5 Things Every Writer Should Learn from Reading Romance Novels
When I say "Romance" when I'm talking about writing, you probably IMMEDIATELY think about the cheap novels you see in the airport, subtly bought by women or sometimes overtly bought. Often, they are period pieces or they are set in the modern world, like "Fifty Shades of Grey".
Either way, when it comes to them as a novel, people usually fall into two camps: love or HATE.
As a writer, there is a certain draw to writing one of these novels, as they seem to be pretty simple to hammer out and the authors who do write them seem to be pretty well off.
However, many writers get a bit snobbish on the topic, and I am guilty of this myself.
There is room in our world for romance novels, and even writers who consider themselves "above" the genre could take a few tips from the genre for writing more compelling romance plot threads in their books!
None of us is above the topics and ideas the authors who write these novels. The people who write these have worked JUST as hard as you on their craft. And they work HARD on their books, too. They deserve our respect.
Follow these five tips to get you started!
Tip 1: Independent Women (And men)
When we think about romance, we often only think about women who don't really feel like they are independent and, in fact, are often driven and dependant on finding a man to define them.
However, modern romance literature often highlights women who are their own person, without their men.
The best way to think about this is to compare the "Golden Era" Disney princesses; Snow White, Aurora, and Cinderella. All three of these women don't have much agency, or action outside the plot happening to them.
But compare them to what's known as the "Renaissance Era" princesses; Moana, Merida, and Tiana. These three girls carry their own fate and make their own choices. They are also affected by the repercussions of those choices.
Male or female: if your protagonist doesn’t protag, they are a weak character.
Lemme pull this out for you.
Your characters can’t just be pulled along by the plot like they are stuck in a river being pulled along by the current. They have to ACT on the NEED they have. They have to REACT to the world around them. And they have to have REPERCUSSIONS for the choices they make.
So; a female character who hinges her EVERYTHING on a man is CODEPENDENT and NOT a good protagonist. Unless that’s her obstacle and she has to learn how to be her own person and learn how to become a healthy human on her own.
By the same rule: any character in a world being swept along by history-changing events, who doesn’t react and just does things as the world burns around them is BORING AS HELL.
The key word here is AGENCY.
Tip 2: Sexy and Strong Men (And women)
The sexy, muscle rippling, suave, scotch drinking MAN. Or the bookish sweet nerd man, who is kind to animals, and shy, but he sticks up for the little guy and himself!
Or the beer drinking mechanic with a good sense of humour and the little girl from a perilous marriage.
All of these are SEXY, right?
Well, maybe not. One or two of these aren’t sexy to you.
Everyone is different, but they Key is making your love interest attractive to your main character and make sure the feeling you show in their head are relatable.
This is where we get SENSORY. *bow-chicka-bow-wow*
But REALLY! You have to get into your main character’s head AND their body!
Lets pull out some examples.
Heres a scene that DEADENS the senses.
Giselle looked up and saw Richards chest as he lifted the large wrench into his shoulder. He smiled at her.
“Can I help you with something my dear?”
Giselle shook her head and looked down at the book in her hands.
“I don’t need anything. Thank you.” He was hot.
*snoring* *snort* Sorry. I FELL ASLEEP WRITING THAT IT WAS SO BORING.
Take two, getting up in our BODAY!
Giselle’s heart skipped a beat and her chest warmed as she spotted the sweat on Richards brow as he hefted the large wrench onto his shoulder.
He smiled and her stomach twisted. An image flashed through her mind: the night he’d kissed her behind the coats at the Christmas party. His lips warm and soft against hers. She needed him to do it again.
No. Stop. I can’t get involved. I have other responsibilities. No men.
“Can I help you?” He was getting closer and she could smell him: dirt, machine oils, copper, and sweat. Not the sweat that made her want to gag, but a low musk underneath the other smells that made him smell like an animal.
Like a caged dog ready to run and take her anywhere...
She realized she was staring, her cheeks flushing, and she looked down at her book in her hands, picking at the cover.
“No thank you.” She felt her voice squeak. “I don’t need anything.”
