Romance writing for non-romance novels

bright-red-heartI’ll admit it. In my younger, high school years, I had been one of those guys who thought romance novels were all trash/guilty pleasure books with little credibility in the writing world. I also sort of thought it was something mostly just women would enjoy (I liken my stupidity to those ordinary guys who think they can beat all the professional woman’s basketball players in a game of one-on-one. Hint…you can’t).

College (about a decade ago) opened my eyes a bit, giving me my first exposure to some of the classic romance novels, and I started to see how powerful they could be when done well. Then I tried writing a romance into my novel. That’s when I started losing hair…by pulling it out of my scalp.

Oh, the hair grew back, but my view of romance writing was forever changed. I now believe it’s one of the most challenging things to write well and make it believable. Sure, a writer can prescribe to the Disney approach where a man and woman see each other and voila it’s a forever kind of love, but who really believes that in a novel? In a novel, a reader has access to a person’s inner-most thoughts and secrets. An audience that doesn’t know better might easily be fooled, and a character in a novel can fool him or herself, but they can’t fool a reader most of the time.

With all that said, I have some tips to share on writing a romance into your novel that might not be a romance novel per se.  The question you should be asking is, Well, Phil…what credibility do you have to tell us how to write romance? The answer is, I’ve screwed up enough in my attempts to lend me credibility on what doesn’t work, and after all, we can’t know what works without knowing what won’t.

Tip #1:  A romantic relationship between characters is a path, not a happening. A strong character involved in a romance will know his or her mind and what he or she wants, but might not know how to achieve it yet. Hence, the path. If you want the reader to share the experience of the romance, you need to share the path with them.

Tip #2:  This might be just my opinion, but I believe the best romances in novels include two characters who are independent and just fine on their own. In other words, the anti-Bella from Twilight. If they’re not fine on their own, there’s no sacrifice as they really have no other options. What makes a relationship significant is that sacrifice of independence.

Tip #3:  A romance shouldn’t be perfect; none are. Remember that without growth in a character the character is flat and uninteresting, which makes the novel flat and uninteresting. This same principle also applies to a romance.

Tip #4:  I’ve seen some new authors who want to make their novel romance serious and bold all…the…time. But real romances don’t develop this way. Humor and awkwardness are powerful and believable tools in a romance.

Tip #5:  If your characters only explore the physical part of their relationship, it’s not a romance; it’s a booty call. Nothing wrong with this, but don’t expect your readers to think of it as a romance.

Tip #6:  Avoid purple prose. Again, not to pick on the Twilight series, but those are guilty pleasure reads. Nothing wrong with that…I actually have no problem with people liking the books, but let’s call a spade a spade. These two blog articles explain this far better than I could (and are quite amusing, too):

Romance writers (or others who have written romance scenes or know some things):  please share your tips in the comments. I’d love to hear them.

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About authorphilpartington

Phil is a writing enthusiast of many years, having been published in numerous online and national print trade and sports publications over the past decade. He has spent the past five years delving back into the world of fiction writing, focussing on the fantasy, horror and suspense genres. Deshay of the Woods is his first novel.
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12 Responses to Romance writing for non-romance novels

  1. These are really good tips. I especially like the idea of the path, for it does take time to build a credible attraction and romance between characters. I’ve read a lot of (non-Romance) books where two characters miraculously fall in love on page 257 or something with no build up to it at all. As a reader, I want to watch the process by which the characters fall for each other; that’s how I’m able to fall vicariously in love myself. Love takes time, so it needs to start on like page 12.

    • I’ve read some great books where characters “suddenly fall in love,” but they only work because you realize they still have to figure that love out…it isn’t peaches and gumdrops. My challenge was that I had to reintroduce loved ones and have them fall in love again over a three-day span. Wasn’t easy. I think I did pretty well with it though, not that they’re without things to figure out. But that just leaves the opportunity for more intrigue :).

  2. Very good point about letting the reader follow on the path to romance. It’s the only way to make it believable.

  3. Janna and Tricia…the whole path concept was one that took me a while to figure out. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of famous books uphold the “love at first sight” method and make it work, but even in those cases there’s a path–it often follows the proclamation of love when a crack is made in the egg so to speak. Anyway, this was an important lesson for me in writing romance.

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  10. Shah Wharton says:

    Great tips! I think how one tackles a romance story depends largely on the potential audience. A YA romance is more likely to have lead characters falling in love at first sight(ish) and move onto their seemingly endless passion of sentiment and promises for forever love. For a mature erotic audience, romance is the precursor to the physical act, so certain words (and actions) might be required to provide the sexual kick. For sweet romance readers, love should grow organically, but feel very real and believable, while offering an element of ‘better than real life,’ about it. They don’t want to read about their neighbours love story, they want something with more conflict and passion than ‘whose turn it is to use the remote control?’ and ‘do we have time for sex before we change the baby’s nappy?’ 🙂

    shahwharton.com

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