Sunday, August 23, 2009

How to Write Romance Novels Part One

How presumptuous of me. Who am I to undertake such a topic? Yes, I have been published, but other authors have written more books with greater success. Yes, I do have a (actually two) degree in literature, but we're not talking literature. Or are we? You've probably heard some of what I have to say before, and maybe you know more than I. Nevertheless, I feel passionate about the subject (no pun intended), so I wanted to share with you my thoughts on the writing process especially as applied to romance novels.

Genre fiction is a fairly new phenomenon. Before the 1900's, there were simply novels. No one categorized them, but even then novels were considered the lesser child of literature. Modern thinking required that we categorize books into various genres. In one way, it makes reading easier. If someone likes, say, science fiction, then he/she knows where to look for science fiction in a book store. On the other hand, categories makes it too easy to dismiss certain types of fiction and miss out on others. How many times have you heard someone say, "Oh I don't read that kind (insert genre that you look down upon here) of book"? (British punctuation, BTW. Much more sensible I think.) Or if someone reads exclusively in one genre because he/she enjoys it (nothing wrong with enjoying a genre), he/she can miss out on wonderful books simply because he/she doesn't consider looking for a book in a different genre.

So genres can make handy labels or limit a person's reading (BTW, literary fiction is nothing more than a name for a genre). Romance is just one such label. If you've been watching the news on the recession lately, you've most likely heard that the Romance Novel industry is recession proof and is in fact doing great business in this economy. Romance novels make you feel good. You are guaranteed a happy ending and a few hours of escape.

I can hear the first snorts of derision. "That's because they're fluff." "That's because they're formulaic." That's because no one who thinks reads them." Really? RWA ® statistics will tell you that romance outsells every other genre, and that its average readers are college educated. And its authors come from a wide variety of fields and educational backgrounds, including lawyers, professors, doctors, teachers, EMT's, social workers, actors, and yes, even housewives (Hey, my mother was a housewife. I defy you to call a woman of her background anything but remarkable.) As for formulaic...well, I'd say all fiction is formulaic and I'm going to be exploring that formula in the upcoming weeks. Yes, romance is a story of a man and a woman (although not always, and the boundaries are expanding, especially in erotic romance) with an emotionally satisfying ending, but aren't mysteries formulaic as well? As well as fantasies, horror novels, speculative fiction, and literary fiction? I hear you protesting. Those books have variety. Um, have you read romance recently? You can find everything in romance novels including mystery fantasy, sci fi, and literary elements. And most of the time you can find romance or at least a love story in the other types of fiction. Love and relationships make the world go around.

Enough about defending the genre. Here's the first thing I want you to ask yourself. Do you love romance novels? If you don't, find something else to write. If you're in this to make a quick buck or to get published, you're in the wrong game. If you don't love what you're writing, it will show and your book will suffer for it. And trust me, no publisher will publish you in romance if you're just phoning it in. Just because romance is the biggest genre, doesn't mean it's easy. Writing is tough--wonderful, but tough--why would you spend hours, days, weeks, months working on something you neither enjoy or respect?

OK, so you love romance. Terrific. Your next question is, "What kind of romance do you want to write?" There are genres within the genre in romance, and sub genres within the sub genres. What books do you enjoy? What kind do you usually read? Do you have the temperament and the time for historical research? Are you comfortable writing sex scenes? If so, how sexy? Are you wanting to write lighter books or angst-filled books? Humorous or serious? Category or single title? Paranormal or contemporary? Vampires, werewolves or ghosts, oh my? Space ships, fairies, aristocracy? Sweet or sexy? Inspirational? Suspense? So many questions to answer.

You might already have a story that's been whirling around in your head. If you do, then you're already ahead of the game. There is no idea warehouse to find your story in, but ideas can come from anywhere. I once wrote a book based on a brief news item I saw on TV about a man who adopted an injured owl. The owl had only one wing, and the man would perch the owl on his shoulder and go roller blading around Lake Michigan in Chicago. The owl would lean into the wind and pretend he was flying. The man lost sixty pounds. But that story was the spark that ignited a novel called The Sea Eagle.

So gather your thoughts, and go ahead and start writing. I'll speak about other elements next week, starting with THE HOOK.

Books I'm reading now:
Ready and Willing by Elizabeth Bevarly
His 7-Day Fiancee by Gail Barnett
Glitter Baby by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Before the Scandal by Suzanne Enoch


  1. Love this post, Gabi!!! Very passionate and, as always, well written.

    My ideas definitely come from anywhere and everywhere. I once wrote a short story based on a red tac I saw on the ground. LOL. And no, there wasn't a single tac in the story. It actually sparked something else entirely, but it was the catalist. The oddest things can get our imagination flowing, huh?

  2. Ugh, I knew catayst looked wrong!

    I'm a horrible speller. :)

  3. I'm reading "Wicked Little Game" by Christine Wells. This is a wonderful post and I will respond with more thoughtful comments when it is not 1:30am on a school night! :)

  4. Hello,
    I happened to see this posted on Twitter and came to check it out. You make a good point with your posts and give folks topics to consider and not be snobby about genres in general. :)

  5. You make some very good points. Being passionate about whatever it is that you write is essential in my book.
    I'm starting a new project now that must get out of my head or I will go mad. It's great fun, too.

  6. I enjoyed your post Gabi.
    I share some of your sentiments and frustrations. I believe what limits a reader is not a label but taste (how much bliss you've already encountered in one genre--why look elsewhere when you've got everything you need already?)and personality (how open you are to trying new things). I look forward to reading your next posts about romance "formula".
    I recently wrote an article ("What Neurobiology can Teach Writers") about our innate need for the comfort/security/predictability of genres and the importance of inserting just the right amount of surprise. You can check it out at