How to Write a Romance Novel [In 12 Steps]

By Steph Fraser | Posted on May 12th, 2019

On the surface, romance can seem like an easy genre to write in. However, I can assure you that knowing how to write a romance novel takes skill and practice.

Writing a romance novel takes just as much time, effort, and planning as any other piece of fiction. Following these steps will make the process easier for you:

  1. Choose your subgenre
  2. Create the setting
  3. Know the romance recipe
  4. Utilize plot devices
  5. Know your readers
  6. Present your heroine
  7. Present the love interest
  8. Identify the driving force
  9. Carefully consider the intimate scenes
  10. Craft your secondary characters
  11. Find some tools
  12. Write the happy ending

While it may not require the extensive research and worldbuilding that a fantasy novel does, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If you’re going to write a successful romance you really do need to learn how to write a novel well.

Learning How to Write a Romance Novel is Always a Good Idea

Romance novels will always hold a special place in the hearts of everyone. Even those who are too “tough” or “hardcore” to admit it, will always have a soft spot for a good romance.

This is due to our inherent desire for love and companionship. Everyone craves it – needs it, even. We have many connections throughout our lifetime – friends, colleagues, family – but our partners become the most important.

It’s this love of love that has people gobbling up romance like there’s no tomorrow. Be it a novel that is entirely romance, or a romantic subplot in a different genre, readers love it when there’s love. It adds an element of relatability that lets them connect to the characters.

For this reason, it is smart to know how to write a romance novel. Whether you want to be known as a career romance novelist or not, writing romance is a crucial skill.

Romance is becoming more and more popular, with many romance novels being turned into movies and TV series.

While there is much to be gained from taking formal classes, there are ways you can learn how to write a romance novel on your own. This includes research, experience, and practice.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be head over heels in love at the very moment. Your love life is your business – which is why I have outlined all the essential elements of writing a romance novel. Perfecting the craft will take time, but you can use these strategies to get started.

Romance Novel Template

The steps outlined here will no doubt help you write your romance novel. If you want to make the process even easier, I suggest using a template as well. Squibler has one that works well with these steps:

romance novel template

The template will guide you through each step of the process and make sure you don’t miss anything that a good romance needs.

1. How to Write a Romance Novel: Choose Your Subgenre

Romance is versatile. If you want to write a straight romance, that’s fine! There is a huge market for this.

There are many readers who live for a good, dramatic love story that focuses on love.

But, fans of other genres want some romance too. This is where you can consider writing in a subgenre of romance. Romantic plot lines can be weaved into almost any other type of story, but the most popular romance subgenres are:

  1. Historical
  2. Fantasy
  3. Contemporary
  4. Supernatural or paranormal

If you’ve been thinking that your idea isn’t appropriate for a romance, you’re probably wrong. Even if fantasy or thriller or the supernatural is where your heart is, you can always incorporate romance.

The amount of emphasis you put on the romance is up to you. It can be subtle or it can be a focal point throughout the plot. In fact, it is advisable that you add at least a small amount of romantic tension to any novel.

Even if it is a very small part of the story, it is something that helps the characters become more believable. Because everyone needs love in their own life, readers will relate to the character’s yearning for it as well.

If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to read some romance before attempting to put it into your own novel in any significant way. Even if you are a dedicated horror fan, pick up a few romance novels. If you don’t love reading them – consider it research.

This guide is not specific to any one subgenre or type of romance. It is here to teach you the important elements of learning how to write a romance novel. What you learn here can be applied to a romance of any kind.

2. Create the Setting to Write a Romance Novel

No one who is learning how to write a novel should neglect to create a good setting. However, in a character-driven romance, it is especially important.

The setting creates the atmosphere and the atmosphere can hold a lot of weight in what goes on.

Contemporary

A contemporary romance, for example, often takes place in a simple and modern location. This can include an idyllic small town or a university campus.

These settings are perfect for your main characters to spend a lot of time together and have lots of drama ensue. These locations are also usually small enough where larger scale drama is realistic – such as flying rumors and fast-traveling news.

