There is no sure-fire formula to writing romance, and certainly no formula for making that self-published romance novel successful. However, there are a number of “rules” for romance writing that will improve your odds of creating a high quality, readable bodice-ripper.
1. Know thy audience. With something as intimate as romance, you must know who you wish to reach out to with your novel. Is your reader a young, twentysomething college student or a middle-age woman with kids in college? These two people are completely different and have much different experiences with love, and much different needs as readers. In order to know what story to tell them — and how to tell it — you have to know a little about them. If you’re already a middle-age woman with kids in college, you may be halfway there. If you’re nothing like your target reader, you have some homework to do.
2. Make it real. Characters, that is. No one’s perfect, nor should your characters be. Your protagonist should be likable, but likable doesn’t mean flawless. People — characters — are far more interesting when they’re vulnerable to the same human foibles that we all are. We can relate to people who are like us, who have made the same painful mistakes we have and who, perhaps, find unique solutions to these issues.
3. Bare it all. Romance is an exceedingly intimate genre. You’re writing about moments that are typically kept behind closed doors (and chained up, gagged and spanked in some cases). This is not a time to be shy, and certainly no time to be disingenuous. If you’re set on writing romance, you must be prepared to write in great detail about things that may be deeply personal to you, or at least deeply personal to those you rely upon for your research into the topic. If the idea that your 90-year-old grandma could read your book scares the bejeebers out of you, you’re either in the wrong business or totally on the right track!
4. Less talk, more action. The steamiest love scenes are the most descriptive. We “see” what the characters see, hear what they hear, smell what they smell, taste what they taste, and feel what they feel. Why muddy the waters with a lot of chatter? In love scenes, keep the yapping to a minimum, just as in real life sexual encounters. Save the dialogue for scenes in which you’re developing your characters.
5. Nail the dialogue. When your characters do speak, it is vital to the credibility of your story that their dialogue is believable. A teen romance that’s peppered with flowery, poetic prose won’t gain much traction with your target audience, and teens will certainly never connect with the characters. Unless you’re writing a period novel set in the Victorian Age, keep your dialogue modern. And if if you really do envision a character saying something cheesy, think of how you’d respond to it and let your characters react accordingly: an eye roll, a spontaneous laugh or a slamming door.
Remember, romance is deeply personal. It’s not unusual for first-time romance writers to experience some level of discomfort with the material. But you’ve got to put it all out there, so to speak. The best romance writers adapt their attitudes to the honesty of the material rather than adjust the material to their own comfort level.
Got a great idea for a romance novel? Talk to Outskirts Press about how to get started self-publishing your own steamy romance!