How to Write a Romance Novel: The Basics
Write a romance novel is different than writing a fantasy novel, for example. There’re many differences. And romance is often overlooked, considered bad writing, not intellectual, which is simply abysmal. While there are some bad stories out there (like every other genre too), romance is one of the genres that get closer to literary fiction.
Yes, literary fiction is where the great classics are: Shakespeare, To Kill a Mockingbird, Hemingway, Frankenstein.
But why? Why are these genres close?
The answer is in the plotting: both genres focus on CHARACTER development rather than on external plots.
And this is what makes it stand out from the rest. This is what makes classics become classics in literary fiction. And that’s what makes romance novels be so intriguing and charming.
Why am I saying this?
First, because I’m sick of the stereotype that romance is a “lesser” genre, it’s just written porn or something. Much of this image comes from a misogynist idea of our society: romance is a girl’s thing. So it has to be bad.
But also because it’s one of the most important things of the genre. Something that I didn’t quite get: romance novels focus on characters development.
This is crucial if you want to write romance.
It’s much different than other “genre fiction”, in which you focus on external plot devices. For example, in fantasy, the dragon attacking the city is more important than the character’s internal struggle with depression.
So, one of the first things, if you want to write romance, is to understand that:
Romance is a character-driven genre
Which means that you are going to write about two characters and their lives, personalities, and, more importantly: how they meet and fall in love.
The external plot is not as important. For example, it doesn’t really matter if they meet in NY or in Dubai. What matters is that Liz is an insecure young entrepreneur who hates her job, and Mike is a dog sitter addicted to pizza that feels more lonely than Batman.
(ha, ha, I love my examples. Sorry.)
For that, you’ll need:
- Two characters;
- Each of them must have a hole in the place of their hearts. They must be feeling bad in some way.
- They will meet and change. Not at first. Slowly but surely. And they will be together at the end.
So, EXERCISE TIME: go ahead and grab a piece of paper. Write down two of the most complex characters you can think of.
Use this article to help you: how to develop a character.
Above each of their names, write their problem, the thing that is missing in their lives, the reason they can’t fall in love again.
By the end of the book, they’ll have grown through conflict and suffering, through their relationship, and this hole will be filled with love. THAT is your goal throughout the story. To fill this hole of your character with love.
For example, your character might have been cheated by their ex, and now can never love again.
They can have grown up seeing their parents failed marriage and now they’re terrified of compromise.
They might believe that every man is bad and every woman is selfish and they don’t want that for their lives.
Whatever the reason they’re feeling like that, this is the main device of your plotting.
You can use some of the loved romance tropes. For example haters-to-lovers, friends-to-lovers, bad boy that falls for the good girl, etc.
And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, check this article about how to plot.
And also this one so you can understand how conflict makes the story move forward.
Write a Romance Novel: External plot
Okay, so you have your two characters and you know their problems, the reason why they won’t stay together and trust love. This is the MAIN plot, and I also call it the “internal” plot.
Now it’s time to think about the external plot. I know I told you this is not as relevant as the internal one, but this can help.
This is also where you define your subgenre. For example, you want to write sweetie Young Adult romance. So, the story might do well in a high school setting. Or you might want to write mafia romance. Then, you’ll be fine in Italy or New York.
The external plot can’t be more relevant than the internal one! Your character’s flaws and self-doubts are the conflicts of the story.
The anxiety of loving again after losing their last love makes them go away from the relationship.
Their depression makes them don’t trust anyone in their lives.
Not the high school test or the bomb planted in the building.
So, you decided the external plot and setting. Let’s move on.
Write a Romance Novel: How will they stay physically together?
Here you have to decide one of the main things: how your characters will stay together.
If they meet once in the bus and then never again, they won’t fall in love eventually!
They have to be in a situation where they are forced to keep seeing each other.
- Trapped in a building;
- Same school;
- Same office;
- Lost in a beach;
- Their brother’s best friend (he’s always in their home);
- Same study group;
Use your imagination! Also the beloved tropes! Like trapped in an elevator, for example.
Decide the Love Intensity
This is sweet to steamy. Do you want them holding hands and a peck on the lips in the end? Or do you want crazy sex with BDSM?
Keep in mind your audience! You don’t want to write crazy steamy romance to teenagers in Young Adult. And you don’t want to write boring romance when you’re trying to sell to erotica romance readers!
There are different subgenres in romance! I suggest you decide yours now.
You can browse Amazon to see the Romance subgenres, how they look like, what are the most common tropes, the heat level.
You don’t want to write steamy romance to Clean and Wholesome, please.
Here, I got the link for you: https://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Kindle-Store-Romance/zgbs/digital-text/158566011
The Stages of Romance: Write a Romance Novel
Romance usually has some phases or stages. Here I’ll list what I use. This is just a suggestion but I’d say that the majority of the successful romance novels out there use this. Why don’t you give it a go?
- Present the characters and their flaws;
- “Meet cute”: this is a term used in the writing romance realm, which means it’s when your characters meet for the first time.
- Denial stage: they both deny the relationship, they don’t want that for their lives;
- Slowly falling in love: various chapters where they slowly fall in love. They keep denying it, but each chapter they deny less and less. Here’s where your external plot is useful, to take them from one scene to the other. Remember: there’s NO SCENE WITHOUT CONFLICT. They MUST have conflict in their lives. And don’t forget: romance is made of internal plots. The conflict must be internal above all. Their fears, hopes, dreams, anxiety, depression, anger, sadness.
- The big love moment: this is when they stay together and they think they’ll live happily ever after. Here it will depend on your subgenre and your heat level. If you went with Clean and Wholesome, a peck is enough. If you went with Erotica Romance, well, you know what will happen, right?
- Back to denial: they go back to denial. They start seeing clues in each other behaviors that confirms their worst fears about falling in love. Maybe they’re afraid of the other one cheating, and they see the other one talking to random people. Here their flaws will scream again. JEALOUSY, ANXIETY, FEAR, ANGER, SADNESS! I DON’T TRUST YOU!
- Big bad happening: something BIG AND BAD happens. Their worst fears come true (or they THINK it came true). Never again I’ll love! Never! It’s time to listen to The Smiths and eat ice cream crying in bed.
- The Grand Act: they realize that something happened and it shouldn’t have happened. One of them does a Great Act to the other. Here is also external: maybe they go running after them in the airport, screaming their love. Maybe one of them got trapped in a terrible situation and the other goes to save them.
- Forgiveness: Love is back! They’re forgiven! They were wrong about the BIG BAD act! They really, really, love each other!
- Epilogue: And they lived happily every after.
Yes, you read it right. They MUST live happily ever after. Romance REQUIRES HAPPILY EVERY AFTER.
If you don’t like that, you should look into writing another genre, like literary fiction or women’s literature, where a tragedy can happen and one lover can die.
Not in romance, though.
Summary: You’ll need
- 2 well-developed and flawed characters. A flaw is THE MOST IMPORTANT CONFLICT.
- External plot: high school, mafia, aliens, world ending, etc. Remember: SECONDARY.
- How will they stay together?
- Love heat and subgenre;
- The stages of romance;
I hope it helped! If it did, leave a comment below!