All romance novels have the same purpose. It is to tell the story of how two individuals get together. The details may be different, but the arc remains the same. One character meets the other. They go through some sort of conflict. They end up being together. The end.
So, how do you set your work apart from the thousands of other romance novels already out there? If writing a romance novel only entails following a certain formula, how do you come up with something new? The key is in embracing that formula.
As Aislinn Kearns states in her blog, there is a certain comfort in relying on tropes. Readers of this genre expect your story to have a good ending. That ending entails that the people that they are rooting for fall deeply in love and end up living “happily ever after”. What will set your work apart is the way you use that formula and spin it into something new. Read on to get more ideas on how to write a good romance novel.
Why write a romance novel?
For so long, romance novels have been viewed as second-rate fiction. If you are an author of this genre, critics tend not to take you as seriously as they would other fiction writers. It is not the same for other authors writing science fiction or historical suspense fiction. Why is this the case?
According to Becky Flade on The Philly Voice, there is a tendency to look at romantic novels as “mom porn” because it is written and consumed mainly by females. People view it as fluff work with shallow and predictable endings. That is far from the truth.
Regardless of how people view the genre, it is not a secret that writing a romance novel is a lucrative endeavor. Based on the data from Market Watch, sales of romance books consistently exceed 1 billion dollars a year. One in every three fiction books sold in the US is a romance novel. And more importantly, readers keep coming back for more.
To top it off, top-grossing romance novels disprove that they are all fluff. One example is the MacGregor series of Nora Roberts. Its readers laud the well-researched and accurate details of the period. The books from this series spend weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Details to know before actually starting to write your romance novel
Before we go to the steps on how to write a good romance novel, let’s look at some of the details that you need to know. It is important to have this down so that you can effectively conceptualize your story and attack the process of writing it with a clearer picture in your head.
What category should you place your work in?
Category or subgenre has a huge impact on your work’s ranking, competition, and showing. It will affect the cover decision, the blurb, and most importantly, the novel’s title. You can choose a category that you have always been drawn to or explore some untapped subgenre.
There are so many to choose from. To date, romantic suspense is the leader of the pack. Stories set in a romantic town also sell well. Romantic comedies and stories featuring young adults are also making a comeback.
While it is not ideal to write based on the market, it can never hurt to know which categories have a huge demand. Knowledge about this will help you decide on your setting. If you can’t fit the story in your head under one category, fit it under two. Romantic suspense-thrillers are selling well at the moment.
What trope are you going to explore?
We mentioned tropes before. What are they anyway? These are conventional characters, themes, plot devices, and even characters that are incorporated into the genre. At present, second chance romances and enemies to lovers are the popular tropes.
Love triangles on the other hand are on the decline. This trope, along with office romance stories is not faring well sales-wise. Another trope you might consider avoiding is having an alpha male as the lead character.
How do you present your character?
Many writers would tell you that the character is the soul of the story. One helpful piece of advice is to make empathy a prominent characteristic of the leads in your novel. Don’t forget to put meat on the character’s history with a backstory. This will reveal your characters’ motivation – the reason why they do things.
They shouldn’t be perfect as that is not relatable. Including some flaws allow your readers to love and forgive your character. Round out your character by allowing him or her to grow. If your character is insecure, line up events that would allow him or her to become more confident.
As for the antagonist, while they are essential in the story, do not let him or her overshadow the leads. Many fall into this trap when setting up their novel for a second book. Sequels die because people care more about what happened to the villain than the lead.
Steps in writing a good romance novel
The first thing you need to do is to find inspiration. Brainstorm about events that you want to include in your story. You can look for inspiration from your own life, the people around you, even from movies that you like. Don’t worry if these events do not fit your category just yet. These are just snippets of what you can use in your story.
Work on the novel’s setting
Next, establish your setting. It is the element that creates the atmosphere for your novel. Additionally, it will be a factor in your main characters’ background. Think of the place and the time in which you want your characters to fall in love.
Describe the setting in detail. What can be seen? What is the temperature? Every detail that will transport your reader into the story will help in making your novel a success. Don’t gloss over insignificant details too much though. It will take away the focus from what is important.
Make your characters live
The next step is to focus on developing your characters. Just remember that the most important aspect of your character is accessibility. He or she must be relatable. Your readers want to feel like romance is a possibility for them too.
Start with the main character. It doesn’t matter whether the hero or heroine is an astronaut or a widow whose husband died during World War I. If you do it effectively your reader will feel like they are in your hero or heroine’s shoes. Remember that the reader cannot root for a character that they don’t care about.
After working on your main character, introduce the love interest. Outline how your two characters would meet and fall in love. Note that it doesn’t have to happen instantly. You can gradually do it by adding meaningful interactions. Think of how you can make your reader begin loving the character too.
Choose events to propel your story
Start working on the conflict. Think of why your characters cannot be together just yet. Perhaps the heroine is too mistrustful. This is anchored on that character’s backstory. Was she betrayed before? Was it her parents’ failed relationship that made her wary of men? How will the other character win her over?
Now we get to the part that makes your readers blush – the intimate scenes. While a lot of the available romantic stories out there have love scenes, it is not necessary for all novels. It will be up to you to decide whether to include these in your story or not.
As a writer, you have to find the balance between leaving your audience disappointed and alienating them by putting something too graphic. Keep in mind that your audience is primarily women, and the majority of them want some context behind the intimate scenes.
Use these scenes wisely by letting them usher in some form of character development or advance the plot. You can also hinge your conflict on it. Just make it relevant to the story rather than put it there merely to make your story fit the stereotype.
Stick to the formula for the ending
Finally, no matter how groundbreaking you want your story to be, don’t go rogue by using a tragic ending. Your reader wants to feel satisfied when they reach the final page of the book. As formulaic as it may sound, most of your readers are expecting the happily-ever-after conclusion.
After you have completed your draft, set it aside. Give your time to get some distance from it before picking it up again Read it and check where you want to make improvements. Revise it until you are happy with your output and are ready to show it to others. Once you are confident in what you have written, it is time to consider getting it published. Happy writing!