Love is in the air and you might get swept up in it and decide it is time to take a stab at writing romance. Some people are mistaken into thinking that romance writing is easier than other types of fiction writing, that there is some easy formula to follow. I once had a conversation with a writer of literary fiction who was undermining romance writing and I told her at the time that she should try to write “the first kiss” scene in a fresh exciting way and she’ll get an inkling of how tough romance writing can be. Romance readers want good writing and good writing requires developed plots and characters.
The Basic Ingredients of Romance Fiction
1. A heroine the reader can identify with
Most romance readers are women and they want the heroine to be someone they like. The heroine doesn’t need to be exactly like the readers, but she must be someone they can empathise with. They must understand her motivations. They must see some bit of themselves in her.
2. An irresistible hero
Your hero must be someone the readers fall in love with too. He doesn’t need to be the best looking guy in the room, often the most irresistible men aren’t. Big and brawny is not what most women are looking for. They want men who are intelligent, empathetic, and funny. At least that’s what the polls say.
3. A believable plot
How likely is it for the rich business man to fall deeply in love with his uneducated maid? Not very, let’s be honest. And though Shakespeare got away with women disguised as men, it’s not a plot most modern readers will buy. Your plot should have a lot of twists and turns, but they should be believable.
4. A happy ending
Romance fiction ends with a happy ending, the hero and heroine overcome whatever is keeping them apart and by the end of the book the two finally get together. It doesn’t have to be marriage or even them falling into bed together, it could be that they finally get passed whatever has been keeping them from being together.
Tips for writing romance
1. Saying “I love you” is not always the best way of saying I love you
I love you in dialogue is a bit boring. Try something fresh. Your heroine has been away for 27 days. She returns and she’s with your hero. She asks, “How have you been?” He says, “I had 27 bad days, but everything’s perfect today.” That screams love, doesn’t it?
2. Make your readers love your hero by his actions
He loves a certain kind of chocolate, but when his sister is visiting and there’s only one left; he lets her have it. He’s late for an important meeting at work, but half-way there he realises he forgot to feed his cat and he turns and goes back home to do it. The annoying old lady from down the street is visiting and doesn’t want to leave even though it is obvious to everyone but her that the hero and heroine want time alone. Though he can’t wait to be alone with his love, he walks the old lady home because she’s afraid of thieves in the night. All of these help to show the reader how great your hero is.
3. No one is perfect
Be careful not to make either your hero or heroine too perfect though. Give them flaws. Maybe she’s arrogant. Maybe he is a bit unambitious. The flaws can add to your tension that keeps them apart.
4. Tension must guide the plot
Tension in romance is caused by the reasons they cannot be together. There is external tension. They can’t be together because he lives in Harare and she lives in Joburg. They can’t be together because her mother hates him. That’s external tension, things happening outside of them. But internal tension is more powerful. She can’t be with him because she still thinks she loves her old boyfriend. He can’t be with her because he slept with her sister and he feels too much guilt.
5. Decide on how hot it’s going to be
A lot about the hotness of the intimate scenes will decide on the author’s preference, but also where you intend to send the manuscript. You should read the publisher’s guidelines. Nowadays most romance publishers have a wide range of imprints that cater for various amount of hotness all the way up to erotica so you should be able to find a place where your story fits.
Good luck getting romantic!
(This first appeared in my column in The Voice newspaper, It's All Write, 14 Feb.,2014)