While people once snickered at the clichéd romance novel, today the genre comprises fully half of mass market book sales. This represents a powerful literary force that is reshaping not only the book market, but the actual novels as well. The genre is now divided into a vast array of subgenres, all with different elements involved to tell the same basic story of love, romance, and a happy ending.
Here are some tips to get you started on your own story:
- Choose your subgenre and market. The romance genre, like most of the book market today, is geared toward those who write with an eye toward the publisher rather than writing a work and then trying to find a publisher for it. Each publisher and imprint has different elements that are required of their books. The requirements may include specific story arcs, specific types of characters (cowboys, wealthy men, virgins, etc.), and the general tone they wish to be present throughout the novel, to name some examples. Many imprints require an overall tone of sensuality to pervade the prose. Some, such as the supernatural or suspense subgenres, require a darker tone. Each imprint also has its own specific word count requirements as well.
- Exposure to other works. Once you have chosen the specific market to target, it helps to read some novels that are similar. This will give you an idea about how they are structured, as well as what concepts may be overdone and clichéd.
- Come up with your own original characters and plot. They should be original, but also must be believable and fit into the subgenre you have chosen. Romance readers generally like a strong hero with a sensitive side, and a smart, spunky heroine who is not desperate to get a man. When coming up with your material, it is important to remember the audience. Romance readers are about 90 percent female. For this reason nearly all novels are told from the perspective of a female heroine, whether in first or third person. Details that female readers are typically interested in, such as clothing styles and home decor, usually figure into these novels regularly.
- Create romantic tension that lasts for much of the novel. You may be wondering how to plot a romance novel. A story in which a man and woman meet, date, and then marry is not much more than a pamphlet. Romance novels are sustained by the sexual tension that is built up as the two lovers are kept apart. This separation might be caused by the lovers themselves, with one or both having reasons not to get involved. Or the cause might be societal, with lovers who are not supposed to get involved due to class differences. It may also be due to family issues, illnesses, or misunderstandings. There is a limitless well of potential reasons. Whatever the reasons, your couple shouldn't commit to each other until near the end of the story.
- Give them a happy ending. These novels invariably end happily, with the new couple together and in love. No matter what the obstacles had been, they are all overcome in the end.
- Peer review if possible. Many writers use writing groups to read each other's work and offer constructive criticism, which can give you insight as to how convincing and well written your work is. If you don't have a local writer's group, there are online forums that can help. Listen to the advice you get and use it to your advantage in order to help craft the best story possible.
Romance novels have expanded in scope since the earliest days of the genre, but there are still formulas you must follow in order to get the book picked up by a publisher. You can check out these writing tips to help you get started. Other formula elements depend on the subgenre.