Why Romance?

It’s NaNoWriMo again, and you know what that means — time to start writing. Learn how to write a romance in ten easy steps from one who ought to know (better).

You Can Write Romance

So you saw the library was doing classes on writing a book in a month and decided to give it a shot. Of course, you’re sure you could write the next great American novel, but being brilliant in print is time consuming.

Better to start with something easy.

A mystery would have been good. You like mysteries.
Hard to believe you couldn’t come up with a plot.

Writing a romance, though, how difficult could it be?

You’ve even read romance.
In high school.
Before you discovered real fiction.

Simple, straightforward, predictable. Yeah, writing romance should be a cinch.

Besides that Nora Robertson woman makes millions, and you’d like to quit your job as soon as possible.

Well, sweetheart, warm up your computer because You Can Write Romance!

Seriously? Why romance?

“In Defense of Romance: Proving the Stereotypes Wrong” — The Yale Herald

“Why Smart Women Read Romance” — Amy Browning…

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Step #9: Finding Your Nom de Plume

I suggest you take a pen name.

Trust me. You’re going to need one if you’ve followed any advice above where it says “Seriously?” on these posts.

I favor the strategy of pairing your favorite color with the the name of the street where you lived as a child.

That’s what I always do.

Yours in romance, 

Scarlet Hickory

Step #8: Spelling and Grammar? That’s What Editors Are For

So lately a lot of “gift suggestions for the author in your life” have been popping up on your Facebook page, and you’ve noticed many of them have to do with grammar.

A t-shirt that reads, “Let’s eat Grandma. Let’s eat, Grandma. Commas save lives.”

Another: “I like barbecuing my family and my dog. Use commas. They save lives.”

Or “Irony is when someone writes ‘Your an idiot.’” (And frankly, you’re not sure what’s so funny about that one.)

Now you’re wondering, “Do I have to be a grammar Nazi to write a romance?”

Of course not, silly! Editors — especially those at the really big publishing houses — love to receive manuscripts with lots of little spelling and grammatical errors. It makes them feel needed.

So don’t worry your creative little head for single second. Just leave that boring stuff alone. Your editor will be happy to take care of it for you.

Seriously? Spelling and Grammar Are NOT What Editors Are For.

If you can’t spell or use proper grammar, your stories aren’t likely to find an editor.

Here’s a hint: Start with spell-check.

Here’s another: You can almost always find the answer to your grammar questions on Grammar Girl.

Once you understand the basics, take editing a little deeper by checking out Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown. (As you see it’s on my shelf in the above photo.)



Step #7: There’s No Such Thing as Too Many Wonderful, Fabulous, Beautiful Adjectives: Descriptive Writing Explained

To immerse readers into your book’s world, you have to describe it. And to do that you need adjectives — lots of them!

How else will those readers to see the fluffiness of those white clouds against the pink sky? How will they feel the velvety soft smoothness of your heroine’s soft, velvety, smooth cheek beneath your hero’s fingers? How will they hear the deep timbre of the hero’s voice, rough, and well, deep with desire?

It’s up to you, dear writers, to provide that magical experience by weaving plenty of description into your story.

Don’t say the sky is blue when you can call it “deep, azure.” And the clothing your heroine “accidentally” kept after the hero left it at her house? That’s not merely a shirt. It’s an “ancient, well-worn, plaid flannel.” The cookies she made him? They were “soft and chewy, filled with delectable, melted chocolate” or perhaps “salty, burnt, and astonishingly horrible.” (Either way, you know he ate them.)

Remember, if a few adjectives can make a story good, then lots of them will certainly make it great!

Seriously? There’s such a thing as too many adjectives (even if they’re wonderful, fabulous, and beautiful).

The trick to description is to use just enough words without using too many. Exactly the right word is always better than ten words that are almost right. As Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” So find the right word.

Specificity matters. Gene C. Strathy explains why.

How do you know what to describe and what to leave to the imagination? Here’s some help from Denise Robbins.

And  DigiDave paid $40,000 in tuition to get these tips from Bruce Porter. Lucky for us, he’s sharing them for free.

Want some practice? Leave a comment describing my shawl (featured in the picture above).

