Have you ever read a romance and thought, “I could do that”?
Many would-be writers have, and then discovered that writing isn’t so easy, not even romance.
Sometimes I assist new writers in critiquing their works and there are a few issues most of them have. The fixes to these issues are standard fare, such as “show don’t tell,” but I know for me, it took a long to figure out how to translate these tips into my writing. Below are my explanation of these tips in a way that I hope will help you understand and internalize.
Read romance as a writer.
This can be hard to do if you’re swept into the story, but analyzing what you’re reading is a great way to understand the underpinnings of a good romance. While you’re reading, take note of the choices the author has made in the story structure, how it is told, and the words that are used. Study how characters’ traits, beliefs, goals, and conflicts are revealed. Your goal is to look under the hood to see how everything is put together.
Pick a side.
One issue I see with many new authors is that they tell the stories in their own voice instead of their characters’. In many cases, they hop around between their characters’ feelings and thoughts. The easiest way to fix this is to pick one person (one of your romantic leads) from the scene from which everything will be experienced. In essence, you’re writing from this person’s point of view (POV) regardless if you’re writing in first or third person.
Everything the reader sees or feels or experiences should be through the filter of the POV person. Look at these examples below:
“Oh. My. God,” Cara Colby says.
“I told you, didn’t I?” Senator Eleanor Hainsworth Bach says. “They don’t make them any more handsome than Max Delecoeur.”
The formidable Max Delecoeur walks in looking handsome. Cara and Senator Bach aren’t the only ones to notice him. Every woman at the children’s charity event, eligible or not, is watching him.
Now check out this version told from Madeleine’s first-person point-of-view”
“Oh. My. God.”
I turn to look where Cara Colby’s saucer-wide eyes and gaping mouth are focused.
“I told you, didn’t I?” my aunt, Senator Eleanor Hainsworth Bach says. “They don’t make them any more handsome than Max Delecoeur.”
They’re right. The formidable Max Delecoeur is more handsome than pictures give him credit for. My aunt and her aide aren’t the only ones to notice him either. I’m certain every woman at my aunt’s children’s charity event, eligible or not, is imagining what it would be like to be with the handsome, sexy, rich Max Delecoeur.
Every woman but me. “Hmmm.”
Note that you could use the third person too:
“Oh. My. God.”
Madeleine turned to look where Cara Colby’s saucer-wide eyes and gaping mouth were focused.
Can you tell the difference between the two options. The first is a bird’s eye view of the scene, telling us what’s going on, but it’s distant. In the second, we’re given Madeleine’s point of view, along with her opinion and attitude. Now we’re not on the outside looking in, but we’re standing with Madeleine, experiencing it with her.
Don’t bounce from side to side.
In romance, you can have two points of view, but you don’t want to be bouncing back and forth between them. Some romance authors who write from the first-person point of view, have different chapters for each character’s side. Other authors aren’t as structured, but still, limit changing point of view. The rules my agent gave me were:
- Use a scene break space to indicate a change of point of view within a scene.
- Don’t change your point of view more than once in a chapter.
If you read Nora Roberts, you know that she frequently breaks these rules, but until you have Nora Robert’s clout, you’re better off to stick with rules editors prefer.
There is a temptation to want to share another character’s thoughts and feeling while in someone else’s POV. Don’t do it. If it’s important to know, you can reveal it through dialogue or simply wait until it’s the other character’s turn and have a moment of reflection where we can learn their thoughts and attitude about the previous scene.
Use the senses.
All fiction should be immersive for the reader, but none so as much as the romance novel (although I suspect thriller and horror authors might disagree). Romance is all about emotion and sensations. The reader needs to experience the roller coaster ride of falling in and out and back in love again, and depending on the heat level of your book, the titillation as well. You do that by using your point-of-view character (see above) as the conduit. What is that person feeling emotionally and physically? What does he or she see or smell?
We clink our cups and I sip, the golden bubbly tickling my nose as it goes down. Max watches me and the air grows thick. Need sizzles over my skin. With one look, he has me wanting in a way I’ve never wanted before. He’s like a Svengali, except he isn’t trying to manipulate or exert control over me. No, his gaze shows genuine desire, hunger, and it ignites my own.
Draw out the important scenes.
Many writers tend to rush through important action or emotional scenes. Readers don’t need details on everything, but in crucial moments, the first kiss, during a crisis, the grand gesture, etc, you want to draw out the scene. In the example above, I could simply have Max kiss Madeleine, but instead, I slowly work to it. I highlight the shift in the atmosphere. I take the reader step-by-step through Madeliene’s reaction; what she thinks and feels in that moment. The actual kiss doesn’t happen for another 11 lines.
Keeping his gaze on my eyes, he takes my glass, and sets it down next to his. I know what’s coming and anticipation slides down my spine. He frames my face with his hands, pulling me to him. The only time his gaze leaves mine is when it drifts down to my lips. Then it travels back up, looks into my eyes.
But he doesn’t take the next step. I’m dying for more so why isn’t he kissing me? I realize he’s waiting. He wants me, I have no doubt about that. But he isn’t going to take, not without my giving him a signal that I want him too. It’s one of the things that make him different from other men.
Not wanting to break the spell by speaking, I lean into him, grasping his robe lapels with my fingers and pulling him to me. Something primal flares in his eyes and then his lips are on mine, devouring my mouth, kissing me until I can’t breathe.
The tips on writing sensory detail and drawing the scene out is particularly important during love scenes. If you study your favorite author’s love scenes, you’ll note that it’s less about the mechanics and more about the emotion and senses.
Know what you’re doing and where you’re going.
This doesn’t mean you have to plot your novel, but if you’re going to wing it, you still have to have a sense of what you’re doing. What are the characters’ goals and motivations? What’s getting in the way of their goals and their love? Everything you write in the story needs to be building toward something. Any scene that doesn’t contribute to understanding the character and move the plot forward is just fluff and fluff slows down your story, boring your reader. No one wants to read a meandering story.