All of this makes for a perfect contemporary romance setting. An exotic vacation town with lots of tourists or a quiet countryside would not be as effective.

Historical

Historical romance can be set anywhere, as long as you have chosen a specific time-period in history. Historical romances can be beautiful, exciting trips back in time. But, they are only successful when you do the proper research on your setting.

You need to know what everything was like in your chosen place at your chosen time. Consider these questions when creating your historical setting:

  1. Who was the president that year?
  2. What was the economy like?
  3. What was the social hierarchy? Ie – were women and people of color being treated as equals? What was the balance of the poor/middle class/rich?
  4. What was the most common mode of transportation?
  5. How far along was technology at that point?

These are just a few things to get you started. You will need a lot of information before your historical romance will be accurate. But, all this research will be worth it when you have created the perfect setting for the story you want to tell.

Paranormal

Lastly, take paranormal romance as another example. This is a story that could take place in that lonely country town where neighbors are few and far away.

Perhaps the main setting is even a haunted house or street. This creates an effective, gloomy atmosphere for a spooky, ghostly love story with a darker feel.

Creating Good Setting

Of course, you can set your story wherever you want, there aren’t rules. But, guidelines and common suggestions are in place for a reason – they work.

What matters most about your setting is that it makes sense and captivates your readers. Your goal as a writer of any type of fiction is to pull your readers in and transport them into your world. Once you have chosen the specific location of your story, keep these elements of a good setting in mind:

  • Balance description with action. Don’t write endless paragraphs that only describe.
  • Use the location within the conflict. Perhaps a physical obstacle or an unreasonable local law.
  • Use all the senses when describing your setting.
  • Make your setting real by using names. Street names, building names, even local nicknames given to landmarks such as a forest or park.
  • Be specific about the time of year your story is happening, and even the time of day. This helps the reader visualize what’s going on. It also helps certain scenes make more sense – like something that would only ever happen at night.
  • Even if they are not central to the plot, talk about the social and political environment. These things impact everyone’s lives and your characters are no exception.
  • Use several different elements to set the mood and atmosphere. Things like temperature, weather, lighting, and the emotional atmosphere will all contribute to how everyone is feeling.

3. Create the Recipe

Many cooks and chefs spend years practicing and perfecting their signature recipes. Why? Because when you have that tried and true recipe that everyone loves, the meal will always be a success no matter how many times you make it.

The same can be said for romance. While any novel follows some sort of story structure, most successful romance novels have six key ingredients. These ingredients are included because they are proven effective.  Even when repeated throughout different stories, audiences love it.

The six basic ingredients:

  1. Boy and girl meet.
  2. Boy and girl are attracted to each other.
  3. Boy and girl begin their romance.
  4. Boy and girl separate.
  5. Boy and girl become reunited.
  6. Boy and girl live happily ever after.

Of course, these elements can go in any direction. This is the absolute bare bones of your romance. But, it’s a structure that works.

This recipe can be tinkered with, added to, and expanded. If your story is unique and original, it won’t feel like a cop-out just because you stick to the basic romance formula. Why mess with a proven, age-old method?

4. A Plot Device is Essential to Knowing How to Write a Romance Novel

A plot device or “trope” is a specific person, object, or situation that is used to advance the plot in the way the writer wants. It is a means to an end – the writer knows what result they want so they figure out a way to get there.

There are many plot devices within fiction that are common. Earlier I talked about certain settings working for certain types of romance – plot devices are no different. There are some plot devices that just work to drive a romance forward.

Just because a plot device is common doesn’t mean it’s bad. It is up to the writer to make their use of a plot device original and unique.

Some Common Romance Tropes:

TropeDescription
Friends > LoversWhen two people take their close friendship to another level. Many characters will hesitate, not wanting to risk the friendship.
Enemies > LoversPerhaps they grew up hating each other, or had a falling out. This creates plenty of conflict leading up to their decision to forgive and be together.
The DisguiseOne or both of the lovers pretends to be something they're not in order to impress the other. They fall in love while under the ruse and must continue the lie.
Forbidden LoveFor whatever reason, the lovers are not allowed to be together. They are kept apart by a third party, such as government or family.
The PlayboyOne of the lovers (can be male or female) has a reputation for "playing the field" and breaking hearts. Until they fall in love with someone and it becomes real.
Damsel in DistressOne of the lovers (can be male or female) is in a perilous situation and the other comes to their rescue.