Step #6: Let’s Talk About Sex, a Guest Post by Erotic Romance Author Lulu Fandango

So you’ve reached the part of your romance novel when things are supposed to get sexy. You might think a sacrifice to Dionysus in the form of a case of pinot noir is required. After all you’re about to summon the courage to invoke the great manroot.

But before any pink parts make an appearance, take a moment to consider what level of heat you want to bring to the party.

If you’re writing an inspirational Amish vampire romance, for example, you may choose to have nice closed door love scene, after the couple has sworn to be true to each other for eternity at a lovely after dark commitment ceremony.

For a historical novel set in Victorian England, you might need a couple of chapters just to get your heroine out of her corset and multiple layers of undergarments and onto your hero’s throbbing member.

Or maybe you’re writing a smoking hot motorcycle club new adult story featuring Bone, an angst ridden alpha hero. He requires sex in every single one of his point of view chapters or his penis will explode from an overabundance of testosterone. (Fortunately, your heroine is a nurse who can’t bear to watch Bone succumb to death by stiffy.)

No matter if your book is sweet as salted caramel brownies or hotter than ghost pepper chili, you want plenty of scenes filled with sexual tension. And whether your characters either go off stage to do the nasty or have sex on the front lawn like alley cats in heat, you want to show their feelings and use words that make the reader sit up and take notice.

Manroot and nether yay ya are perfect.

After all, you don’t want to use words that make your characters sound like idiots, gynecologists, proctologists or snarky fifth-graders. True, there are publishers that have words they prefer their authors use for the equipment and cringe-worthy ones they want them to avoid, but hey, if they don’t like your vocabulary, you don’t want to write for them anyway!

Seriously? Let’s talk about sex.

When you write the love scene(s) with your hero and heroine, or hero and hero, or heroine and heroine, or some combination thereof, imagine what happens step by step. Include sensory details related to sight, sound, scent, taste, and touch. Consider each character’s reaction, particularly for the point of view character and how consummating their relationship changes the characters.

A great resource for writing sex scenes is Desmond Morris’ Twelve Steps of Intimacy. These steps are a nice road map to a healthy romantic encounter. Make sure the characters experience the steps in order to build trust and intimacy. Here’s a phenomenal blog post by Terry Odell that explains steps.

Now, go forth and make the magic happen. If you need a photo of your favorite Avenger for inspiration and a glass of wine, no worries. Just take your time and let your characters express their love. If you do decide to shut the door, be sure to close it gently and not slam it shut.

Some books that might help:

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance by Alison Kent

How to Write Hot Sex: Tips from Multi-Published Erotic Romance Authors by Shoshanna Evers and Giselle Renarde

Passionate Ink: A Guide to Writing Erotic Romance by Angela Knight

The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel: From writing the perfect love scene to finding the right publisher–All you need to fulfill your dreams by Christie Craig and Faye Hughes

Naughty Words for Nice Writers: A Sexual and Spanking Thesaurus by Cara Bristol


Step #5: POV? What the Hell Is That?

We’re halfway through NaNoWriMo and by now you’ve probably shared some of your writing with others.

The feedback has been almost unanimously favorable. Your spouse, your mom, even your best friend immediately recognized your natural aptitude for writing. They can’t wait for your next chapter.

Response from your online critique group, however, has you puzzled. It’s not that you put much stock in the group members’ opinions — you haven’t seen any of their names on the bestseller lists, after all! — and their harsh comments merely reflect their jealousy of your talent.

You understand. They’ve been struggling for years. It must be hard to cope with someone like you, a person for whom writing comes almost effortlessly.

Still, it’s strange how each of them seems to harp about the same thing.  POV! POV! POV! You’re beginning to wonder if POV is supposed to mean something to you.

And, come to think of it, several of them mentioned head hopping too, which conjured up a rather unpleasant image of lice hopping from one cranium to another.

Now you’ve come to me, your friend and mentor, Scarlet Hickory, to set you straight.

Well, I’m not going to do it. I will tell you POV stands for Point OView, and “head hopping” refers to jumping from one character’s POV to another character’s.

Some of the best authors do it, so it doesn’t matter in the slightest.

And that’s all I’m going to say on the subject.

Seriously? POV? It matters. 

Lexicon.net gives a brief explanation of types of points of view.

Here’s another overview from The Beginning Writer.

