How to Write Romance

This page talks about how to write romance with the aim of selling your novel. This is just one of many pages on this website about novel writing tips and how to write fiction. For a complete list and the chance to take free writing courses, see the links at the bottom of this page.

How to write romance: what's a romance novel?

The broadest definition of a romance novel is simply... a novel focused on a central love story. But the term romance novel is normally used for specific types of commercial fiction.

A literary novel is one that's written as a work of art. A commercial novel is one that's written to sell. A commercial novel therefore follows certain rules determined by the marketplace -- by what people want to buy. This doesn't mean it can't be a good novel! In fact, the fundamental elements of a successful romance novel are the same as with other types of fiction:
But in romance novels, these elements of fiction normally take a certain form. Here are some basic guidelines for how to write romance, looking at each of the elements I mentioned before:

  • Characters - In romantic fiction, the focus is generally on two characters, the ones who fall in love. Traditionally, these are a man and a woman. The story is usually told from the woman's point of view. Why? Because the vast majority of romance readers are women, and they are more interested in reading about the woman's perspective than about the man's.

    Novels written for romance series are generally short (under 200 pages), so romance writers tend to keep a strong focus on the hero and heroine instead of giving a lot of stage time to secondary characters.

  • Conflict - If the couple falls in love right away and everything goes perfectly, then that's very nice for them, but it isn't much of a story. So save "Happily ever after" for the end (read here about why). You need a conflict to create some suspense and anticipation to keep the reader turning pages. In a romance, this conflict is normally something that is keeping the characters apart. Your hero and heroine are meant for each other, but there's a problem, something in the way. The story is about how the couple gets past this obstacle or problem to reach the ending. In commercial romance, this ending is always a happy one.

    A typical romance novel plot: 1) hero and heroine initially dislike each other (although there is a powerful attraction underneath); 2) something happens that forces them together (for example, he is assigned to be her bodyguard); 3) they start to fall in love, but there is an obstacle in the way of their romance (for example, she is engaged to another man); 4) at the story climax, they get past this obstacle and reach the happy ending.

  • Good dialogue, vivid writing - These always improve a reader's experience. In romance, the reader's main interest is the relationship between the hero and heroine, so you should use these techniques to make the reader feel the chemistry between them.

    Although specific details are part of vivid writing, if you are writing sex scenes for a romantic fiction series, bear in mind that different series accept different levels of sexual explicitness. This depends on the preferences of their readers, many of whom prefer a soft focus.


How to write romance - market research 101:

If you are writing commercial fiction, your writing is not just a work of art -- it's a product that you intend to sell. You are therefore a business person as well as a writer. And a basic rule of business is to know your customer before you create your product.

In this case, your direct customer is a particular publishing house, and your indirect customer is the reader. The publishing house wants to make its readers happy, so you do too.

Your first step should be to read lots of romances and decide which ones you like the best. Then look at the publishing imprint that is producing your favorite books. Go to the publishers' websites and check out their author guidelines. Do they have certain rules that authors must follow? Do they even accept submissions from new authors?

If the publisher looks promising, read a ton more books from the same imprint or series and figure out what the books have in common. Do their main characters always have glamorous jobs? Do the sex scenes stop at kissing? Do all of the books include werewolves?

Look at:

  • Length of the books

  • Type of heroines and heros

  • Historical time period

  • Plot elements that appear in many of the books (for example: crime, religion)

  • The explicitness and type of sex scenes

Your aim is to write a novel that's original, but which is also a good fit for the publishing imprint or series you have chosen. And then when you submit your book for publication, be sure to mention which imprint you have in mind. For example, the biggest romance publisher, Harlequin has a wide range of imprints, including Silhouette, Kimani Press, Spice, and many others. If you submit a romance to Harlequin, it's important to tell them which imprint your book is best for. (Harlequin provides a lot of information for writers on their website, some of which I have included on this page).

How to write romance - types of romance novels

Many imprints specialize in one or more sub-genres or categories of romance novels. Which kind should you write? Easy. The one you like reading the best.

Popular sub-genres include:

  • Contemporary series

  • Historical

  • Regency romances

  • Inspirational (includes religious elements or themes)

  • Paranormal (includes supernatural elements or themes)

  • Romantic suspense (includes crime or danger)

  • Young adult

  • Chick-lit (contemporary, humorous - often talks about city life or glamorous jobs)

  • Erotic romance (sexually explicit)

How to write romance - getting started

If you want to learn how to write romance, my recommendation is to start by reading lot of romance novels. When you have a good familiarity with the imprint or series you want to write for and the types of novels they published, then you can start coming up with ideas for your own novel. Here are some steps to get you started:

  1. Use the CWN questionnaires for writing character profiles to create your two main characters. Work on building these characters until they're real for you.

  2. Decide what will keep your characters apart. Create a big problem they have to overcome in order to make the relationship work. You might plan a series of situations that bring the characters closer and then drive them apart again.

  3. Decide what crucial event will allow them finally to overcome the problems and reach the happy ending.

How to write romance - Next steps

Click here to see a menu of CWN pages on how to write a novel.

Click here to find out about free online writing courses.

Learn more about how to write romance by reading the writer guidelines on Harlequin's website.


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