Boy meets girl. Will they or won’t they? Happily ever after.
It sounds simple, but writing contemporary romance that readers love takes skill, planning, and execution. These stories thrive on emotion, and if you’re writing them, it’s your job to bring it. Turning what sounds like a straightforward tale into a page-turner is a challenge, but if you’re up for it, here are my top tips for writing contemporary romance.
Tip 1: Prepare to Plot
Mysteries or thrillers are intricately plotted, and everyone knows it. Authors of these stories must decide ahead of time who the culprit is and sprinkle each chapter and scene with red herrings, clues, and obstacles. They’re fun to read because there’s a sense that something new is always happening.
Guess what else needs to be intricately plotted? Your contemporary romance novel. In a sense it’s even more of a plotting challenge because readers already know how it will end: the couple will get together. It’s the solemn promise of every romance novel that there will be a happy ending. You must deliver it. However, you’ve got 400 pages to fill, and nobody is spending their hard-earned money to read about two nice people having adult conversations about their minor conflicts. In other words: you’re tasked with coming up with a lot of twists and turns to keep the pages flipping.
Tip 2: Conflict, Conflict, Conflict
Since a romance is about an interpersonal relationship, plot will come from whatever is keeping those two people apart. They want to be together, but something is stopping them. That something needs to be internal (some wound or issue that makes them hesitate to jump into the relationship) and also external. The external conflict needs to be big. It needs to feel real. Why wouldn’t two consenting adults who like each other just go on date after date until they got engaged? I don’t have that answer, but you need to come up with one. The more conflict, the more interesting the story.
Tip 3: Chapters with Purpose
This is one of those “duh” writing advice tips, but it always helps me to hear it. Every chapter needs to move the story forward. Sometimes I’ve lied to myself and felt I was moving a story forward by “establishing character” or “showing background,” but that’s not the spirit of the tip. It actually means that something new occurs in the plot that drives conflict or pushes the characters to do something they otherwise wouldn’t have done. There is no such thing as a chapter of rumination, even though internal monologue is important in romance. If you can’t answer what happens in this chapter and events don’t take place, consider editing.
Tip 4: Know Your Characters Inside and Out
Romance is a particularly character-driven genre. If the reader doesn’t connect not only with the main characters, but also with the other people in their lives, it won’t work. The reader must simultaneously root for the protagonists to be together but also understand why it’s so difficult for that to happen. In other words, these people have to feel real—and so do their problems. The characters on their periphery must also inhabit this world in a seamless way. Put time into understanding them, so you know their motivations, weakness, and fears. It will make for a better story.
Contemporary romance can be a tricky genre to get right because its expectations (a happily ever after or happy for now) push writers to make the meat of the story extra interesting. However, if you keep these key tips in mind, your readers will be coming back for more.