For the record, most romances are written using third person multiple points of view.

Kaye Dacus explains further, also touching on the fact that the two points of view most commonly used are the heroine’s and the hero’s.

And Lynn Rush offers some advice on writing the male POV in this guest post for Chuck Sambuchino’s Writer’s Digest column.



Step #4: Adverbs Are Your Allies

Adverb, as defined by Oxford Dictionaries:
1. a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc. (e.g., gently, quite, then, there.)

I’ll make it easier. Many, though not all, adverbs end with an -ly suffix. Often they describe an action.

Consider the following two passages.

Jake looked into Macy’s eyes.
She looked back.
He took her hand and raised it to his lips.

Now, let’s add a few adverbs.

Jake looked passionately into Macy’s eyes.
She looked shyly back.
He gently took her hand and raised it slowly  to his lips.

Voila! The description goes from sounding like a Dick and Jane reading primer to something a romance fan might want to read.

Adverbs. They’re your allies. Sprinkle them liberally throughout your writing.

Seriously? Adverbs are (not) your allies.

“The Curse of Too Many Adverbs in Novel Writing” by Rachel Shirley

“Writing Tips: Abolish the Adverb” by Melissa Donovan

Subverting Adverbs and Clichés by Chuck Sambuchino via “Writer’s Digest”

“Five Habits to Avoid in Fiction Writing” from Scribendi — Guess what? One bad habit is the use of too many adverbs.

“Use of Adverbs in Fiction Writing” by DarcKnyt via “Deviant Art”

Step #3: Character Building

When building a character, it’s helpful to base her or him on someone you know. After all, you want your book characters to be realistic. How better to accomplish this than constructing them from real people?

Select a person to observe for a few weeks. Follow your subject’s daily routine, carefully watching actions and reactions to each small setback and triumph. Take notes, or perhaps video, to help you remember.

Consider using your subject’s real name. S/he will be flattered to discover their life has been captured for posterity in your words.

When you get to the villain, think of those who have wronged you. The ex-husband who was still married to his second(!) wife, the evil co-worker who calls your boss’s attention to your every error, the neighbor whose dog nearly attacked you as you got out of your car in your driveway. The possibilities are endless.

Feel free to exaggerate their vileness. Or should that be villainy? Either works for me.

For your hero, you might prefer to dream a little.
Gerard Butler in a kilt.
Richard Armitage in a cravat.
Tom Hardy in anything. Or nothing.

Look around. Characters are everywhere!

Seriously? Character building

Jennifer Crusie on character depth and names — In fact, just go to Ms. Crusie’s website and read the whole thing.

How to Write Lovable Heroes — “The Creative Penn”

TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) heroines explained — Anne Marble

How to Create Characters Worth Reading — Jami Gold

Step #2: Get a Plot.

Plotting a romance novel is easy. All you do is throw two characters together, add in conflict, a couple of roadblocks and an overwhelming attraction that blossoms into love. Finish with a happy ending.
Presto! You’ve got yourself a story.

Oh. I see.
You’re not sure where to start.

Well, fear not, dear writer, the Internet’s got your back!

There are tons of plot generators on the web.

PlotGenerator.org came up with this one: “Police officer Kate England loves swordswoman Kimberly Jones, but Laura Williams, her strong, hairy, stunning, smart rival is causing problems for the would-be couple. Kate is also smart, brave and kind too, but Laura brings out a peculiar, wild, tactless streak Kate never knew she possessed, even though Laura is just a lowly housekeeper. Laura and Kimberly share a passion for birdwatching and baking, hobbies that put Kate to sleep. Desperate to keep Kimberly’s love, Kate tries a no-fail cookie recipe with splendid results. Determined not to be shown up, Laura munches her way through dozens of cookies and feeds the rest to the cow. Fortunately for Kate, Kimberly was hidden behind a copse of trees practicing her swordplay and saw Laura’s foul deed. Kimberly and Kate are reunited, decide to marry, and plan a honeymoon in England and Ireland.” 

Great, eh? PG provides all the details, right down to the adjectives. All you need do is fill in the blanks!

Springhole.net allows more room for the writer’s creativity. Here’s what I got: “The lead character tries a love spell. A collaborative project with a fun-loving magician leads to something more. The love interest must suddenly travel to a distant location.” One story? Three stories? It’s up to you!

