Saturday, December 5, 2009

How to Write a Romance Novel--Style

What to say about style…hmmm.
Style has everything to do with writing ability, grammar skills, mechanics, and voice. This is the part where you groan and say, “Grammar? Isn’t that what I have a copy editor for?”

Uh, no.

Style requires work, study, and instinct. Style is the part of writing that is the hardest to define. If’ you’ve ever judged a contest, you’ve probably run across entries that are perfect but missing that spark that makes you settle into the story with pleasure. Or you’ve seen entries that have great voice, but you can’t read it with without wincing because of grammatical errors.

Literary devices and tools are a part of style. Metaphors, similes, satire, irony, imagery, word choice are all tools that can elevate your writing from ordinary to extraordinary. We’ve all run across sentences that take our breath away (My husband calls these "gems".) Words that move you, words you remember. Like this one:

“That’s what I love about books: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another but there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive--all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment” (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; uses repetition.).

Or this one:
“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here” (The Secret Life of Bees, a book I didn’t really love, but I’ve never forgotten the line).

Learning to use literary devices will lift your book with rich language and unforgettable sentences.

Grammar and mechanics are probably the easiest thing to fix. Even if you don’t remember a thing from high school (or earlier), you can find so many good grammar books to teach you what you need to know. So why is this important? How can it not be? How can you claim to be a writer if you don’t know the language? OK, maybe that’s harsh, but mastery of language allows you to play with language to achieve effects that will make your writing pop. Look at the following poem: Hazel tells Laverne. The author could not achieve the humor or the sadness without breaking grammar and mechanics rules. Besides, knowing these rules shows you care about your product.

Now look at your voice. Do you write a light-hearted novel? Are you into the deep and dark side of human nature? Do you use curse words? Big words? I believe voice is one of the hardest aspects to master. Can’t you recognize your favorite authors by the way they write? If you pick up a Jayne Ann Krentz novel, it reads like a Jayne Ann Krentz novel no matter which name she’s writing under. Susan Elizabeth Phillips writes like Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Find your voice if you haven’t already.

Finally, the most important tip I have for you about style: Read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. This slim volume teaches you everything you need to know about style. I re-read it every year. Yeah, I have friends (you know who you are) who haven’t made it through the book, but I find it highly readable, succinct, and informative. Every serious writer should own this book and study it. (Yes, I realize that is an opinion, but this is my blog, so I’m allowed to state my opinion.)

Keep on writing.

Books I’m reading now:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The Duke Most Wanted by Celeste Bradley
The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig


  1. Grammar is my weak point. I will strive to take your advice and be a good student. I completely agree that Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is a must have for writers. If only I'd ever open mine up every once and awhile...

  2. You forgot to mention, using lots of parenthetical phrases is style. (I do it too.)

  3. I rarely use parentheses, except when I'm striving to mirror my speech, which I do in my blogs. Yes, I speak in parentheses. Parenthetical phrases are a part of voice and mechanics, as are elipses (I use those a lot), dashes, italics, and even commas. When a character says, "Oh, my God," that phrase is different from when she says, "Ohmigod," or "Oh. My. God."

    All a part of style.

    Shoot. I could talk about this forever. I really am a nerd about writing. And I embrace the nerdiness.

  4. LOVE this post, you! And that poem. LMAO!

    It has taken me a long time to "find" what I am fairly certain is my voice. I feel like I've had larangitis for a really long time. :) And I agree so completely. You MUST know the rules before you can break them. There is a huge difference between breaking the rules and bad grammar.

    Sturnk and White rocks! (In case you're keeping a list. And checking it twice. hehehe)

  5. Voice is as individual as we all are. It is what makes a story shine. That's probably what hooks me more than anything when I'm judging contests.

  6. OOPS! I meant laryngitis. I knew there was a "y" in there somewhere. Sheesh.

  7. Hi Gabi :)
    Thank you very much for sharing. I read it three times to let it sink in. Great writing advice!
    All the best,

  8. The Hunger games by Suzanne Collins is SUCH a good book. I am like counting down the seconds until the third one :P


  9. Thanks for visiting my blog
    RK, I'm thrilled you find value in my blogs.

    Eric, my firends and I are debating whom Katniss ends up with. We are romance writers after all. Aug 2010 isn't that far.