There are many more but these are some of the most popular. You can probably think of at least one book or movie right away that matches each of these tropes. Take these stories and ask yourself – did you thoroughly enjoy it or did it feel overdone and cliche?

You might have a mix of answers. This is because it is easy to take these tropes and be lazy. This creates a tired story that won’t stand out.

On the other hand, there are many writers that make these effective devices work for their story in a fresh, unique, and interesting way.

Don’t shy away from plot devices that you know will work, just be sure you are being creative. Put in the effort to write something people will love to read. You can also do this by combining several different plot devices to create a unique flow.

5. Know How to Write a Romance Novel by Knowing Your Readers

Knowing your readers is an important part of knowing how to write a book of any kind – fiction or nonfiction. Being aware of your target audience will help you write in a way you know will resonate with them.

For some books, this can require a good amount of research. For nonfiction especially, you need to find out exactly who needs your expertise, and exactly which parts of it they need at this time.

With romance, however, your basic readership is pretty simple and consistent.

About 80 percent of romance readers are women. This is overwhelming compared to most other genres. While this does leave about 20 percent of your readers as male, you know you’re writing to a female majority. It is women you want to reach with your story.

Some other facts to keep in mind:

  • Most of the women reading romance are between the ages of 20-50.
  • Romance makes up about 30 percent of all fiction.
  • Around 30 percent of regular romance readers will buy more than one romance novel in a month.

That last one is especially important. This means they are constantly exposed to different romantic plot lines, and will easily spot one that is overdone or boring.

To gain a loyal readership that won’t hesitate to pick up your next book, make every effort to stay unique, original, and different.

Writing for Women

While you don’t want to completely alienate the small number of male readers you have, it is important to know how to write for women. Women are the overwhelming majority of your target audience, so pleasing them is a top priority.

A few tips to help you resonate with your female audience:

  • Focus on the setting – especially the home. In days past, caring for the home was the women’s job. While society is moving forward from this and embracing the working mom and gender equality, the home is still important to a woman. The way things are arranged and decorated, how it’s kept. Don’t neglect this in your story.
  • Don’t be afraid of feelings. It’s no secret that women can be more emotional than men. Don’t be afraid to write strong and deep emotions into your female characters.
  • Don’t leave out the kids. Not all women have kids, but the reality is that most do. Don’t be afraid to use them in the story. They can be a useful source of conflict. Especially if your reader is a mom, she will directly relate to any emotions pertaining to children.

Keep these things in mind, but also ensure you are creating balance. Unless you want to take the dive right into women’s fiction specifically, maintain a balance. Remember your small section of male readers.

6. Present Your Heroine

This is where knowing your reader becomes even more important. We’ve established that most romance readers are women. But, there are still different age groups to consider.

Narrow Down Your Target Audience

Writing a story about a college girl who falls in love with the arrogant quarterback will not always interest a woman in her forties because she wants a character she can connect with.

So as you write about your heroine, keep your specified target audience in mind. Are you writing for the young adult fresh out of high school, or do you want to target the middle-aged mom?

It’s an important question to ask yourself, but don’t over complicate it either. It’s possible for older women to enjoy a story about young women and vice versa. But, it’s good to keep the general target in mind especially when creating a female heroine.

A romance will connect with its reader when they have something in common with the heroine. There are a few details you can keep in mind as you begin bringing her to life:

  • Your heroine’s age
  • Her worldview and personality
  • Physical features of your heroine – height, hair color, etc.
  • Where she lives
  • What she does for a living

Create Believability

Now that you’ve chosen what kind of character to write, you need to make sure they are believable.

Nobody, anywhere in the world, goes through life without struggle. It is imperative that you also give your characters some struggles and obstacles. A character that has the perfect experience every time will not only be entirely unrealistic, but they will also be boring.

