“She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.” -J.D. Salinger, A Girl I Knew
Romance is at the top of the fiction genre charts, so if you’re thinking about turning your hand to romance fiction, you’re not alone. The rise of self-publishing and the rise of the Kindle (no one can tell what racy book you’re reading on the train) have helped elevate romance to the success it has today.
Romance, while it has a straightforward formula, can be harder to write than you think. Especially when writing short stories, it can be tough to “show, not tell” in such a small space. Here are a few of our suggestions for writing romance fiction.
1. Follow the formula
Romances do follow a formula, and it is important to stick to that formula. There is plenty of room to play, invent, and create within that formula, but stick to the rules.
- Relatable Characters: Your main character must have a hero that she loves and a heroine that she sympathises with. Your main character should also be one that your audience will respect. This doesn’t mean she has to be forceful or brash; she can have a quiet, inner strength. It also means that your characters can’t be perfect because let’s face it, none of us actually are.
- A Believable Conflict: There needs to be something that separates the lovers, something that is significant enough to warrant the story being told in the first place. In other words, create the tension. It can’t be a simple misunderstanding that could be resolved with a quick phone call. If it is and your characters can’t get through it, then you probably will have an issue with point number 1, relatable characters.
- A Happily-Ever-After (or the promise of one): The couple doesn’t need to vow undying love, but you do need to create a sense of positive resolution. Your reader is rooting for true love, so it’s important to reward them for getting to the end of the story. That said, the story shouldn’t wait until the ending for the romance to start. The more you can create the beautiful romance tug that keeps your reader turning over the pages, the better.
That’s it! There may be additional parameters to follow if you are writing in a particular sub-genre, but for the romance fiction genre, that will get you started.
2. Avoid Cliché Tropes
But wait! It’s important to note that following a formula doesn’t mean you have to follow a traditional storyline. There are some clichés to avoid too. For example, in Young Adult, there’s the Cinderella trope: a plain girl who transforms into a great beauty overnight, winning the attention of the hero. Other tropes are:
- The evil “other” woman: former mistress, ex-wife, jealous colleague, etc.
- The evil or meddling relatives: manipulative mothers/step-mothers, stipulations in a will intended to match the hero and heroine from beyond the grave, etc.
- Naïve virginal heroine: who is the only one who can tame the wild playboy
- The Country Mouse: A city woman meets a country boy and wins his love by working on his ranch
The problem with romance plot tropes is they are not always believable. They indulge in wish fulfilment and fantasy that might repeat unimaginative or even damaging stereotypes (e.g. the notion a woman must change everything about herself to attract a self-centred, oblivious prince charming).
It’s not to say that writing a story with these themes can’t be successful. However, if you want to write interesting and original love stories, familiarise yourself with the most common romance tropes and think of ways to subvert your readers’ expectations.
3. Read Romance
Which gets us to our third point: familiarise yourself with the genre by reading it. You’ll learn a lot about what works, what doesn’t, and you’ll start to see the familiar patterns or clichés that you want to avoid.
That’s all for now! If you have some short romance fiction that you want to share with us, then head over to our submissions page.