Whether you dream of writing an epic period piece rivalling Gone With the Wind, an old school Harlequin-style tome or a contemporary romance novel like Valentine to Faith, it’s essential to understand the key elements for developing a good romance story. It requires more than just girl-meets-boy, obstacles-abound and then on to a happy ending for a romance book to take readers on the journey they seek with this genre.
Romance books are aspirational, escapist, and most of all, hopeful. It’s important to understand these components and include the following five elements when writing a romantic story. These elements are critical in every sub-genre, from fantasy romance and magical realism to historical romance and young adult novels.
1. A Sympathetic Heroine
Romance novels are typically told through a female’s perspective, making the heroine the center of the story and its most important character. She should be strong, vulnerable, and clever—and someone readers will like and/or relate to in some way. Our heroine will most likely be beautiful, but in a realistic rather than supermodel style. While she will face obstacles during her romantic journey, she will overcome them—often with the help of her hero—without becoming weak or hard. As we as humans evolve, our romantic heroines have as well. They’ve become more resilient, courageous, and are just as strong as their hero, if not stronger! They may start out differently, but by the time they reach their arc, they’re usually a force to be reckoned with.
2. A Strong, Charismatic Hero
The hero must be so strong, charismatic and irresistible that both your heroine and readers fall head over heels with them. They’re typically good-looking, smart and enchanting, with enough vulnerability to let them fall in love with your heroine. The hero will not be some cheating lothario or abuser—we’re not looking for some extreme arc to see him change from a bad guy to a good one, either. Your heroine should be the one whose arc we really experience.
3. Emotional Tension
The heart of every romance story is the emotional tension or conflict that creates obstacles blocking the heroine and hero from each other. This central tension should be interesting, rich and complex. The tension should build throughout the story as the characters interact and fall deeper in love, despite the challenges laid before them. Their journey is what will draw readers in and keep them intrigued through the end of the story.
4. A Believable Central Story
The central story and plot of the story should be believable, even if the subgenre is fantasy, sci-fi or magical realism, like Valentine to Faith. This doesn’t mean the setting needs to be realistic—we’re talking about the emotional journeys of the characters. The development of their romance should be logical, realistic and compelling, whether it’s in outer space, on a train in the 1800s or between two superheroes.
5. Happily Ever After
The most common and important element of a romance novel is a happy ending. Living happily-ever-after is part of the promise of romance books. Studies show that romance readers seek hope, escapism and the belief that obstacles can be overcome when reading the genre. Breaking the promise of happiness to your reader will not go over well. Everyone from steampunk to contemporary romance novel readers want to believe that fences can be mended, good can win over bad and that love endures.