I had a conversation with a writer friend a few weeks ago. She was telling me that the book she’s writing is, at the core, a romance, and no one was more surprised than she. “I don’t know a thing about writing romances,” she confessed. “Any tips?” I sent her an email with my thoughts, and that was that. Then she emailed me a few days ago:
“I just re-read this [email] as I’m still struggling through the end of my ms. This is an unbelievably beautiful note! It would make a great blog post on how to write romance….”
Well! I took a look at it, and I think she’s got something there. It does lend itself well to a blog. So I did a little editing, and here you go. If you find yourself writing a romance and you’re not quite sure about it, here are some things to keep in mind about the hero and heroine:
* The reader needs to see their attraction as believable. In other words, Not just because he’s handsome and she’s beautiful. As with real romance, let their feelings surprise them, then show those feelings growing as an organic part of the story. That’s not to say they can’t be immediately attracted to one another, or that one can’t be immediately attracted to the other. That instant spark does happen. But make sure readers see good reasons for romance—and love–to grow between them. Think about it. What’s more romantic than a man who treats women and children with respect? What’s more appealing to a man than a woman who honors and respects him? It’s not about Tarzan meets Jane, it’s about character and integrity and true strength and beauty.
* It’s vital that the conflicts between them are authentic and believable, not contrived. Too often romances just have the protagonists getting mad at each other for no solid reason, just to keep the tension going. Let the tension flow from the natural conflicts in the story. And believe me, there’s no more natural source of tension than the whole man-woman relationship!
*Use external tension as well as internal, especially when their love for each other becomes clear and accepted by them. What obstacles keep them apart? What do they have to overcome to finally be together? Give the reader a sense of celebration and victory when they’re finally together for good.
* Remember that any romance/love, real romance/love, is a reflection of God’s love for us. There is dying to self involved, looking to the good of the other first, sacrifice and struggle. Real romance isn’t easy. But oh! It’s amazing when it’s right!
* Show passion. Not graphic passion. Not the easy, physical lust. But that inner passion that somehow weaves another person into the fabric of who we are. The passion that brings the image of their face to mind, taking our breath away. The passion that makes the sound of their laughter like a long, cool drink on a parched day. The passion that leaves us feeling as though a part of us is missing when they’re not with us. The passion that, when we see how their eyes light at seeing us, sends a shock from head to toe. Oh yeah…that passion is what drives us on. It’s what lasts, even when physical passion may have ebbed.
* Last but not least, do not disappoint your reader! Don’t know if you’ve ever seen Sommersby, but I loved that movie. That movie has an awesome love story, amazing romance. Right up to the last 5 minutes. And then I HATED it. Will never watch it again. The ending was such a betrayal of the wonderful romance and the promise we were given up to that point. I understand why it ended the way it did, but that didn’t matter. I was actually angry at the end. I mean, boiling mad. If what you’re writing is a real romance, then deliver on the promise if that for the readers. Let the hero and heroine be together in the end!
And above all, have fun!
OH how I HATED the end of Sommersby!!!!!!!!! And yes, I mean every single one of those exclamation points!! Such a beautiful story, such a craptastic ending! I LOATHED the ending. Blech. Peh.
In my MS , I had my truly hurt and broken heroine fall for the hero’s kindness and his voice. I wanted to write something that took the reader to a place where voice, eyes and actions win the day, not the hero’s ripped pecs. Although, they may be subtle mention of that. What wins her heart is the sacrifice he makes in his obedience to God and keeping a promise to help someone, not that he is awesome at making out.
Joanne Woodward once alluded to a true romance needing only a simple kiss. Words, deeds and obedience are what drive the romance in my MS, as opposed to a bodice with structurally weak design causing repetitive failures when met with human intererence.
Thank you so much for this post, it lets me know I am on the track that I asked God to bring me down, as opposed to one with bits of clothing hanging on the bushes. 😉
Now I have to go read all those other articles. And believe it or not, this post is an answer to a very specific prayer.
This is GREAT advice! My novels (so far there are only two and they are not yet published) start off as romance novels. I believe that Christian romance, with God as the center are so much more passionate! The best part is that we get wrapped up in emotions, character & relationship building, and pure love instead of lust! I love it!
