How to Write Romance, Sort Of
I’m touching on this subject a bit early, but since Valentine’s Day is this weekend I figured I should at least mention it. I mean, it was this or poetry, and we got a glimpse at what an amazing poet I am with the snowstorm description….
So we’ll stick with this topic for now.
Romance is a pretty big genre seeing as it is repeatedly one of the top-selling genres year after year. The genre regularly brings in over a billion dollars each year whereas all the other genres are lucky to reach half that high in a given year according to Amazon.
Though a lot of people will never admit to it, they love romance. So buckle up, because I’m doing quite a bit of research and this is going to be a long one!
What Do I Write?
This brings us to the point of this, which is I don’t write romance specifically. I do have a couple of romance projects that are still very much in the works. Whenever I share a romance piece with my writers' group, it often gets shredded for being “too cheesy for even Hallmark.”
So, that’s encouraging.
The Traveler Series will be a Young Adult (YA) sci-fi/fantasy series. I look at it as a scientific approach to fantasy. There will be magic, spaceships, dragons, and aliens along the way. I’ve been writing about a lot of the mythical fantasy elements in some of my Writing Wednesday prompts.
This isn’t to say I don’t write romance at all though. I’ve written a few romantic short stories here for Writing Wednesdays, and my series will, of course, have some romantic elements at times. However, it will never really be the focus of the story.
Ultimately, I have very little idea of what I am doing when writing romance.
What Is Romance?
Romance is all about feelings, which is a bit of a foreign concept for a lot of people. We live in an age where feelings are more often bottled up than they are expressed. Due to this focus on what is for many people an unspeakable topic, romance tends to get a bad reputation.
Romance is: flowery, fluffy, gooey, sappy, cheesy, cutesy, and if we start going toward the erotica side of the romance spectrum, things get steamy.
Due to the point of the story being feelings, the actual story itself probably won’t involve much action in the sense of action movies. There very well may be some “action” in the bedroom. That aside, romances tend to follow relatively normal day to day lives in comparison. The characters likely won’t be getting into any car chases or gunfights.
Instead, the excitement for the story comes from the relationship and the feelings it creates within the main character. It is fascinating and fun to watch as a character comes to grips with the emotions and feelings they have for another character or characters.
Common Tropes of Romance
As with any genre, there are several tropes that are common within romance. Let’s talk about some of them. This won’t be all of them, just the ones I find the most interesting or entertaining.
One of the big tropes for romance is the love triangle. While a bit clichéd, it is easy to see why it keeps readers engaged. A love triangle creates drama by introducing two love interests for the main character. Which person will the main character ultimately end up with? The triangle creates a back and forth that keeps readers on the edge of their seat until the finale of the story when a decision is finally made.
Admittedly, it is often overused, but doesn’t usually stop people from reading the story, even if the triangle ends in a really creepy way, such as: “Oh, turns out I wasn’t in love with you, it was your unborn daughter that I was in love with.” Gah, that’s weird Twilight! It’s so wrong, pretty much every writing class I’ve taken has used the Twilight series for examples of how not to do something. Yet as much crap as those books, get they still sold incredibly well and even inspired an equally trashed-on fanfiction that became its own bestselling series. In case you didn’t know, I’m talking about Fifty Shades of Grey which started out as a Twilight fanfic.
Basically, if there is one thing to take away from this, it’s that romance and sex sell.
I’ve even seen a love square, which is a really fascinating twist where two people are in love with each other but don’t realize it due to each having a secret identity and neither knowing the identity of the other person. Think superheroes with secret identities that no one else knows. It’s fun and aggravating all at once because the pair like each other but don’t realize it because they’re in love with each other. Do you see how that’s interesting and confusing?
Friends to Lovers
This one comes up a lot. Two people have been friends for years and then something happens to make, at least one of them, see their friend in a new light. Sometimes the inciting incident of this realization is something minor, like one of the friends suddenly just wakes up and finally acknowledges how much they care about their friend. Cue the chapters long debate on whether or not they should do anything and risk losing their friend altogether.
This particular trope will often go hand in with the love triangles. More often than not the inciting incident is the friend meets someone else and falls madly in love which causes the main character to become jealous. This, in turn, forces the main character to realize just how much they cared about their friend.
This trope is easily relatable for a lot of people. It’s not uncommon for people to be friends before starting a relationship. Often, when this happens, people will worry about losing their friendship if they admit to their feelings, so they bottle them up and never say anything because suffering in silence is better than losing the friendship completely. Again, there’s proof people can be really bad about confronting their feelings. Eventually, the truth comes out, it always does, and the two friends have to face one another. Often times, at least when you look at romance stories, both friends felt the same way and were both too afraid to say anything.
There are all kinds of ways people can be forced together, and in romance, forced closeness often leads to a pretty strong bond. The forced closeness can come from being stuck in a room, sitting next to each other on a trip, or in a more broad sense of being stuck on a project together. These scenarios force characters who may have never spoken to each other to actually interact. From there, they often realize the other person is pretty interesting.
This trope is especially common in fan fiction, such as: “And there was only one bed!” In other words, characters are forced to share a room, whether it’s in a dorm or hotel, and there’s only one bed. Eventually, they end up sharing the bed. It starts out innocently but usually doesn’t end that way.
In realistic circumstances, this takes some time and doesn’t just happen overnight. However, that isn’t to say it can’t realistically be done in one night. It would just have to be a long night.
