Romance was one of the first things I learned how to write and write well. This means I’m hellllaaa fucking picky about what kind of romance I read. Don’t let my username fool you, I’m almost 0% into the actual romance genre. And you’ll learn why.
1) Don’t force it. The number one thing you want to do when you’re writing a romance is let your characters come together naturally. You may have it in your head that you created a specific character for them to bang, but you could be wrong. Like in real life, you want things to progress naturally between your characters. Let them work out their feelings for themselves and your romantic plot will be better for it. I promise.
2. Avoid Purple Prose. We’ve all been there. You’re in the heat of a romance scene and you’re describing things left and right. And it sounds so good and intense in your head how his “gorgeous cerulean orbs bored into her emerald ones and they experienced an intense moment of lust and electricity”.
No. Stop. This sort of thing can pull your reader out of the story to contemplate what an “orb” is and why you’re using ridiculous over the top colors for your character’s eyes. Personally, if I see this shit in a book I have to put it down and bury my face in my hands. It’s not as pretty as you think it is. Most of the time it’s just confusing.
3. Write interesting male characters. So many times in romance books I’ve come across writers describing their guys as tall, handsome, and muscular with “piano fingers” or “high sharp cheekbones” (Comma omitted purposefully) when in reality men are a lot more diverse.
I see the worst offenders of this in Reverse Harem titles where all the men look exactly the same. Like they all walked right off the cover of a shitty romance novel. That isn’t reality and it hurts your audience and it hurts your characters. If I can’t tell them apart description wise or you spend a lot of time comparing how similar they are, then they’re not interesting.
It’s okay to write male characters that are only average in build and average in appearance. It’s okay to have male characters that are shorter than 6′. It’s okay to have male characters that are overweight or have acne. It’s okay to love people who don’t look like they walked off of a romance novel cover.
And for the love of God give them a personality beyond hot bro that likes the female lead a little too much.
4. Write interesting female characters. As someone who mostly writes female characters because I’m a hardcore advocate for female representation, (Not to mention I have a mighty need for lesbian relationships that don’t center around shitty erotica) I will slap a bitch for writing awful female characters. Most romance authors are female, and in my opinion, females should know how to write females. Yet, from all of the romance books I’ve read (especially reverse harem), I find that women have a hard time writing women with personalities.
Though I will say most of the time the female characters are more diverse than the male ones, they’re largely one dimensional. It’s like they’re not their own person outside of their romance. That isn’t cool and it doesn’t make for a good romance. Your leading lady should have personality! And for the love of all things holy, that personality shouldn’t be sassy and defensive or “she’s totally fucking smart guys”.
It’s okay to write women that don’t have it all together. It’s okay to write older women or women who are mean or women who are of average intelligence. If you have to keep pushing the topic of your character being “totally smart” or any number of traits repeatedly, then it alienates your reader. It’s okay for her to be smart, but actually show her being smart, don’t just tell your audience that she is repeatedly without evidence.
5. Bechdel Test. This one is important. In order for your romance to be convincing, your main character’s life can’t completely revolve around it. If she has a female friend (she should) or other females in her life (sister, mother, cousin), she shouldn’t spend every scene with them talking about her relationship. This shit pisses me off more than anything else on this list because it makes the whole story seems flat. It also makes every relationship in the book feel forced.
If you have to constantly remind your reader about the relationship then I’m sorry to say it isn’t going to feel real. Have your character talk about herself with her female friends. Have her talk about her interests and their interests. Give them all a distinct personality. You can even have them talk about romantic preferences, but please for the sake of the stars above, flesh out your female characters. And your male ones for that matter.
If they don’t have a personality beyond attractive then you’re not doing this right.
6. Don’t put too much emphasis on a first kiss. Kisses aren’t the do all end all of romantic stories. Your character can kiss one person and realize that they would rather kiss someone else. The emphasis should be on the journey to the relationship and the journey after it.
Personally, I hate books that have the entire story revolves around the romance and ends with the two characters finally getting together. The lead up is only part of the story. The rest of it should be the characters facing the actual plot of the book together.
7. Give your book a plot that doesn’t revolve around the romance. This is the #1 main reason I have a hard time enjoying anything out of the actual romance genre. I don’t like books that revolve around romance. The central plot should be something else.
Romance should only ever be a subplot in the midst of a much larger story. You can focus more on it if it’s pertinent to your larger plot, but it should feel like the characters just so happened to fall in love because the plot brought them together. It shouldn’t feel like the romance brought together the plot.
8. Men should not be violent or manipulative. I see this so much in romance. The women are soft-spoken, but sassy when they need to be (to make them seem more relatable) and the men are big hulking nightmares of testosterone who make all of the decisions for the female character.
The female main might put up a fight at first, but eventually turns a blind eye to it and goes along with her male counterpart(s) instead of getting the fuck out of there. That’s not how this works in real life. This isn’t romantic or sexy. It’s terrifying. The moment a man gets violent or possessive and isn’t corrected or chastised for his behavior is the moment I stop respecting whoever wrote the story.
Romance is an incredibly difficult thing to master. There are a lot of things that go into creating a romance worthy of your audience. And none of those involve your male characters trying to control your female character’s life. Or, if you’re like me and your only write lesbian/gay/ace/trans/etc romance, one character should never try to control the other character’s life in the name of love.
Just don’t do it.