Writing Romance: Five Simple Rules

“By the time the bedroom door closes, the reader feels the soul, not the sheets.”

“Oh, you write those kinds of books?”

Yeah, I do. But honestly… it’s not what you think. Writing a romance novel is no easy task. And there’s a lot more going on than just what you’re picturing beneath the bedsheets.

I come from a long line of romance readers. My great-grandmother saved her pennies to buy a new Harlequin at the drug store every week. And my grandmother owned just about every Nora Roberts novel ever written. And my mom… she cruises through three e-books a week on her Kindle.

The apple doesn’t fall far. And while I do love to read romance, I love to write romance even more. My debut novel I Loved You Yesterday, will release in August 2022 with Inkspell Publishing. And its sister I Love You Today, follows in November 2022 (with I’ll Love You Tomorrow hopefully in 2023).

To my core, I’m a storyteller – and the challenge that comes from developing characters and taking them through an arc from start to finish – is parallel to no other. As an author, the power to weave romance – infusing it on each page – rests in each tap of my finger on a keyboard. And over the years spent with my manuscripts, I’ve learned a few secrets.

Read on to learn my top five rules for writing romance:

  1. It’s More Than Just Love. You can’t just write about romance. It doesn’t work. You need more than the external conflict of finding or fighting love. Your heroine (or hero) needs internal conflict as well. This is a rookie mistake (and one that I made too in my early drafts). If you don’t give your main character something to battle with internally, you’re doing yourself a disservice. As an author, it’s your job to dig deeper – and pull out the inner workings of your characters. Challenge yourself to find the reason why love isn’t easy. When you find the why, weave it into the plot and help your characters grow and overcome. In the end, the love they find will be even more satisfying.
  2. Think Beyond the Bedsheets. It’s not all physical. Sure – I recognize that some readers will pick up a romance novel just for the smutty pages. But if we’re talking storyromance… sweep me off my feet and let me forget the world in 200 pages… you need connection. You need angst. And you need the souls of your characters to connect – beyond the bedsheets. Pull the emotions from the depths of your characters and help the reader feel the push and pull of love. Bedroom scenes are just a fraction of a relationship arc. Build the tension. So, by the time the bedroom door closes, the reader feels the soul, not the sheets.
  3. Tropes Work for a Reason. The love triangle. Friends to lovers. Forbidden love. Tropes are common for the romance genre. They’re proven, tried and true, storytelling techniques that appeal to a wide audience. It’s what the market calls for and what readers expect to get when they crack open the spine. Follow the template but play around. Build yourself a unique story with characters that sing from the pages you write. There are no original story ideas – just the retelling of stories passed down through the generations. Stick to the tropes but put your own spin on the story.
  4. Secondary Characters that Push the Plot. It all comes down to conflict. And your secondary characters can really amp up the drama. Infuse your secondary storyline with the complexities of lesser characters. Write them in a way that confuses the plot – allow them to plant the seeds of doubt – or let them be the voice of reason. Secondary characters serve a huge purpose in keeping the momentum of conflict moving. And they also make for incredible sequels and spinoffs. Develop your main character, but don’t leave your secondary characters alone too long. They scream potential.
  5. The Happily Ever After. You have to have one. Non-negotiable. If your “romance” novel ends on a sad note, you haven’t written a romance. Say hello to your women’s fiction story, because that’s the only place you’ll find a market for your book. A true romance must conclude with a happily ever after… or a happy for now ending. A romance reader expects a bow on the final page – a satisfying ending to an emotional roller coaster. And as the author, you’re obligated to give them one – with a double knot.

And there you have it. Five simple rules for writing romance.

Published by julienavickas

Julie Navickas is a nationally recognized contemporary romance novelist with Inkspell Publishing, known for her keen ability to weave heart-wrenching, second-chance love stories through relatable characters with humility, humor, and heroism. She is also an award-winning instructor and academic advisor in the School of Communication at Illinois State University, the public relations manager for Burning Soul Press, the social media strategist for Labyrinth Made Goods, and is a continuing education instructor with Heartland Community College. Julie is a mom to three children: Lily (5); Colton (4); Brady (2), and has been married to her high school sweetheart, Thomas, for ten years.

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