This week over on my writing Tumblr, I read a post that talked about how to write Romance. I thought all of the advice was pretty good except…
…well, except for the part that said (paraphrased) “Don’t write a story that’s -about- the romance.” The writer went on to explain that they didn’t like the Romance genre because the romance was the main plot.
Okay, first of all, that poster is allowed to have that opinion, but giving advice to writers who want to write romance should probably not include the advice NOT to write Romance. That’s ignoring the fact that about 1/3 of all book sales are Romance. There are plenty of people out there who love it, so go ahead and write it if you want!
So, here are my tips:
Make sure your characters are real people first.
Not cardboard cutouts. Develop them into real characters first, preferably likable people. Preferably ones whom readers want to succeed, not die because they’re too stupid to live. Having characters that the reader wants to read about ensures that they will stick with the book through any rough patches.
There’s a strong tendency to have the lone wolf alpha male and the perfect (skinny) female who doesn’t know how beautiful she is*, but you might want to consider changing it up a bit. Instead try the alpha male’s sidekick who’s nice to his mother and has four boxers because he works at a dog rescue in his spare time. He doesn’t even have to have a tortured soul.
(*Although yes, I KNOW the alpha male sells, and if that’s your thing, you can still write it.)
Have them realize there’s a possibility of a romantic relationship.
You need to go slowly enough that there’s a moment when each realizes that there might be a relationship building: more than just friendship or, depending on what you’re writing, more than just sex. These realizations can come at different times in the story. Statistically, men tend to fall in love faster, so it might be more realistic to have the male POV think in terms of love first, then the woman (but beware of him turning into a creepy stalker and turning off your readers. Ew.)
These things don’t have to take up pages and pages of time, but putting in that realization into at least a sentence or two makes a sharp division between a realistic romance and instaluv*. In addition, it can be sidestepped by building in a relationship in the past–they were best friends in high school, they dated in college, but married the wrong people. However, if these characters have just met for the first time, they need some time to build up to having a relationship.
(*Although yes, I KNOW instaluv still sells, and if that’s your thing, you can still write that.)
Have one or both put out feelers to gauge the other’s interest…
…and then make a connection
This is one of the best parts: the first date, the first talk, the first kiss, the first waltz. Savor it.
It’s not the most important part of the novel, but for readers of Romance, this is often the part they’ll go back and reread over and over.
It may not be the kiss, it may be that moment when she reaches out a hand and brushes back a bit of his hair, the moment his hand touches his lover’s over a ripe mango in the kitchen, the moment in the hospital where she’s holding her best friend’s hand and they both realize that they’re more than friends.
This is about reaching out and being rewarded with a connection. The reader’s been WAITING for that connection to happen, and it doesn’t have to be sex or a proposal or even touching. The important part is the emotional connection.
Falling is love is NOT EASY
Remember, the saying is not staying balanced in love, it is falling, losing your self to love. So, if you are in the early stages of falling in love right now, and you feel a little crazy, don’t worry, you kind of are. You are under the influence of your hormones that are making you feel, all at once, euphoric, endangered, and exhausted. —Psychology Today
That ENDANGERED is important. Both characters are putting themselves into a trust fall with another individual. If they’ve known each other a long time, this is easier. If they’re new to each other, it’s scary. Especially for the females in the equation. Either party in the new relationship can be hiding things from the other.
That can be born from a sense of fear that the other won’t accept the hidden factor. That hammer toe that grosses everyone out? That horrible scar he’s hiding, physical or emotional? That crazy ex who might drop by at any minute? All of those things can endanger the fragile new relationship.
And no, the participants are not at their most stable, so it might not hurt to have them reflect on the fact that X is SO out of character for them. (Or have a friend comment.)
FWIW, this endangerment is huge in the Romance genre, where we have–about 3/4 of the way through most books–the Black Moment. Where the thing has happened that will split up the fragile relationship. So look for that sense of endangerment, because it makes for a better final act.
Make Consent Clear…
Not everyone will agree with this, but as a writer, I feel it’s part of my job to model healthy relationships. This is my stance. I would like everyone in the world to adopt it, to have their characters verbally agree that this is the time for a relationship, that this is the time for a kiss, that this is the time for sex.
So if you want readers to see characters who are behaving in a morally responsible way toward their potential partners, write it. Make sure you include clear language that says both of your characters want to continue on this path, that they’re emotionally committed to the next step. And clear language when they want to say NO, also.
(Personally, I like my characters to have talked in terms of possible children as well, since that’s a consideration in many romantic relationships. And depending on the time frame, perhaps they should also talk about protection against STDs. Including condom use is pretty common in Contemporary Romance these days.)
…but sex is not a requirement.
I actually mean this two ways. IF there is sex during the time spanned in your novel, you can choose whether or not to ‘show’ it to the reader. You can ‘fade to black’ if you’re not comfortable writing those scenes.
Personally, I’m not. My characters usually kiss a little, engage in a little foreplay, discuss whether they’re going further, and then I fade out. There are exceptions, but generally I have a reason for showing the sex. (Forex, when I show the sex in the Horn series, it’s largely because with the two main characters being ‘sensitives’, it changes the dynamic, and I still don’t go into detail.)
In my view, what’s the most important is the part is where they commit to going all the way.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
Once the emotional impact of that moment happens, what remains…is an action scene. AN ACTION SCENE. (Think about it, you’ll get there in a moment.)
Additionally, characters do not need to be having sex at all. Not all couples bump and grind their way through their relationships. One may be incapable for one reason or another. They may have more of a meeting of the minds. One of them may be asexual. Or both of them.
If you’re writing a Romance or a book with a Romantic Subplot, this usually comes near the end. We usually tie up the romance part of the show with an HEA (Happily Ever After) and an HFN (Happy For Now). Both require that there is some sort of commitment to work on the relationship. Not always marriage. Sometimes there’s a more complex thing going on.
Either way, your HEA/HFA has to make sense. If your characters have not resolved their issues (ENDANGERMENT), then the HEA/HFN might not work. Does she still live on Mars and he still lives on Earth? Did they have to move in with his ex? Will she still not tell him that secret? Then a declaration that they will live Happily Ever After will fall flat.
The HFN is more common when we have a series, with more books coming up. In those cases you can still have unresolved issues. (Are we Okay? Yeah, we’re okay.) It’s not a perfect relationship, but they’re committed to working on the issues.
FWIW, I ended my first book without either, which I’m sure some people hated, but it WAS part of a series.
All of the above are just my opinion, as a writer of non-Romance stories that often have a romantic subplot. Just about every other writer who includes Romance in their work will have other ideas, possibly better ideas than mine.
Go forth and write romance. Or Romance. If you want to.
(All pictures in this post via Pixabay.)