Romance novels, and the romance genre in general, have always been incredibly popular. Now more popular than ever, romance readers have more novels to choose from—contemporary romance, historical romance, paranormal romance, and many more.
Romance writing requires certain elements to qualify as a romance novel. Conflict and character development in all fiction novels are a must, but romance novels need a happy ending. Romance readers do not expect a happy ending—they demand it.
If you want to start writing your first romance novel, you need to realize that writing a romance novel is not easy. Romance authors have to do more than write a story about a boy who meets a girl, falls in love, kisses her, and marries her. Romance writers deal with emotions, creating a believable love story and sometimes awkward and challenging scenes, such as sex.
This article will walk you through the steps of writing romance, from creating your main characters to writing intimate scenes. With enough dedication and practice, you can write a successful romance novel.
How to Write a Romance Novel Step-By-Step
While there may not be a specific process that will teach you how to write a romance novel, certain steps must be observed to write a romance novel. The romance genre spans several subgenres, but they all require the same elements. The following will help you in your quest to write a romance novel.
How to Start a Romance Novel
Starting is often the scariest part of writing anything. There is planning, making hard decisions, and a lot of second-guessing. The blank page is the enemy of many writers, and romance authors are no exception.
1. Choose a Subgenre and Setting
The first step in romance writing is deciding on the subgenre. There are many, but we will discuss the more popular ones below and their typical settings. The setting makes your story cohesive and believable.
Contemporary romance novels have realistic settings and are set in the present time. They are the standard romance novels in the city, suburbia, farm, workplace, etc. It is usually like the rom-com you see, a classic love story set in today’s age.
Setting for this subgenre is often anywhere you can think of, but more often than not, it is a small town or a portion of a large city. For example, if the story takes place in a large city, the characters’ only places could be their home, their job, work, and a spattering of other locations like a club, restaurant, and beach.
The bodice rippers—nearly everyone has heard this term, and almost everyone has probably seen the cover of one of these books. They usually feature a woman with her hair up in Victorian style, wearing a heavy dress with who knows how many petticoats underneath, with a corset. There is always a man near or behind her, his shirt partially open and usually with long hair.
While that description does qualify as historical romance, it is one of the typical romance tropes that confuses both writers and readers about the subgenre of the romance novel. Historical romances occur when any romance novel is set more than fifty years ago. So the 1970s now qualifies as historical romance. There is also a huge fanbase for World War I, World War II, and Civil War-era romance novels.
Settings for this subgenre vary widely depending upon the era they are set in. The biggest and most important thing to remember is to keep the scene historically accurate. For example, you need to know whether the restaurant chain where your characters met existed when your story is set in. Maybe one of the love interests has a shady past and is wanted by the FBI for questioning. Are you sure that the FBI existed then? Ensure that you do your research on settings for this popular subgenre.
Paranormal romance has gained popularity since the Twilight series was published, even more so after the movies. Paranormal romance writing involves anything supernatural, such as vampires, werewolves, witches, sorcery, demons, etc. Usually, one of these beings is one of the lovers, while the other is a human. Think Bella and Edward (vampire) or even further back, to Buffy and Angel (vampire).
The setting for this type of romance novel can be anywhere, but they are often set in dark and sinister or mysterious places: castles, mountains, small towns, or forests. Settings for paranormal romance novels are often dark and intimate.
In general, the young adult genre is one of the most lucrative genres in literature and film—the Fault in Our Stars, Romeo and Juliet, A Walk to Remember, and even The Notebook. Writing romance of this genre involves the young adult love story, combined with a happy ending. It is a win-win for the young and the old readers, who remember what that first love felt like and sometimes wonder what it is like for those who experience the type of first love that never ends. Writers like Nicholas Sparks have made this genre incredibly popular.
The setting for this sort of romance novel is much the same as it is in contemporary romance novels, except for keeping the age of the characters in mind. You may need to include high school campuses, summer camps, college campuses, sports events, or parents’ houses.
