It’s Valentine’s Day today. Based on the spike in sales at flower shops and candy stores, I’d venture to say romance isn’t dead! What about romance novels? Well, they aren’t dead either. In fact, quite the opposite. According to the RWA, Romance Writers of America, the industry is worth over a billion dollars per year. Romance novels regularly make bestseller lists, and the core audience tops out at about 29 million people, with other genre readers dipping their toes in regularly.
What is it about romance novels that keeps readers hooked? What do you need to know if you want to write in this genre? Here are some things to think about:
The love story is central.
This may sound obvious, but many other genres have romantic threads woven throughout the story and they aren’t considered romance. Han and Leia’s relationship doesn’t make Star Wars a romance. In a romance, the relationship is the point of the story. How the lovers meet, overcome their struggles, and ride off into the sunset together is what readers expect.
The lovers must overcome conflict.
Without any stakes or conflict, the story will be anemic. And, if there’s no conflict, the reader won’t experience that moment of deep satisfaction when everything works out in the end. It’s worth it to look at some popular tropes in romance to see how you can add an element of conflict to your novel.
- Friends to lovers: They were childhood friends until he enlisted, but now he’s back and she’s all grown up. He’s the guy she cries to after every breakup, until one night they discover they’re attracted to each other.
- Enemies to lovers: Snarky rivals, two FBI agents are teamed up to solve a case. He’s an arrogant football player, she’s the rehab therapists assigned to get him back on the field.
- Forbidden lovers: She’s the sister of a rival gang leader, or the widow of his former teammate, or the client he’s hired to protect.
The possibilities are endless! These are just a few of the myriad tropes in romance, but you can see how these popular scenarios create instant stakes and conflict for our lovers.
What about the steamy scenes?
Romance is different from erotica. With erotica, readers expect sex. With romance, they expect a relationship. In a romance novel, the emotional intensity of the intimate scenes should be the focus. You can absolutely write explicit sex scenes if you’re so inclined, but it’s not necessary. The bedroom door can remain slightly ajar or wide open.
A happy ending is essential.
No matter the struggles our lovers have had to face, whether those struggles come in the form of misunderstandings or evil villains, there has to be a happily-ever-after ending. A happy ending is satisfying, and it’s what readers expect from romance.
Don’t insult your readers.
I say this last because the romance genre has been sneered at by writers and readers alike, considered by some to be a ‘less-than’ genre. Yet, statistics say otherwise. The romance industry is laughing all the way to the bank, and this group of readers is voracious. As a writer, you have an opportunity, but don’t insult your readership. Honor them by giving them what they expect in a romance novel. Add your own fresh twist. Pay attention to your writing craft. Make sure your work is well edited.
Now, pour yourself a glass of wine, break out the chocolate, and start writing!