I can’t wait to go back through and read more of your blogs!
I like that you mentioned our romance with God and that you want a writer to describe more than physical lust.
I love your point that the tension between the hero and heroine has to be real. It’s not that hard to come up with real tension in a potential relationship, but I find so many romances have contrived tension, just like you said. It seems lazy to me.
Great post, Karen! Thanks for sharing such pratical advice on romance. When I tell people that I write romance, I often hear, “Oh, you write those kind of books” as they blush. Romance has a bad rap. Romance writers who write romance that doesn’t park in the bedroom have the opportunity to change that! Your tips are a recipe for relationships readers will remember. Thanks.
I agree with all of these points, especially the idea that the attraction has to be believable. There are so many movies/books where the hero and heroine fall in love so quickly, and their interactions so shallow, I’m skeptical of a lasting relationship.
I *so* agree on Sommersby!!!! Great post.
Heather Day Gilbert
Enjoyed this. Speaking of REAL LOVE, just wondering if novels about MARRIED couples ever fall into the category of romance w/in CBA circles? B/c it seems to me like that’s the best kind of romance! I had read the MCs need to be unmarried for it to be in the romance category.
What a beautifully written post, and such valuable pointers. Thanks, Karen!
I just finished Becky Wade’s My Stubborn Heart–fabulous. It’s a great example of all the things you mentioned.
Karen, I so appreciated this post. This may sound funny, but I recently realized that my story about a married couple is actually a romance about them learning how to fall in love again. So, there is a romance element. Your post gives such great things for me to consider as I craft what their relationship looks like in the beginning, how it will grow and change and what it looks like at the end. Spoiler: It will NOT end like Sommersby did. 🙂
I think every married couple needs a tweak here and there. And thank you for Sommersby-ing the book!
I meant ***NOT***
I’m leaving now…
He-he. 🙂 You’re right. Every married couple needs tweaks here and there. 🙂 Have a great day.
LOL! Tweaking married couples…now there’s a career for someone!
Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Just for the record, I love reading romances. GOOD romances. Those that honor the differences between men and women and show them overcoming obstacles–even those within themselves–to really LOVE someone.
Favorite romance movie of all time?
THE PRINCESS BRIDE
Favorite movie kiss:
The scene in FRENCH KISS where Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline are on the train.
Favorite Romantic Lead:
John Wayne. Seriously. Now THAT is a man!
Favorite Romantic Heroine
Yeah, yeah, my age is showing. But that’s okay, I earned every one of these years!
Oh my goodness!!!!
Quelle tres grande faux pas!
I will have you all know that my mind is as pure as the driven snow.
On a sidewalk.
After the snowplow comes…
I MEANT married couples need a chance to DISCUSS what is stagnant in their relationship.
I’m moving to Paraguay. They frown on stupid, poorly thought out statements there.
The Princess Bride? Huh. Not Twilight?
Thank you for this blog post, Karen. A pet peeve of mine is reading a romance and not understanding why this couple is in love. Other than physical attraction, there’s nothing else there. It’s like watching The Bachelor – you never see them really TALK and spend time getting to know each other on a truly personal level. It’s all so superficial.
In my WIP, I realized I had brought my hero and heroine together then divided them without making sure the reader felt the same urgency for them to be a couple as I was telling them to feel. So I went back and made sure to SHOW why they were in love and had to be together. And then I split them up by distance and situation. Because that’s what we do.
Don’t worry, though. It all works out in the end. Since the story is loosely based on the romance between my great-grandparents, it kind of has to or I wouldn’t be here to write it. 🙂
And it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who hated the ending of Sommersby.
The very best, most frustrating and most exasperating ending to a first rate romance I came across by accident. In a real master stroke Edgar Rice Burroughs ends Tarzan of the Apes in the very last sentence by leaving the final result hanging. It is altogether unexpected. Then again, the book itself is quite different from the usual view of his work since it contains two intense romances. All the jungle scenery is just a prop for an exotic setting rather like the settings for Jane Austen’s works except greener. I am sure it succeeded as a romance novel because both my teenage grand daughters and most of their friends passed the book around for several months before I finally got it back a bit worse off for its journey but at least with no missing pages.