you have to show it on the page. You have to have one or both characters admit it on the page. This can be to the other character or in inner monologue, but it needs to be declared.
5.) Sacrifice for Love –
Remember that story conflict? Well, it hasn’t gone away and it shouldn’t. Someone in the end needs to make a choice between the conflict and love for the other character. Someone has to give something up – even better both characters need to give something up. This is how they change or arc. At the beginning of the book if presented with the choice of love or whatever this other thing represented by the conflict is, they would have chosen the conflict. But now? Not a chance.
There you have it five scenes every author writing romance should master. Are there other scenes? Sure. Do some of these scenes happen more than once? Probably. That depends on the book you are writing.
But if you want to give a reader a fully developed love story, don’t scrimp on these scenes.
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 our 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.
You make a romance sound…exciting to write. I’m not sure if that’s the right adjective for it. It’s just the way you word this blog post. It’s simple yet entertaining to read, and it gets the point across. It can easily be made into a checklist.
By the way, how common is the “cute” meet these days? Some of the other sources I have read said that it has become a bit cliche, but I’m not familiar enough with the genre to make that judgement.
The cute meet was/is used more with romantic comedies which aren’t as big a part of the genre as it used to be. As with all things, it is all in how well you do it. 🙂
Great post Lori. I think you are right when you say it may be a bit formulaic but that’s the way life is. In the end, all our romantic relationships need to have some key points, we need to meet, we share things, we feel physical attraction and finally the love wins. The conflicts in between depend on the relationship, but all of them have one or another.
This post has also helped me realize that maybe I am a romance writer after all. It’s not the genre I love most, but when I think about a story to write, it always ends having those key scenes you describe, and they are the scenes I have more fun thinking about and writing. I imagine a lot of things around the romance that helps it develop, I have mystery, and fantasy and adventure, but love keeps being the main theme even if I don’t intend to. I would like my stories to be mystery, fantasy or adventure with a pinch of love and not just the opposite as they finally become. I didn’t want to write romances but maybe I have to recognize that this is what I enjoy most writing, even if it is not what I enjoy most reading.
Great post! I am delighted that my current manuscript checks the boxes.
Great post Lori this was really helpful
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Very well written article. I’m working on a romance right now. I think the reason that people feel it’s formulaic is because it’s always they meet, they hate each other, they realize they don’t hate each other and so they get married. I think sometimes these novels make love look to easy. Maybe they can like each other at the beginning and then find things out about them that makes them annoyed. Or maybe someone comes in between them or they don’t like them back. I don’t think it always has to be meet, hate eachother, marriage. But good article either way 🙁
Lori, thank you so much for sharing the piece above. I have bookmarked it! Came across it while searching “what do romance readers really want.” Would love to see you do a piece on writing romance series. Again, thank you. Cassandra, Multicultural Romance Author
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Hope this will help.