The key to writing a great romance is to respect the genre and the story you want to tell. If you think it’ll simply “be easy” to write and publish one—you’d be wrong. Romance is a billion dollar a year industry, and it didn’t get that big without hardcore fans. People who love romance know what they want, and if you don’t deliver…you won’t see your name in print.
Must-Haves of Romance
There are two “rules” of romance that are unassailable. If you don’t deliver on these, you didn’t write romance.
The first is: the central story line must be about a couple falling in love. Don’t get me wrong, other things need to happen. There have to be outside obstacles to their romance as well (more on this later). However, we buy the book or watch the movie to swoon. So give it to us. We want to will-they-or-won’t-they until the last page.
The second hard-and-fast rule of romance is that it must have a happy ending. You can write a love story that ends with the tears of A Star is Born, but it’s not going to be considered by publishers or readers as a romance. People know how the book the ends when they see the cover at the store. They want to go on a journey. They’re in it for the drama. Just make sure all of the trials you put your main characters through pay off in the end.
Emotions, Emotions, Emotions
Now that we’ve covered the two most important (and only) rules of romance, let’s talk about what the best ones have: emotion. Falling in love is such a roller coaster ride. You feel like a maniac. You’re obsessed. You’re super unsure. Do they like me or not? Will it ever work? What about x, y, and z? It’s intense. That intensity is what your readers come for. They want to be on that tightrope right next to the protagonists. They want to feel what your hero and heroine feel. Romance is about feelings. Feelings are emotions. Don’t neglect this crucial element of the story.
But You Need a Plot, Too
It’s easy to set up the conflict between your main characters and dive deep into the emotional back and forth and uncertainty of falling in love. That is what readers want. But…they also want to read a full novel. That means you’ve got to have conflict and problems confronting your main characters, like you would in any book. The best plots will involve the main characters and cause obstacles to their romance.
Think about You’ve Got Mail as an example. Not only does Tom Hanks’ character believe lightning only strikes once, love-wise, and that it’s impossible to love again now that his wife has passed…he also owns the conglomerate that is trying to buy out Meg Ryan’s independent bookstore. So not only does Tom Hanks have to come around emotionally, he’s now got to win Meg Ryan over despite his dastardly business practices. Talk about drama!
Nail Your Main Characters
The journey you’re taking your readers on is intimate. Readers will spend 90-100,000 words with your characters, spending much of the time inside their heads. That means you’ve got to nail the protagonists. The female lead should be likeable. Even if she’s unlikable, she must be so in a likeable way. Everyone must be redeemable. Readers like to imagine that they are going on the same ride as the heroine, and they like to imagine themselves as good people.
By the same token, make sure your swoon-worthy hero is actually swoon-worthy. Lots of women are turned on by alphas, but he’s got to have a heart in there somewhere. Make sure your reader will fall in love with both characters and root for them to get together by the end of the story. If you include all of these elements, you’re sure to write a great romance.