Romance novels are among the most popular types of fiction, and it’s not hard to see why. Who doesn’t love a love story? There’s something reliable about a good romance novel.
Since romance novels tend to be marketed toward women, and the plots skew emotional rather than action-oriented, there is still stigma around the genre. But there shouldn’t be!
A good romance is super comforting. Even when life is complicated, you know that the characters in a romance novel are going to overcome their difficulties and end up together. It’s that reliable, solid structure that keeps readers coming back again and again.
This is also what makes romance novels so lucrative. Romance is currently the most profitable genre in fiction, leading the industry at a whopping 1.4 billion dollars in revenue, according to Bookstr.com.
In this article, we’re going to go over how to get started writing romance novels:
By the end, you’ll be ready to get started writing whatever romance novel your heart desires!
Meet-Cute: Picking an Idea
The first step in writing any story is coming up with an idea. Think about the things you love to see in romance. Are you into love at first sight, or do you prefer enemies-to-lovers? Slow burn, or instant attraction? What are the tags you reach for when you’re looking for fanfiction?
Romances are the perfect space to explore fantasies, and working with your own is a great place to start. It’s true of all genres that you should write something you’re passionate about. Readers can tell if the author’s excited!
Review some of your favorite romance media and do some brainstorming to generate your own ideas. If you’re still having a little trouble, don’t worry! Whether you need a novel idea or romance short story ideas, we’ve got prompts to cover all your romance prompt needs.
Grab your prompt, your favorite handful of tropes, or whatever else you’ve thought up. It’s time to talk about subgenre!
First Date: Pick a Subgenre
When it comes to fiction, everything’s going to have a subgenre. For example, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is middle-grade contemporary coming-of-age, but it’s also action-adventure, fantasy, and contains romantic plotlines as well. Romance is no exception to subgenres.
Subgenre is especially important to identify in romance because romance readers will tend to read within their subgenre. Some people stick exclusively to historical fiction romance, while others want only contemporary work. Maybe some readers want exclusively LGBTQ+ romances, and others want heterosexual ones.
Figuring out what subgenre you want to write is going to be crucial to forming your readership. You don’t have to worry about it too much right now—write what you want!—but familiarize yourself with what subgenres are out there and be mindful of where your book falls into those categories.
If you’re looking to turn a quick profit, you’ll want to keep a close eye on trends in subgenres. For example, in the wake of Twilight’s publication, there was a huge boom in paranormal YA romance. Trend track is more applicable for authors who write-to-market, but it’s good for every writer to keep their genre’s climate and trends in mind.
Now that you’ve got an idea and you’ve identified your story’s subgenre, let’s start putting this novel together!
Honeymoon Phase: Brainstorming and Outlining
The brainstorming and outlining process for writing a romance novel is fundamentally the same as writing any other fiction novel. For a step-by-step on how to get your novel written, as well as a free novel template and tips and tricks on how to avoid burnout, check out this article!
For romance specifically, though, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your plot. Namely, your subgenre is going to be carrying a lot of the weight when it comes to what happens in your story.
Think about it: essentially every romance book follows the same arc. Two people meet, they fall in love, something prevents them from getting together, and then they overcome it to be with each other. That’s the feel-good formula that romance readers love, and it’s essential to a romance story.
This means that your variety mostly comes from your subgenre. What makes your story unique? What’s your fresh take on this classic, timeless arc? Maybe you’re writing a love story between two pirates on the open seas in the late 1800’s. Maybe your romance follows two cowboys on the American frontier. A slow-burn enemies-to-lovers historical fiction will be radically different from a love-at-first-sight contemporary romance.
Read a variety of other books published recently in your subgenre to get a sense of how readers expect these plot points to go. Obviously you don’t want to copy or plagiarize someone else’s work, but because romance novels rely heavily on following reader expectations, it’s good to have in mind what audiences are looking for when they look for your subgenre so you can take that into account while you’re plotting out your novel.
A Detour: Sex Scenes or No?
