Although I write historicals, I see myself as a romance writer at heart.
Well first, I love reading romances of any genre. This year some of my favorite romances have included contemporary romances like Robin Lee Hatcher’s Keeper of the Stars and Becky Wade’s Her One and Only. I’ve also enjoyed many young adult romances like Robin McKinley’s Beauty and Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn. I’ve even read a few historical romances like Irma Joubert’s Girl from the Train.
Second, I’m a romance writer at heart because when I dabble with writing in other genres, my stories always end up with a romance element. It seems to come out whether I’m writing contemporary or YA or historical.
Most of the time readers appreciate the romance aspects of my books. Occasionally I get complaints like: “for a historical it was too romance-y.” But overall, I’ve gotten a positive response to the sizzle of the romance in my books. My characters aren’t pulling one another’s clothes off, but the romantic tension is there nonetheless.
Any time I finish reading a romance novel, I sit back and muse over elements I liked or didn’t like. And if I move the book to my favorite’s shelf, I ask myself what was it about the romance that hooked me?
A romance novel usually has to have several key elements to make it to my “keeper” shelf. These elements might cause some readers or writers to classify romances as “formulaic.” But essentially, those tried-and-true elements are the building blocks for penning a winning romance. They’re the things romance readers expect, love, and essentially why they pick up a romance in the first place.
Here are 5 elements I think sigh-worthy romance novels must have:
1. Both the hero and heroine must be likeable. The reader must be able to fall in love with the hero right along with the heroine. He has to be the kind of guy that melts readers’ hearts. Sure he has to be flawed, but in such a way that readers still love him.
And the reader must also be able to cheer for the heroine. She can be many things, even a feisty tomboy. Certainly not perfect. But she has to be the type of woman readers would aspire to be.
2. The hero and heroine must meet early in the story. It’s best if our two main characters meet within the first chapter or two. Even if we have a love triangle, readers still like to know which man they’re rooting for.
This goes back to the above point. Readers want to fall in love with the hero. And if they don’t know who he is, then it’s harder for them to relate to the romance.
3. A barrier must keep the hero and heroine from finding true love together until the end. In fact, there could be many barriers standing between the two keeping them physically, emotionally, and relationally apart.
Readers have told me one they’re usually disappointed when all those barriers fall away and the hero and heroine “get together” too soon in the novel. It lets down the tension and doesn’t give the reader a reason to keep flipping pages, no matter how strong the rest of the plot might be.
4. The romantic tension must be strong and gradually increase throughout the book. Obviously, a romance must have romantic moments between the hero and heroine. That doesn’t have to mean loading a book with kissing or sex. My books have very few kisses and no sex, and yet I weave in a lot of sizzle in other ways.
I also intentionally find ways to put my characters into romantic situations that fit with each unique story. Those situations are even better when the couple is forced to be together for an extended time, so that they can really have the chance to get to know each other.
5. The romance must come to a satisfying conclusion (aka happily-ever-after). The couple must get together by the end of the book. They must overcome all the barriers that have kept them apart. They have to fall in love. And they have to want to be together forever. Period.
In fact, the ending really should be sigh-worthy. When the reader closes the book, we want them smiling in ultimate satisfaction because they’re happy the hero and heroine overcame great obstacles, defeated the antagonist, grew in character as a result, and in the end found true love.
Is there anything you’d add to my list of must-haves for a romance? Do you think romance novels have become too formulaic?
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