Love triangles, insta-love, friends to lovers, hate to love, the ‘fake relationship’, forbidden love, happily ever after… needless to say, the romance genre is not at a loss for literary tropes. But, let’s be honest, romance readers aren’t complaining. Of course you should put your own spin on any trope, but the readers of this genre love the drama, intrigue, and build-up that comes with new love (even if it’s a little cliché). If you’re trying to craft a romance to rival any Nicholas Sparks novel, you need to give your readers what they want. Here we take a look at what romance readers want to see amidst kisses in the rain:
ThreeDimensional Female Characters
Given that (statistically) the vast majority of romance readers are women, they obviously want to be portrayed in a realistic and respectful manner. Whether you’re writing from a male or female protagonist, the last thing readers want to see is an annoying, whiny, one-dimensional female character. And the stereotypical ‘manic pixie dream girl’ protagonist isn’t going to cut it either. Female readers don’t want to see themselves portrayed as simply plot points furthering a man’s character development and story- they want to be shown as complex, interesting, relatable, strong characters in and of themselves. Whether a female lead is a protagonist, love interest, or close friend- readers want to be able to love and root for them.
Swoon-worthy love interests
Romance readers aren’t picking up your book to get an action hero style gray, dark, cynical character. They want someone who they can gush over, that they fall in love with and constantly grow to love more and more throughout the story. If you’re doing the hate to love trope like in Sally Thorn’s The Hating Game, you have to be careful. You’ll have to craft the love interest so that he doesn’t do anything absolutely cruel or unforgiving in the beginning stages; otherwise, the character will cause more controversy than swoons. And, if this is the trope you’re going with, your readers will crave that moment where (plot twist) you find out he/she was only mean because he/she was attracted to your protagonist and didn’t know what to do with their feelings. Make sure you give your readers that moment.
Emphasis on real here, fellow writers. A common mistake among romance writers is spending so much time focusing on the love story that the conflict feels disingenuous. Your readers may enjoy the romance in this circumstance, but there needs to be something keeping your characters apart to build up the tension. And there’s nothing more annoying than reading a romance about two people who have no good reason to not be together. Don’t make the mistake of the conflict just being words taken the wrong way or misunderstood- this isn’t real conflict. Use something external- like the protagonist’s parents disapprove of the love interest or one of them is sick.
Romance readers crave a buildup of tension. They don’t want your characters to be hooking up on page two of the book, they want a gradual build-up of the characters’ feelings toward one another. They want to see their relationship grow; they want the characters to have little adorable moments where their hands touch and they feel sparks. They want them to question their feelings for each other, experience confusion when they feel things they didn’t expect and maybe don’t want initially. Make sure you build up the romance for your readers with little moments throughout the story until the characters (finally) get together.
Gone are the days where readers crave these characters with rich, lavish lifestyles. When it comes to contemporary romances, they want to see characters with student loans who get gum stuck on their shoes. That may sound very unromantic, but the closer the character feels to themselves and the more relatable he/she is, the more a reader can imagine themselves in the protagonist’s place.
We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again- romance readers want happy endings. You can spend the entire book tormenting your readers with super sad and tragic scenarios, but they want to be happy when they finish the book. Yes, there are romance novels that have sad endings and sometimes they work, but it’s not what the readers are looking for when they pick up a book in this genre. They want to leave with warm and fuzzy feelings inside–but that doesn’t mean it has to be unrealistically happy. The love interests should end up together, but maybe a character didn’t get their dream job–that’s still OK. It may even feel more realistic and, as long as the characters have each other, the reader still gets their happily ever after.