This is the 50 Shades of Grey type of romance novel. While most young adult romance novels do not have explicit sex scenes, most other subgenres do have some sex that is described. In erotic romance, however, the focal point is the sex between the main characters, often with romantic tension and a love story. Romance novelists in this genre include much more physical intimacy than other romance authors.
The setting for this subgenre can be anything, but keep in mind that if sex is the central part of this book, your characters will need a special place. For example, Christian Grey had a Red Room. You can have the wider setting be anywhere, but having somewhere more secret and private is usually a good idea for this sort of romance novel.
2. Choose Your Story Structure
Story structure is essential for romance writers. If you want to know how to write a romance novel, you need to understand the story structure present in nearly all books within this genre. Most romance readers who have read the same story multiple times with slight variations still love it. Romance books are meant to be groundbreaking in their plot. When you write romance, you are writing about a romantic relationship that will, with any luck, move your readers.
Boy Meets Girl, and All Ends Well
This works on the basic subgenre of romance. The male character and the female character meet, and sparks fly. Romance and love ensue. Some conflict occurs, and then the book ends happily. There are many ways to do this to keep the content interesting.
3. Choose From the Romance Tropes
Romance tropes exist to move the plot forward. Readers love these kinds of stories, even though they repeatedly use the same few tropes, with slight changes to the details. You can include several tropes to make a good romance story, but do not think using one of the typical romance tropes will make your writing easy. You will still have to dig deep, especially in your first novel, to write a love story that makes sense and will push your readers to care about your characters and their romance.
The following are some of the tropes that you will find commonly used in this genre. You see them in other genres as well, often as subplots.
Enemies to Lovers Story
This trope will give you a lot to work with. Tension, an exciting build-up, and a fascinating backstory. Were your main characters friends and had a fight that caused them to be enemies until something happened to bring them together romantically? Were they rivals? Was the chemistry so strong that they ended up not liking each other because they could not act on their feelings and grew resentful or bitter? A lot of conflict and tension can be built with this particular trope.
Best Friends to Lovers Story
There is still tension and conflict in this trope because at least one person will fight their feelings for their friends, not wanting to risk losing the friendship if the romance does not last. These are often friends who have known each other for a long time, and sometimes when they see the other person with someone else, they come to understand that their feelings for their friend are not entirely platonic. Readers love the best friends trope because it mimics real life. Often, romantic feelings grow between two friends, but it is not often acted upon.
Damsel in Distress
Hello there, Cinderella, and most other fairy tales and Disney classics. This is the damsel in distress trope, and even though we all know that it can sometimes be a bit overdone and a bit cliché, the reader still loves it. It does not have to be an actual danger that the female main character is in that she needs saving from. Set in modern-day times, you can write a character who needs help with her job, finances, a home renovation, or other troublesome issues. Do not assume you have to lock your damsel in a tower and guard it with a dragon.
4. Introduce Your Main Character and Love Interest
It is crucial to keep the reader in mind for this part. Whom are you writing for? Most of the romance readers are women. So you have to be descriptive and not afraid to involve feelings and talk about them openly in your book. Describe your main character well, including her name, age, eye and hair color, height, build, and personality. Do not forget to make her relatable with a few flaws. No one wants to read about a perfect person.
What does she do for a living? What is her social status? Does she have children? Has she ever been married? Does she consider herself happily independent, or is she actively seeking love? Answer as many of these questions as you can when introducing the main character.
You also have to introduce the love interest of the main character. It is even more important not to make him a perfect character. He can be physically attractive, incredibly intelligent, or very sensitive. But you also need to give him a flaw that will make the heroine iffy about him for a while. He can be attractive but overly vain. He can be smart but arrogant. He can be sensitive but unrealistic.
5. Decide What Brings The Main Characters Together
Something has to happen to bring your characters together and develop a love story. Remember that a successful romance is not forced, so the motivation or drive for love should feel organic. Perhaps secondary characters push them towards one another, or they are dating secondary characters, ending the relationships with the main characters and leaving our lady and fellow to help each other get over their ruined relationships.
Whatever it is, it needs to be something that could realistically move the romance forward. The last thing you want is a forced love story. Romance books tell the stories of organic love. That is what brings the readers to the books.
