Tips for Writing Your First Romance Novel

featured_tips-for-writing-your-first-romance-novelPenning your first romance novel?

While romance may seem like the easiest genre to write, it is definitely not. The average romance reader is smart, discerning and not easily impressed. To create a successful romance, it takes a thoughtful strategy. It won’t just happen magically.

Let’s discuss what you need to know to create a romance novel that makes the reader fall in love and then tell her friends about it.

By the way, I apologize ahead of time for the double entendres and puns that are scattered around this post, but how could I not?

Here are resources to help you market your romance novel.

Follow the Formula

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To create a satisfying romance novel, you need to follow a tried and true formula. It’s this:

Boy meets girl.

Boy loses girl.

Boy gets girl.

There’s no use in trying to reinvent the wheel here. Most romance readers will demand that your story follows this formula.

But the good news is, there are millions of different ways you can write this story without it sounding, well, formulaic.

Choose a Familiar Plot Device

Three of the most popular romance plot devices are:

  1. Friends become lovers
  2. You’re my soulmate, it’s fate
  3. This is my second chance to love again

While there are different devices you can use in your story, such as rich and sadistic billionaire playboy meets mousy, unsure girl, you can’t go wrong with the above tropes. Readers want to see themselves in the heroine. They want to believe that this love interest exists. And they want the story to be in some way relatable to their own lives.

Understand Your Audience

When you write a romance novel, you start out with one big advantage. You already know who your reader is: it’s a woman. To be more specific, it’s a middle class and middle aged woman from the South. They like ice tea and hot romance, and I say that with affection as a true southerner.

You may think I’m just joking, but statistics show that 82% or romance book buyers are women. The majority of these women read romance novels at least once a month, but over a third buy more than one romance novel each month.

And these readers are seasoned. 35% have been reading romance novels for 20 years plus. If you crunch the numbers, the average reader was read well over 200 romance novels in their lifetime.

So, keep in mind that you’re probably not going to surprise them with plot (romance stories usually follow the predictable formula we discussed above), but you can provide them with interesting characters to care about and introduce them to a new world that they’ve never experienced before.

Introduce the Heroine

Now that you have a clear understanding of who your reader is, it’s easier to create a heroine that she will love to read about. Although it’s possible to craft a story around a teenage girl and her first love, it may not resonant if your reader is in her 40s. She wants to see a heroine she can relate to.

So, create a heroine that reflects your average reader. Your heroine and the reader should share some sympathetic characters. Here are some ideas you can use to reflect the reader in your romance novel:

  • The age of your protagonist
  • The mentality of your protagonist
  • Physical attributes of your protagonist (hair color, eye color, ethnicity)
  • Where your protagonist lives
  • What your protagonist does for a living

Psst, don’t forget to check out our guide on writing women here.

Introduce the Love Interest

So, how do you create the perfect love interest for your protagonist? Don’t make him perfect.

Make him imperfect. The protagonist shouldn’t immediately love him or, even if she does, there should be something that gives her pause (age, relationship, etc.).

Make the reader fall in love with him, too. It’s not enough for the heroine to love him, the reader needs to get it. Make the reader care about both main characters. Take your time to create rounded and realistic characters.

In other words, don’t just objectify the hero. He should have faults but a true admiration for the heroine. And he should have a growth arc through the story as well.

What’s the Motivation?

What is driving these two characters in a collision course with each other? For this, you’ll need to know the background for each character. I highly recommend creating a character bible. It’s an important part of the process for character creation in any genre but holds special significance in the romance genre. Here’s why:

Romance characters can often fall flat, if you’re not careful. In a bid to push the characters towards a happy ending, writers may ignore motivation.

So, what exactly do I mean by motivation?

Motivation is the reason why a character does something. It can be something they believe about themselves, something they believe about the other person, or something they want to happen (or not happen).

Motives are usually born in the backstory. The reason why a character opts for one course of action over another is based on something that the reader may not know (but you should definitely know).

Perhaps the heroine doesn’t trust men because her father left her mother. While that may or may not enter into the story, it’s important that you know your character well enough to know the meaning behind her actions. If you can understand her psychology, you can create a character that’s whole, authentic and realistic, even if you don’t tell the reader everything that you know.

You may give glimpses to the reader, but as the writer, should always know the motivation of each character at every point within your story.

Let’s Talk About Sex

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Clutch your pearls, boys and girls. It’s time to talk about sex.

So, the question is, should you go graphic and ultra specific with a fully fleshed out (I warned you about the puns) sex scene? Or should you leave a lot to the reader’s imagination?

The answer depends on you. Do you want to write descriptive sex scenes? Or does the thought of using the word “throbbing” make you want to curl up in a fetal position and hum?

There’s no shame in acknowledging that “sexy time” writing is not for you. You can still create a wonderfully romantic, passionate story without going behind closed doors. However, if you do decide to write about sex, remember your audience is women, not teenage boys, and they prefer context to sex. They don’t want gratuitous sex, they want emotion that’s illustrated with sex.

Location, Location, Location

As you know, you use setting to create the mood and atmosphere of your story. But the setting can also become a main character in your romance novel.

You can do historical, you can do contemporary. You can do bucolic, you can do metropolitan. But choose a setting that adds tension to the characters in some way.

Additionally, think of ways to use the setting to differentiate your romance. Instead of setting your story in any town, USA, why not set it on a mission to Mars?

Choosing an unusual setting for your romance novel can help you stand out in a “been there, done that” genre.

A Happy Ending

You need to create a satisfying ending to your novel. If you don’t, it will completely ruin the story for your reader and, perhaps worse, discourage them from reading any other romance novel you publish in the future. That’s not good.