Romance authors often puzzle over whether they should include sex scenes in their work. There’s no right or wrong answer to this. Plenty of romance books have sex scenes, and plenty don’t, and it’s really up to the author to decide. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re on the fence about writing past that tasteful fade-to-black.
- Who’s your target audience? If you’re writing for teenagers or children, you’re obviously not going to include graphic sexual content. YA books might still contain sexual themes, but will often skim over the more graphic stuff with a fade-to-black or vague language, and MG and children’s books won’t include it at all. Even within adult romance, there are certain subgenres that won’t touch sex scenes—think Beverly Lewis with her Amish romance novels.
- Are you writing erotica or romance? Erotica is similar to romance, but instead of focusing on the romantic relationship between two (or more) people, it focuses on the sexual relationship. In erotica, the sex scenes are the point, so you’ll want to include lots of them.
- Do you want to write them? At the end of the day, you don’t have to include them if you don’t want to. Including sex scenes out of obligation will probably come off as forced, and there’s no need to if you’d rather skip ‘em!
The Long Haul: Drafting
It’s time to commit and turn this outline into a novel! Go ahead and use whatever drafting method is best for you. If you’re new to novel writing, check out the tips and tricks in the step-by-step novel-writing article linked above.
The formula for a romance novel, as we’ve discussed, is super important, so let’s talk about the main beats you’ll want to hit as you write your book. The specific details within each of these beats are going to vary based on your subgenre. A meet-cute in an enemies-to-lovers historical fiction like Pride and Prejudice is going to be a little hostile and aggressive, while a meet-cute in a contemporary instant love might be sweeter and more dramatic.
Regardless, your readers will be expecting a romance novel to follow a general structure, and we’ve outlined the basic formula for most romance novels here.
- Ordinary Life: your story should start with a picture of your character’s ordinary life. In a rom-com, this would be our intro with a businesswoman working at her CEO position in a glamorous New York office. We don’t need to dwell long here, but we should get an idea of who our main character is and what they want. What’s missing from your character’s life, and how is their love interest going to fulfill that?
- Meet Cute: this is where we meet the love interest! How they meet is totally up to you, and the possibilities are endless. But this is the point where the main character’s life is changed forever, now that they’ve met their love interest. In our rom-com example, this is where the CEO has to move back to her rural hometown and runs into an old crush from high school. This is where the love story begins!
- Trials and Tribulations: It’s no fun if there’s no conflict—what’s keeping these lovebirds from being together? The bulk of your romance novel should be your characters struggling with these conflicts. Our CEO might be struggling internally with whether she wants to go back to her glamorous life in NYC. There should also be a solid external conflict pushing on the characters. In Pride and Prejudice, for example, Elizabeth’s repulsion to Darcy acts as her internal conflict, while the societal pressure to marry and marry wealthy is external pressure.
- Darkest Hour: this is where your external pressures and internal conflicts come to a head and all hope seems lost for our romantic leads. Our CEO might move back to NYC despite everything she’s been through with her old flame. In Pride and Prejudice, this is where Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s proposal because her suspicions of his poor characters have been confirmed by Mr. Whickham.
- Climax: They get together! They almost fell apart, but they managed to defeat whatever obstacles were in their way once and for all. Maybe our CEO realizes her life isn’t complete without the guy she fell in love with and moves back to her hometown to be with her lover. In Pride and Prejudice, this is where Elizabeth gets the letter from Darcy and realizes he’s been in the right all along, and they confess their love.
- Resolution: We got a snapshot of our characters at the beginning of the story to see where they started, and now we need one of how they’ve ended up. Show your reader how life is better now that they’re together, and give them a taste of the happily-ever-after you’ve created! This is Elizabeth and Darcy at Pemberly. It’s the CEO opening the bakery she’s always wanted in her hometown. This is also where you’ll set up a sequel if you’re writing a series.
And that’s all there is to it!
You’ve written yourself a romance novel—congrats! These steps and guidelines will help you out no matter which subgenre you’re working in, so come back and check them out next time you’re working on a romance novel.
Do you have tips for writing a romance novel? Share them below!