6. Write Intimate Scenes
You need to have some sort of intimacy between two characters in love. That can be anything from sweet small gestures shown in children’s movies to vivid and graphic erotica. Many writers blush or shy away from writing a scene that features sex or intimacy, but most readers like it. It happens when couples get together, and there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Later in this article, we will go into the details of how to go about writing these sorts of scenes.
7. Introduce Conflict
It cannot all be easy. Even Cinderella had to run and leave the prince alone on the dance floor, forcing him to pursue every woman in the kingdom in search of her. You need to have some conflict. Something gets in the way or tries to push the lovers apart. Some examples are moving another person to another location because of work or an ex who shows up out of nowhere and complicates things. Something has to present conflict.
8. Give the Lovers a Happy Ending
Readers of this genre and the publishing industry will tell you that you need to have a happy ending if you write romance. Without one, you will have turned readers off of your writing. Decide how to wrap up the conflict in a way that will end the book on a happy note, even if it is not happiness that seems sustainable.
How to Write a Sex Scene
If you want to know how to write a romance novel, you have to learn how to write intimate scenes, which will likely include a sex scene or two. Familiarizing yourself with and getting comfortable with it will help you in many ways as a writer. Here are some tips that will help you write those dreaded love scenes.
1. Remember Your Subgenre and Audience
You need to decide how you should proceed to create a physical intimacy between your romantic leads. This depends mainly on what sort of romance novel you are writing. For example, having a graphic sex scene in a young adult novel is probably inappropriate. This subgenre is better off with kisses, cuddles, and hand-holding. However, if you are writing contemporary romance with adults, and your target audience is women over 30, chances are, the readers want more than a kiss on the cheek. They usually want a sex scene.
Knowing what your target audience expects and keeping the level of intimacy appropriate for the subgenre is an essential first step.
2. Keeping Love Scenes Implied
If you are just not that comfortable with writing about sex, you can still heavily imply it while focusing on character development and feelings. You can say that the guy spent the night with the girl and woke up next to each other the following day. That implies pretty heavily that something happened without giving the reader a play-by-play.
Just make sure that you beef up the description of character development and feelings if you keep the physical connection implied. Use all the senses when describing the characters’ feelings for each other.
3. Take Your Time Writing Intimacy
In real life, things do not go the way they do during the intimate scenes of people in a new relationship. Writing, however, means that we can create an inciting incident that leads to a relationship and then leads to sex that is the most meaningful and beautiful thing that has ever happened to either character. Be deliberate and slow in writing the scene. Do not go from the first kiss to sudden nudity. Take the time to describe the little details. Be descriptive but not vulgar, and include the character’s reactions and thoughts.
For example, if we have two characters named Beth and Ben, Ben takes off his shirt, describes the act, what he looks like without his shirt, and what Beth thinks about it and feels about it. Do this for every little thing that happens during these scenes, and your reader will love it. This works incredibly well for love at first sight romance because often, the lovers are strangers.
4. Ending a Sex Scene
When writing these scenes, it can be challenging to know where to end them. Once again, it mainly depends on your audience and which of the popular subgenres you are writing about. For example, you can end up building up and describing everything that leads up to sex, the foreplay, if you will, and then just let the reader assume that intercourse came next. You can describe everything from the first gaze to the lovers going into the bedroom, and then fade out that scene and start your story back up the next day or the following day.
However, if you are writing erotica, you will have to describe everything. It is a play-by-play of all the sexual acts, and there are a lot of them in this subgenre. This relationship type and subgenre should only be tried by writers who are very comfortable writing these scenes.
Whether you are a freelance writer, a creative writer who writes love stories as a hobby, or if you seriously want a career as a romance writer, it is essential to learn a bit about publishing. Remember that self-publishing no longer has the stigma it used to, thanks mainly to a romance story called 50 Shades of Grey, created and distributed through self-publishing. Educating yourself on every possible part of the novel-writing process, from brainstorming to publishing and promoting, is a great way to set yourself up for a win when writing a novel.