These scenarios are often pretty fun and entertaining. There is a level of humor in the two people being stuck together, especially in the “one bed” scenario. The characters end up trying really hard not to share the bed because “oh my god they’re so dreamy, how can I possibly sleep next to them?” but then they share the bed anyways and you can imagine what happens from there.
This trope also usually includes the friends to lovers trope because two friends just can’t share a bed and not fall in love. At least, according to fan fiction.
I’ve seen this one a couple of times in movies, and again, all the time in fan fiction, the two characters end up faking a relationship. This is often done to help one of them out with their family or friends who just don’t understand why the person isn’t in a relationship yet. It can also occur if they are trying to get one of them a green card like in the 2009 movie The Proposal.
This trope can even play into the stuck together trope since the pair are “stuck” in their “relationship”. The friends to lovers trope usually shows up too because in many cases, it is friends who work together to create the relationship in the first place.
Over the course of the story, as the pair pretends to be in a relationship, they learn more about one another and suddenly the fake feelings they’ve been showcasing for everyone become very real.
This trope often adds quite a bit of humor as the pair continually find themselves in awkward situations. After all, the relationship isn’t real, so neither is used to doing certain things expected of couples, such as kissing or sharing a bed. Then, as things develop, they end up trying to mask the growing feelings they have for each other because it's wrong of them to take advantage of their friend in this situation.
The first example that comes to mind for this trope is the story of Romeo and Juliet, even though it isn’t really a romance story due to one simple rule I’ll cover in the next section. So, tossing that story aside, this trope can be great because it easily leads to drama. The characters usually have to hide their relationship from some group of people, whether it's friends, family, or colleagues.
This creates a lot of drama and tension on top of the stuff already there from a new romance. The pair are constantly having to hide things from someone, which can keep things very interesting for a while.
Inevitably, as I said earlier, the truth comes out. Sometimes the consequences aren’t a big deal, and the reason the romance was forbidden is looked over. Other times, the obstacle blocking the relationship can’t be ignored by those around the couple, and so the couple has to leave that group and they end up better for it.
Enemies to Lovers
This trope is similar to forbidden love, and can even mingle with that trope. However, it is distinctly different. In this one, the love between the two characters isn’t forbidden, it’s just flat out unwanted by the two characters at the start of the story.
For whatever reason, the two characters don’t like each other. Maybe their relationship got off on the wrong foot or there was some misunderstanding. Whatever the reason for the dislike, the two are often found at each other’s throats and bicker constantly. Often times, this is caused by one of them making an innocent mistake early on and putting themselves in the bad graces of the other. Over time, usually through the use of the stuck together trope, the two begin to understand one another and a relationship soon develops.
This trope adds drama through the characters’ dislike for one another. Readers know the two characters are meant to be, but the characters refuse to admit to their feelings.
In some instances, one of the pair may continue to deny their feelings toward the other, even to their face. However, their actions often show otherwise. This version is pretty prominent in anime. “No, I don’t like you.” As they shove a bouquet into the other person’s arms. This version of the trope can add both drama and comedy as the story moves along but is often unrealistic and if done incorrectly, can ruin the relationship for readers. Eventually, the grumpy one has to admit their feelings and stop being so grumpy.
Some Rules for Writing Romance
There are a few steadfast rules when it comes to writing romance stories. If a writer doesn’t follow these rules, they are likely to upset their readers, even if the readers aren’t aware of these rules.
For starters, there has to be drama. The story wouldn’t be entertaining or much of a story if things just worked out right away. The story doesn’t have to be as dramatic as soap operas, but there needs to be some conflict or else the story would be over all too soon.
Rule number two: Despite the need for drama, romances have to have happy endings. Readers are very likely to not accept a romance story without a happy ending. This is also why Romeo and Juliet is not a romance. It is a tragedy, plain and simple.
This next one isn’t an official rule, though I feel it should be. If you are uncertain of whether or not your character’s relationship is well written, consider the Kiss Rule, which is something I saw online once and I can’t remember where.
Basically, if the only way you can show two characters are in love is by having them kiss, then you haven’t written their romance right. I recommend following this above all other romance rules. After all, the relationship is the heart of a romance story, and if the relationship isn’t good, can the story be?
Don’t Be Afraid to Try
Writing in a different genre can be intimidating for any author, regardless of skill level. Writers get used to what they know and branching out can be tough. Each genre has its own set of tropes, rules, and expected voices. If a writer doesn’t meet enough of them, then readers won’t like the story.
I’m a firm believer in having good characters. Not like good as in good versus evil, just well-rounded and enjoyable characters. If you have characters people can relate to and root for, then readers will be more forgiving.
Having enjoyable characters is half the battle. Next, they need an engaging and entertaining story.
With my very limited experience with writing romance, I think the key to success is don’t overthink it or try too hard. It will show. Maybe the best way to do it is to just write it like you would anything else. Treat the characters as you would any others and let them develop their relationships naturally. If you try to force two characters together who wouldn’t mesh well in real life, you’ll lose your readers.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to write in a new genre. Every genre has its own plusses and minuses, making them all unique and fun to try out. When you are trying out a new genre for the first time, you don’t have to write the next bestseller. Just write something you enjoy and learn about the genre.
I’m sure I’ll come back to this topic later, hopefully with more advice to give that I’ve gained from experience but until then, just have fun experimenting with something new.