Wind-swept hair, long sighs, walks on the beach, kisses in the rain, and blush after blush…it’s not hard to work out what we’re describing. Avid readers can become addicted to certain feelings. While mystery readers can’t get enough of that feeling of suspense and uneasiness, romance readers are addicted to that mushy gushy feeling of pure passion. Romance readers could drown in first kisses, forbidden love, passionate declarations, and happily ever afters. Although the genre is fairly straightforward in certain respects, there is a great amount of craft involved when writing a romance that readers will really eat up:
Make your story different
This is a good rule of thumb for any novel, but especially with the romance genre. There are a lot of stereotypical tropes embedded in this genre. There’s the ‘bad boy’ who is broody and snarky, but really has a heart of gold. There’s the ‘unique’ or ‘quirky’ protagonist, where a novel constantly reiterates how special she/he is. There’s the plain girl who transforms into a beauty, suddenly gaining the attention of suitors. When you’re writing a romance novel, do your research and figure out what overused devices there are in the genre. Otherwise, you risk repeating what hundreds of authors have already done before you. Don’t get us wrong, avid romance readers won’t necessarily hate this. But, if you’re not (at the very least) taking a new spin on an old trope, your book won’t necessarily be cemented into the genre or gain very much attention.
So, if you’re writing a book with a love triangle between the broody bad boy and the sweet dorky guy- make sure to try to take a different spin on it in some way or another. Maybe the broody boy is just shy (like a Mr. Darcy type)? Or maybe the sweet dorky boy turns out to be a master manipulator?
This is one of the most common tropes of romance novels. Insta-love is exactly what it sounds like- love at first sight. We’re not saying your character can’t immediately experience butterflies or have his or her attention drawn to their eventual partner. You can have infatuation at first sight, just not love. The sensation of falling in love in a fiction novel should feel as real as possible. Therefore, it should parallel the sensation of falling in real love as much as possible. And in real love, there is build up- different things your person says or the way they treat others or the way they make you laugh causes feelings to grow over time. If you start a relationship at the pinnacle of passion, then there’s nowhere to go but down. Readers want to feel the build-up and the pay-off of a love story and they won’t be able to if every moment is written with an equal amount of strength and feeling. Start in a reasonable place, where the characters are merely attracted to and flirtatious with one another, and then work your way toward love. It’s a big word and shouldn’t be taken lightly- even within the context of fiction.
Write imperfect characters
As previously stated, you want your story to feel as much like a real love story as possible. And guess what doesn’t exist in the real world? A perfect person. There’s nothing that will take your readers out of the story more than if your protagonist and his/her love interest are seemingly flawless.
There must be internal and external conflicts in every good story. It won’t be interesting for your reader if they’re just two perfect people that outside forces are trying to keep apart. They need to have their own issues and baggage because everyone does. Maybe they have a bad relationship with their parents, maybe they have had bad relationships in the past, maybe they were bullied and lack self-confidence. Either way, they need their own obstacles to overcome within the confines of the relationship. This leads to a better payoff when they, eventually, end up happy.
Follow the formula
The genre lends itself to creativity, but it also follows a very broad guideline that romance novel readers have come to expect. The key elements are a) A protagonist and romantic interest they’ll love and root for b) a believable conflict and c) a happily ever after. The first point is fairly self-explanatory, but a believable conflict is harder to understand. This is, essentially, a conflict that readers can sympathize with. It means that if you’re writing about your characters getting into a fight over a dumb misunderstanding that could be cleared up in five seconds if they just talk to each other…you’re doing it wrong.
In regards to your ending, romance readers tend to expect and want a happily ever after in some capacity. Tragic endings work best when the book is primarily another genre (like fantasy or sci-fi) with a romantic element on the side. Feel free to break their hearts if you want, but not every romance novel reader will be happy about it. And this doesn’t mean you need to have the stereotypical happy ending. Take The Notebook, for example. The ending is very bittersweet (spoilers). Noah and Ally end up together but, eventually, Ally gets Alzheimer’s and they pass away together in their sleep. So their end is fairly tragic, but they do get a long life together of love and happiness- which is their own unique version of a happily ever after.
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