See? We use all the senses to describe what is happening in your main characters body when they meet their love interest for the first time. Yeah. It’s a little cheesy. But it’s hard to write these scenes without being cheesy. It just takes practice. And it will take peer reviews and beta-readers to make them feel a little more real.
So! Writing prompt. Get out your Writer’s Bullet Journal
Step 1: Write a list of the senses. You know what they are.
Step 2: Think about your first romantic encounter. The first time you knew they were attractive. Write that out. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Step 3: write the SAME scene but you HAVE to use EVERY sense. And I mean EVERY ONE.
Step 4: POST THAT SHIZ! I wanna seeeee! Post it on Instagram with the hashtag #writersbulletjournal
ILL TOTES FEATURE YOU AND PROBABLY POST A VIDEO OF ME SQUEALING!
Want extra brownie points? Do it for EVERY relationship you’ve had! Then, you have a little more practice and can write these scene with your chapters more effectively.
The key is SENSORY.
Tip 3: Compelling Romance Threads
It sounds silly, but I have read SO MANY pieces where the main romantic relationship is BORING AS FUCK.
How? How does this happen?
Becuase there’s no conflict.
Now. This doesn’t mean that they have to break up and get back together. This just means there has to be some kind of tension in the thing to make it freaking interesting!
For example: I LOVE HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. It’s so good! Marshall and Lily do have a breakup for a while. But they get back together. After they get back together, they work HARD to STAY together. Because relationships are work!
We can have a successful and happy relationship, with some tension, that doesn’t break up and get back together! It’s actualy ENCOURAGING to see success, non-perfect relationships.
Now, if you discover as your writing that the relationship isn’t healthy, maybe those two characters need to break up. And that’s okay. And maybe you need to go back and rewrite it so they aren’t scary and unhealthy.
Otherwise, take the the road less travelled, and keep hardworking relationships together.
Other things that are compelling in relationships are the gender roles SWITCHING.
I would consider my husband to be a little more nurturing than I am and I have some more high reaching ambitions. As soon as I started making money online, even just the three dollars I’ve earned from Amazon Affiliates, my husband was wanting to know when he could come home and be a stay at home dad.
The traditional gender roles are reversing more and more often. So having them switched in your books isn’t really even progressive anymore. It’s just normal.
Biggest takeaway here: don’t follow the rules or what everyone else is doing. It’s probably best to take your examples from real life relationships that you think are heckin’ cute. Not one on TV.
But Marahall and Lily are the best. The End.
Tip 4: Shippable, Fangirl Level Relationships
Listing prompt, whip out your Writer’s Bullet Journal for this exercise.
Step 1: List every relation ship that you ADORE from fiction and TV, cannon or not! Maybe make a column for this...
Step 2: Write all the REASONS why you love them. This can be as specific or broad as you want
Step 3: Post and Tag with #writersbulletjournal
NOW: romance novels are also REALLY good at this. They make you ROOT for the characters to get together. In the same spread, make a list of the instances where you were rooting for them to be together/stay together.
Chances are, you now have a really long list of people, cute moments, tense moments, and moments of pure dorbs.
Pull your inspiration from here. Seriously. Its that easy. Riff on it a little bit, but you can do it.
Tip: if the moment you are writing doesn’t make you hardcore fan girl, your readers aren’t doing it either. Tweak it until you go “Daaaawwweeee!”
Tip 5: Sex Scenes
In my opinion, the people who read romance novels are probably reading for sex. Well... cute relationships and sex. Erotica is for sex.
DISCLAIMER: THAT IS FINE
If you read romance to feel empowered and sexy DO IT.
But a big thing that romance novels get RIGHT is the sex. There have been AWARD WINNING books who have the WORST descriptions of sex scenes EVER.
My tip here is similar to tip 2: just get up in your senses. Sex involves NOT JUST GENETALLIA! The whole body is involved!
This shouldn’t be news to you if you’ve ever had sex. Honestly.
I don't have many examples, simply because I don't read these books! But go find an blogger who does like to read these!
They all have favorite lists MILES long! But what I DO know is these are the things the READERS appreciate about reading GOOD romance novels.
So, get to writing and reading!
-The Ginger Wordsmith.