Saturday, March 19, 2016

Writing a Romance Novel

There's a lot of confusion out there about romance novels. It's easy to see why. Your book might have two people who fall in love, and that might be the main focus of the story, and yet it still might not fall into the romance novel category. Then throw chick lit and women's fiction into the mix, and your head might spin wondering what you've actually written.

Let's start by talking about what a romance novel isn't. It isn't about two people happily falling in love. I'm going to say it again, a different way, because it's so important. Romance novels are not about happy couples falling in love. Romance novels are all about the tension, and leaving the reader wondering if they will end up together at the end. Every romance novel has something pulling the characters away from each other. If your book doesn't have this up until the end, your book is not a romance novel.

So, what is a romance novel then? Here are the things a romance novel must have in order to be in the romance genre.

1. Emotional Conflict -- This is paramount in a romance novel. There needs to be some kind of emotional conflict in the story that keeps the reader turning the page. This emotional conflict must not be resolved until the end of the book. This is what drives your plot forward and creates the need for your reader to finish the book.

2. Emotional Intimacy -- Your characters must spend time together during the course of the story, and this must lead to emotional intimacy. They must open up to each other. Share personal things with each other. As they spend time with each other they become more emotionally intimate. The ultimate payoff for a romance of course is when the highest emotional intimacy is acknowledged and the couple confess their love. Since this is the payoff, it must happen at the end of the book.

3. Physical Intimacy -- This does not necessarily mean sex, although many romance novels have sex. Since I write clean romance, my books do not. I must find a different way to show the physical intimacy. It could be as simple as running a finger down the side of a face, or a touch of a hand. A well written kiss is a wonderful way to show physical intimacy. But always keep in mind the emotional conflict that is pulling the two apart. As they become physically intimate, the emotional conflict will increase as well. If this is not happening, and all you have are happy characters, the genre changes and you're writing yourself out of the romance genre.

4. Attraction and Repelling -- Your main characters must feel the draw toward each other, while simultaneously feeling that a relationship can't possibly work between them. This is the emotional conflict at work, while the emotional and physical intimacy pulls them together.

5. The Climax -- Your climax of your story needs to be about the relationship. If the climax of the story isn't about the relationship, you have put a different aspect of the story ahead of the romance and that takes away from the most important thing about a romance novel. The relationship.

6. Happily Ever After -- Yes, all romance novels have a happily ever after. Your characters must end up together at the end. This doesn't necessarily mean married, but the relationship must feel final. If you are writing a romance series, you must focus on a different couple in the second book. If you are still working on the relationship of the couple in book 1, you are probably writing women's fiction or chick lit. And if one of the main characters die, you are writing in the love story genre and not the romance genre. (Think Nicholas Sparks.)

Some people think that romance novels follow a formula. This is not the case. There simply needs to be these elements in the story in order for the book to be called a romance. It has more to do with reader expectations than it does with a formula for writing romance.

Romance novels use romance to create suspense. "Working with suspense is a bit like mimicking the rise and fall of the sea. First you rev your reader's interest to a high pitch, then you drop back without completely satisfying her and then you do it again. You work incrementally, getting a little closer to fulfillment--for your characters and your reader--with every scene, but you always stop short of giving them everything they want.

"In a romance novel, the reader's main interest is in the relationship's progress, so your most effective strategy for building suspense is through that relationship." -- Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies

Romances can vary in setting, and cover a wide variety of sub-genres including romantic suspense, historical romance, paranormal romance, and romantic comedy to name a few.

If, after reading this, you're still not sure if you've written a romance novel, write a comment below describing your book and I'll be happy to give you my opinion. :)



  1. Thanks, Victorine. I was confused about my current WIP, but I've since changed a few things and now I can happily report it is a romance! All my books are romances except one. Thank you for also clarifying the series element portion. That was most helpful.

  2. I like the way you've explained this. One of my books has this, and it's much more popular than the ones not so much about romance.

  3. A lot of books in the Romance category are there because there is no 'love story' category in the places where you can sell books. Including, when I looked a while back, books by Nicholas Sparks (have not checked recently; and I heard he has said he doesn't write Romance).

    'love-story' may be a keyword, but if the mainstream love stories were separate, the Romance category would be cleaner and tidier - and more likely not to disappoint those who know perfectly well that they want to read a Romance.

    Jane Eyre is a love story (among other things), but it is NOT a Romance.

    'Women's Fiction' doesn't cover it - if you're writing for both men and women.

    'Mainstream' doesn't even exist as a category. And 'Contemporary fiction' covers far more than love stories, while 'Contemporary Romance' means Romance - but set in the present.

    It is a conundrum.

    From what I've written, you probably guessed I'm writing a mainstream love story, and a trilogy no less. And every time I try to think of where to market it, I find that I really can't shoehorn it into Romance (a great indie category doing extremely well with many good and popular authors) except as the ugly stepchild - because it doesn't hit the marks there (my only negative review so far 1) calls it a Romance, 2) then says it ISN'T a Romance, and then 3) calls it too long!

    Thanks for bringing up the question - it is an important question.

    1. You are right! There isn't a big enough market for love story to have it's own category in stores, physical or online. Thus, love stories do get piled in with Romances. It is a problem. I think the only way to combat that is to be clear in the blurb what the book is, and not try to call it a romance when it isn't. That will help a bit. I do wish there were more categories on Amazon.

  4. Love that post. Writing romance clean is a real challenge but when done right is a stronger romance. IMO

  5. I am experimenting with writing romance. I wrote what I called a hysterical romance. A bonehead, with few redeemable qualities, takes in a struggling widow with young children, in hopes of changing his fate, an early death, according to an elderly psychic, who is on the run from a nursing home.

    I think my major problem is writing long sentences.

    1. LOL! I want to read yours when it's done. Sounds like fun.

    2. That...actually sounds funny.

  6. Vicki, like always you make so much sense. Thank you for clarifying.

  7. Very helpful article, thanks!

  8. Hi Victorine!

    I just want to thank you for sharing all of your knowledge with us Indie authors! I’m looking forward to your next blog.

    -Gretchen English

    1. Thank you! I rarely blog anymore though. You can find me on The Writing Gals facebook group. Lots of great knowledge there about publishing and writing. :)


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