Nobody wants to read about a perfect relationship because that’s not interesting. It’s not real and there is nothing to invest in. This is why temporary separation is part of the basic romance recipe I mentioned earlier.

So, give your characters some flaws and put them through some struggles. These struggles can include any number of things:

  • Job troubles
  • Financial troubles
  • Relationship troubles (romantic and friendships)
  • Family drama

That is just naming a few.

Usually, it’s most effective to write your main character(s) as round and dynamic. Give them deeply complex personalities. In addition, bring them through some change and growth as the story progresses.

Not every character needs to be like this. That would be exhausting and flat characters have special functions of their own. But, your main characters need to be multi-dimensional to create the maximum level of believability and relatability

7. Present the Love Interest

Much like your heroin, imperfection is the key to creating a successful second character. Or in this case, the love interest.

Like any character, they should be flawed. Perhaps his more prominent flaws cause your heroin to wonder if they made the right choice or if he is the right one.

It can be tempting to write a perfect love interest because a perfect person is easy to fall in love with. However, this is a bad choice. It will take away from the conflict in the story and the believability of the character.

Don’t Make Them Hated

Many stories start with the heroine hating or at least disliking the eventual love interest. This is effective, but it doesn’t mean the readers have to hate the love interest as well.

There is usually a specific reason your heroine hates him – a past betrayal, something he has done, who he was before a transformation took place, etc. This makes the distaste personal and your readers don’t need to share her opinion.

Give him some redeeming qualities that appeal to the reader, and don’t objectify him. Even if your main character hates him for a while, the readers should be able to tell that he genuinely loves her and is a good person at the core.

From here, you can develop him in a positive way. As your heroine begins to fall in love with him, your readers will just like him that much more.

Don’t Fall Victim to the Stereotype

When we speak of romance, our minds often drift to the typical tanned, tall, well-built Don Juan who sweeps her off her feet. He is suave and charming. But, this puts you at risk of creating that too-perfect love interest.

These characters are sometimes effective, but it’s not the only type of man that can be romantic. Sometimes, a shy, nerdy gamer is what your character will love.

Don’t be afraid to go outside the box and create a unique love interest that is charming in his own original way.

8. What is the Driving Force?

In her popular book GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, Debra Dixon says: “External motivation is usually the most important to establish early in the book. Internal motivation can take a bit longer to develop and be woven into the fabric of the story one thread at a time.”

This is the perfect illustration of the driving force. There is a difference between goals and motivation. Both of them combined are what create your character’s driving force.

For example, let’s say you have a character who is training for a marathon. He may have a couple of goals here. One might be to make it to 5k. Another might be to win and get the glory.

These goals are logical and important, but they are not enough. What makes him different from every other person training for that 5k marathon and wanting to win? His motivation.

What is really behind that desire to win? It could be a burning desire to feel powerful or superior. Maybe he wants to prove wrong someone who never believed in him. Perhaps he wants to honor a family member or even a beloved coach who has passed.

Each of these motivations will have different people doing the same thing – training for that marathon. But, it’s what drives them that really speaks to who they are as a person.

Determine What Drives Your Characters

So, what drives your characters together?

To answer that, you need to dive into your characters and figure out every little, personal detail. Motivations often come from their past. This is why it’s important to know everything about your character, even if the reader doesn’t.

For example, your heroine might struggle to trust in a relationship because she was cheated on by an ex-fiance of five years. This part of her past will drive her behavior within her current romantic relationship as well as other actions and decisions throughout her life.

At some point in the story, this betrayal may be revealed to your audience. But, you need to keep it in mind from the very beginning. Her actions need to remain consistent even before their reasoning is made known.

9. The Intimate Scenes

Within the romance genre, you will find different levels of intimacy.

On one end the spectrum is straight erotica. Here, physical intimacy is the focus. Writers go into excruciating detail with every scene. And there are a lot of scenes.

