How to Write Romance: Top Five
By Elizabeth Suggs
Romance stories have stolen the hearts of readers and moviegoers alike.
But if you’re not game to write strictly romance (e.g., The Notebook or Pride and Prejudice), then never fear. Readers love love, but you don’t need a ton of it to satisfy them. Take these popular stories: Harry Potter, The Mummy, and The Name of the Wind. I bet you wouldn’t consider these as romance stories, but where would Ron be without Hermione? Where would Rick O’Connell be without Evie? And where would Kvothe be without Denna? Maybe these stories could have been told without these elements, but the love made them better. It creates passion and reasons for your characters to move forward. And more reasons for your readers to read your stories.
So, how exactly can you weave romance into your story? There are many different ways to go about it, but to keep it simple, let’s focus on the top five ways.
1. Establish Boundaries
I’m a book reviewer, and I cannot tell you how many romance stories I’ve read that border on rape and harassment (and honestly some that DO cross that border) because the author didn’t set clear boundaries. When a character kisses or touches the other character without consent this is NOT romance. This is abuse. This type of action may trigger your readers, which means they’ll stop reading your story, and they’ll tell others not to read your story. Set boundaries. LUW Marketing Chair Rachael Bush wrote a fantastic blog about consent for the romance chapter.
According to Desmond Morris, there are twelve steps to set your boundaries and consent. Here’s a brief overview:
Eye to body
Eye to eye
Hand to hand
Arm to shoulder
Arm to waist
Mouth to mouth
Hand to head
Hand to body
Mouth to body
Hand to genitals
Genitals to genitals
This means that a character first looks at the other character’s body (eye to body), then the two characters lock eyes (eye to eye), and so on. Not every book needs every one of these steps, but every book needs to follow the list in more or less this order.
2. Tension! Tension! Tension!
Romance is all about that tension. We feel the character’s pain, their love. We want to be in that moment, and what better way than to create tension? Place your characters in situations where there’s always a question of “What if?” For instance, “What if they can’t be together?” or “What if that horrible character wins their love?” We want that tension because it keeps the reader engaged and begging for more.
Like horror, we use tension and raw emotion to draw out the reader. In fact, I was part of a 2021 LTUE panel that said romance and horror were “two sides of the same coin.” And it’s true. Both create drama, elicit emotion from the reader, and create stress. Yet, rather than writing to elicit chills, you're writing the heat of the moment. Figure out what sort of heat that means to your story and run with it.
3. Craft Your Setting
Every story needs the perfect backdrop. Cozy love stories are great, especially with the added setting of a warm cottage or a night overlooking the skylights. Your setting can be a way to prepare your readers for what is next to come. By experiencing that warmth of the fire, your readers may expect warmth between the characters. Or maybe your characters meet for the first time at a coffee shop and one character offers to buy the other a cup of coffee. Not only does this show the relaxed nature of the coffee shop, thus giving readers an idea of who the characters are, but also it shows the generosity of the character who offered to buy the drink.
un fact: one study found that individuals holding warm beverages were perceived as more friendly than those holding cold. So, having your character buy a warm beverage, and then hold it for the character could set an even warmer, more pleasant setting.
4. Write Your Ideal Romance
This doesn’t mean you have to have had this sort of romance, though that helps, but it means you should write from the heart. We want to hear about your loves and losses, your reasons for being. Love isn’t just about what could happen; it’s about what will happen. And the best way to describe this is by feeling the story through your writing. Be it erotica or a sweet romance, writing, so long as it comes from your soul, is perfect.
But let’s say you’re really struggling with this. Maybe you’ve never been in love or you’ve never experienced your ideal romance. That’s where movies and books come in. It’s okay to use these as inspiration to better understand what you want and what is best for your story. Doing research is also a great way to see what readers love at that moment, which could ultimately help you sell your story.
5. Use Tropes (Romance Readers Love These!)
I know; I know. This feels like it goes against everything that we’ve been taught as writers. Why would you WILLINGLY write something that dozens of other stories have done? Won’t this bore readers? Not necessarily. Tropes are different from clichés in the sense that cliches are overused tropes. Tropes are devices used in particular genres that readers come to expect. For instance, popular tropes in the romance genre are a HWA (happily ever after) or HWN (happy for now) ending (some romance writers/readers say a romance story can’t end any other way) or how a first kiss is magical and wonderful. Readers WANT that first kiss to be magical and wonderful, but isn’t that something we see in every love story? Sure, but readers don’t care. We WANT this, so we’ll be disappointed if you don’t add it in. Plus, using tropes may help get the creative juices flowing.
Whatever the case, romance is a wonderful tool to add to nearly any story. As humans, we’re attracted to the idea of love (at least most of us are), so it could help give your story the edge that you’ve been searching for.
And once you’ve written your story, why not get an extra pair of eyes on it? Check out the LUW Romance Chapter for romance critiques! Find the LUW Romance meetings here.
She is co-owner of publisher Collective Tales Publishing, owner of Editing Mee, and is the author of several stories, two of which were in a podcast and poetry journal. She is the president of two writing groups, one being part of the LUW. She's a book reviewer and popular bookstagramer. When she's not writing or reading, she's playing games or making cookies.