Chaotic Shiny seems to concentrate on the paranormal. “The adventurous, pessimistic heroine has been involved with the supernatural since she discovered her fey ancestry. After she takes in a frightened stray, she plunges into a treacherous adventure. Can she escape the mysterious, sensual demon who claims he only wants to help?” Who couldn’t run with that story line?

Here’s a Regency romance plot generator: “Sarah Towers, the fourth of ten children of an ambitious lord, lives in Essex.  At 28, she has not lost hope of finding true love.  Her eyes are stormy gray and doe-like.  She is independent yet sometimes pessimistic.  Her greatest joy comes from writing poetry and stories.  While strolling round the grounds of her own home she meets Richard Sheridan, who mistakes her for someone else.  He is a much-decorated sea-captain and has been very depressed of late.  At first he finds her lacking in the social graces and she cannot understand him.  But when she runs away from him, he knows he can’t live without her.  Throw in a pair of wayward puppies and things really get interesting.  Will they realize they are perfect for each other?”  Puppies! It must be true love!

For those who prefer a variety of suggestions, Seventh Sanctum will generate up to ten. Below are two:.
“In this story, a spiritual nuclear engineer has a chance meeting with a network engineer with a peculiar affinity for magic. What starts as detachment becomes love. Yet, how can a surrender tear them apart?”
“In this story, a gentle prostitute is in love with a psychiatrist who inherited a family curse – all thanks to a pleasant surprise. What role will somebody breaking something important play in their relationship?”

Engineers, psychiatrists, and prostitutes! Oh, my!

Cheap Peeks allows you to choose between basic romance, LGBT romance and paranormal romance. They also do mystery, but you gave up on that idea, remember? Here’s a basic romance plot: “The girl’s name is Olivia and she is graceful and insolent. She enjoys crafts. Her occupation is doctor and overall she is scary smart. Her hair is brown and to her shoulders and straight. She is 5’5″ and is thin and fragile looking. She wears sexy dresses and high heels. She meets David in a hospital. He is a Police Officer, geeky and quirky, and he enjoys reading. He appears to be frightened. His hair is honey blonde and very short. He is 6’1″ and has an athletic body. He wears off-the wall, unique clothes that make him stand out in a crowd.”
Note: As a writer, I’m sure you have the passing acquaintance with grammar necessary to correct any mistakes plot generators make.

Last is Generator Land, which creates fantasy romance plots like this one: “A lesbian vampire falls in love with a human. The two need to learn to grow up even though they are scared.”

Seriously? Get a plot.

Patricia Sergeant explains Donna MacMean’s version of the W Plot.

Laura Brown on Word Grrls writes about a variety of plotting methods.

And Lara, of Write, Lara, Write, also reviews several methods, with lots of links including one to a printable worksheet.

Step #1: Pick Your Pleasure.

Before you write a romance, you need to know what kind of romance you want to write.

Here are some possibilities:

Contemporary: Boy meets girl in present time. They may have sex. They may not. Sometimes a girl meets a girl or a boy meets a boy, but not often.

Historical: Girl meets boy sometime in the past. Sex or no sex, it’s up to you. Regencies are a special subgenre of historical romance set during the British Regency. Think Almack’s and Austen and those funny high-waisted dresses.

Erotic: Girl meets boy. Maybe two boys. Maybe more. Perhaps boy meets boy (or boys) or girl meets girl (or several). Much sex ensues, usually with a variety of people.

Inspirational: Boy meets girl. They don’t have sex. If they do, they feel really guilty about it. Amish is a popular category of Inspirational. No sex. Lots of bonnets. Lots of buggies.

Paranormal: A boy or girl human (or vampire or fairy or shape shifter or otherworldly creature) meets a boy or girl vampire (or fairy or shape shifter or otherworldly creature). Sometimes they have sex. Sometimes they try to kill each other.

Romantic Suspense: Girl meets boy. Someone is trying to kill girl or boy or both. There may be dead bodies. There may be sex. There will not be sex with dead bodies. That would not be romance. That would be necrophilia.

Seriously, pick your pleasure.

Romance Writers of America explains romance and its subgenres.

Kaye Dacus goes into more detail.