The best plot is the one where the boy gets the girl at the end. Period. So, no matter what it takes to get your characters to this ending, make it happen.

Don’t forget to download this list of resources to help you market your romance novel.

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19 Comments

Cate Hogan

A very helpful article, thanks. I tend to write from the seat of my pants, but have learned –the hard way– that following a loose outline and plot structure can save my editing budget down the line. I recently featured a post on my blog with 5 key plotting techniques, which you might find interesting. http://catehogan.com/how-to-write-a-novel-plot-structures/

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Toni Mariani

I try to build characters who have never had the chance to live as real humans. My great grandmother’s did not get to live their true lives, so I write a life for them, with loves that they might have chosen. I allow them choices, which they never had after being snatched and kidnapped from their homeland.

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Shweta K

Beautifully written & helpful for beginners..

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Emmy Hobson

your article was very helpful and its really given me some new ideas. with my novel i’m working on but i’m having a hard time figuring it all out. i’m really gonna take your advice and work hard on my novel because its my first.

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Wateena Kusturin

My name is Jarod and Im submitting this comment for my mother. Shes big into romance novels and reads everyday, since I was a child. Shes done some editing and reviews for a lot of authors and she would ve an awesome author. After losing my dad in April I wanted her to find something to do to take her mind away. She has hinted at trying to write a romance novel and Im getting her information that could help her in this process. If any advice please email my mother Wateena at WKusturin@gmail.com. I have sent this article to her and I hope she takes a step towards her dream and also takes her mind away from the lain of losing my dad. So if anyone has any advice, or tips, or just words of encouragement please email her.

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MplsErin

I’m interested to know if the writer of this article contacted her. The writer doesnm’t seem to reply to any comments here and isn’t actively engaging with the audience, sop I’m afraid all of our words have fallen on deaf ears.

At least we have each other, right? I’ll email your mother some encouragement right now-I hope ypour comment is recent and that she receives the message. I’m a freelance tech writer/editor by day to pay the bills, and a diamond-studded, rags-to-riches heiress penning my memoirs by the midnight oil–tales of family secrets that one day will reach the eyes of my 1 true love.

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Morgann Weather

Best wishes to your mother on her writing journey — into romance. A suggestion to start is writing short stories of romance that she has seen around her — family, friends, neighbors, etc. As she develops her voice and writing craft any of these stories can grow into a novel.

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Jessica Griffith

I’m wanting to become a writer on alot of things but the main one I’d like to write about is romantic novels this is the first time I have ever attempted to write a story. Your examples have been some what helpful but I haven’t decided how I want my story to go yet

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Morgann Weather

From a creative fiction writer’s desk, when you are out — coffee shop, grocery store, at a stop light — be aware of your surroundings and the people in the environment. For romance writing: 1. randomly pick two people and craft a story of their chance meeting; 2. watch a couple and craft a story of how they have come to be together. I like to use my immediate environment to help me invent a story that leads to — romance, thriller, etc. Best of luck in your writing adventure!

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yashira

can you give tips on how to write a story on romance

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Ananya Gulati

Just think of the ideal love story you want

Watch some movies and think about how you want yourself,your life and your guy to be

Take a page and write down the qualities you woul want in him or yourself an just go with the flow

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MplsErin

>You wrote:
>Boy meets girl.
>Boy loses girl.
>Boy gets girl.
>”There’s no use in trying to reinvent the wheel here. Most romance readers will demand that your story follows this formula.”
—–
ME: Who do you think reads the majority of romance novels?
*Women, of course!

Majority of writers, editors, fans and fictional main characters are all–drum roll, please…
*Women!

Are girls objects, like a ball, a car, a phone?
I lost my phone and my girl. Would you help me find ’em?

That’s awfully androcentric* thinking, and perhaps women ARE ready for change because females with a brain, a heart, a mind and a soul CRAVE ideas, notions, relationships, plots that fulfill ALL of themselves, not just the outer (superficial) layer! Consider the Outlander series or similar high quality storytelling– it’s on the cusp between historical fiction and romance, not just a bubblegum paperback romance.

Here’s a formula:

**Girl meets boy.
**Boy chases girl until…
** she catches up with him.

*androcentric – the practice, conscious or otherwise, of placing a masculine point of view at the center of one’s world view, culture and history, thereby culturally marginalizing femininity.

What do you think?

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Liberty George-Jones

not a hundred percent sure of that formula, since my characters used to date and are exes, that rekindle their romance. But I wanted to focus more on the strength of them both individually rather than have two people completely consumed by that romance, besides I don’t want to do something that’s been overdone, the new generation needs something that celebrates something that hasn’t.

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Bethany

Hi ! I just wanted to say thanks for the helpful tips, although some of the tips could be seen as lightly misogynisitic i truthfully found them helpful. In particular, i most enjoyed how this article was targeted at beginner writers as i am one myself. I am a 16 year old budding writer with a passion for writing about romance. I’m currently suffering from writers block in the rising action of my novel ” something just like THIS” and could use some more helpful words of advice from other experienced writers alike. If you think you can help please do not hesitate to contact me via my email address.

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Mark

Writing a bit of a satire about society…don’t know where to start

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Valentina Nucifora

a boy gets the girl. Aweful antifemminist coment.
Not only boys like girls or girls like boys and not only boys go after girls.

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Ken Williams

I’m not sure if there’s many, or any male romance writers. I’ve always thought it would be interesting to to see if it could work, and not have the “sexy time” not come out as overly porn-like yet still hot.

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