Essential Skills for Writing Romance

Romance publishers are a new writer’s best chance at getting into print. However, just because it’s easy to get your manuscript in front of a Romance editor, doesn’t mean that it will be accepted!

Romance needs a very different approach to writing a thriller or an action adventure. In those genres, your aim is to keep the action moving, so your scene-setting would be brief; you might suggest your hero’s inner conflict by no more than a compressing of the lips; you would try to describe your characters in just a few telling words. Not in Romance!

In Romance, you are expected to immerse your reader deeply in every scene. That means thorough descriptions of place, people, and the inner thoughts of your hero and heroine. This explains why Romance novels need to have much less plot and fewer characters than a thriller or action story of the same length – you simply don’t have enough space within the word count!

Describing place – a good rule of thumb is to try to describe it using all five senses. Usually you can manage at least four. For instance, our heroine has just stepped on to a restaurant floor for her first professional belly dance performance:

Why hadn’t she thought to wear shoes? Bella tried not to grimace as she felt the wet stickiness of spilt beer and the grittiness of dropped food on her soles. She could taste the leathery tang of cigar smoke and the smell of burnt lamb.

I hope you can see the use of senses here, and I’ve only described the floor and the air. I still have a lot more to fill in: what’s the audience like? Where is the restaurant? What’s the décor like? What else can she see? A description of a place can take you several paragraphs, but do try to interweave them between slices of action or dialogue so they don’t become indigestible.

Describing people – do be careful when describing your principal character (usually your heroine). You want the reader to feel as if she is inside the heroine’s head – and of course, the heroine can’t describe things in a scene she can’t see. So you need another character to comment on her “lovely blonde hair” or “blue eyes”, or make her have a conversation about getting her hair dyed. Whatever you do, it needs to be quickly, in the first few paragraphs of the book, before your reader starts to form her own picture of the person. For other people, especially the hero, make sure your descriptions are vivid.

Describing inner thoughts – these are the most important parts of any Romance novel. The reason your hero and heroine aren’t together is because they have inner conflicts. Whatever is happening on the outside, your story is really about how these two characters’ feelings change as the story progresses, until they are finally able to get together. You need to repeatedly get inside their heads and show how those changes occur over time. Don’t be afraid to go to town on expressing emotion in these sections. The reader wants to be caught up in these feelings, that’s why she’s reading the story!

Make sure these inner monologues are written from deep POV (point of view) — that is, write the scene exactly as if the character was writing it.  That means in their voice, not yours!  If you find that difficult, some people find it helps to write it using “I” first. You can change it to third person later – but do make sure you rewrite it in the third person, don’t just exchange “he” or “she” for “I” and think that will work. Generally it will need some tweaking to make it read smoothly.

I hope you can see that Romance writing requires some special skills. Your best preparation is to read some Romance novels, to get the cadence and structure of the books in your head. And start writing!

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