But, graphic sex scenes are not a requirement for successful romance. If you are writing about teenagers for teenagers, it would be highly inappropriate. On the other hand, if you are writing for grown women and you mention nothing more than a kiss on the cheek, they may feel a bit jipped.

Knowing your audience is crucial in determining how intimate you get in your writing. Your own level of comfort will also come into play. Not all romance writers want to be known for the straight sex appeal of their books.

You may also just not be into it, and that’s fine! If sex scenes aren’t your thing, your book won’t necessarily hurt for it. Much can be implied and well, people have good imaginations.

Don’t Neglect Them

Regardless of how much or how detailed you get with your more intimate scenes, knowing how to write a romance novel does mean you need some.

The general “show, don’t tell” rule works well with scenes of physical intimacy, especially between characters who already have a deep connection. You don’t have to be graphic to let your reader know, through her reaction, how a kiss from her partner makes your female protagonist feel.

Unless you are writing erotica, your intimate scenes should have a specific purpose. They should serve to advance the plot in some way. Whether it’s the moment you’ve been building up to for half the novel, or it’s a means to create conflict, it shouldn’t be there just because.

If you are interested in writing intimate scenes that are more detailed, there are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Remember that pushing or breaking physical boundaries requires a building of trust.
  2. Don’t do everything all at once. Build intimacy over several scenes before finally reaching the finale.
  3. Don’t skip steps. In real life, some people will go straight to kissing and straight from kissing to sex. While it may happen at times, it is not interesting. Make the process slow and intense. One thing at a time. This will keep readers turning the page rather than yawning.

10. Secondary Characters are Important in Writing a Romance Novel

While secondary characters are important to any story, they play a unique role in a romance. For a female main character, it is usually her sister and/or her best friend that she seeks relationship advice from.

This right here is a limitless pool of potential conflict. Sometimes, best friends give well-intentioned but very poor advice. And then, the advisee follows said horrible advice and lands in a highly compromising situation.

Sometimes these poor results can be hilarious, other times they are heartbreaking. Either way, they add tension and conflict.

Crazy sisters, eccentric best friends, jealous guy friends, and protective family members all add value and drama to your story. Don’t neglect these characters and their relationship to your heroine and/or hero.

11. Learn How to Write a Romance Novel With Tools

Knowing exactly how to write a book takes time. While nobody will ever write a perfect book the first time, there are ways you can tighten up the process and make things easier on yourself.

There are many book writing software out there, and most of them have something good to offer.

Editing

For editing, you have things like Grammarly and Hemmingway.  These are powerful editing tools that scan your work and give you a lot of helpful insight.

Grammarly scans for and alerts you to basic grammatical errors:

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Missing words
  • Repeated words

It will highlight your mistake and offer a solution. To use their correction, simply click on it and the document will change itself. Text can be edited in the Grammarly app, or you can integrate it with Chrome, Microsoft Word, and Google Docs (currently in beta).

how to write a romance novel

Hemmingway is a different novel writing software that checks for readability. It won’t tell you if you’ve spelled something wrong, but it will tell you how easy your piece is to read. It does this by looking at a few specific things:

  • Adverbs
  • Passive Voice
  • Complex words or phrases
  • Hard to read sentences
  • Very hard o read sentences
how to write a romance novel

The editor is available to use online for free, or you can pay $19.99 for access to the desktop version as well as a few other bonuses and features.

Writing

Before you can edit, you need to have written something. The writing process has many elements:

  1. Brainstorming
  2. Note-taking
  3. Research
  4. Planning/outlining
  5. Storyboarding
  6. Writing the story

Squibler is a book writing software that can help you with all of these. It has a place for notes, research, your book’s actual content, and everything in between.

It teaches you how to write a book in the most efficient way possible. This will have you on your way to publishing before the novel starts dragging on for months or even years. In the end, this will make you a better writer.

how to write a romance novel

The drag and drop feature for your chapters and scenes means you don’t have to worry about writing in chronological order. Write whatever you want, whenever you want, and reorganize later.

Squibler also offers assistance when it comes time to publish. Once finished, you can export your manuscript to PDF, Kindle, or print publishing formats.

Most book writing software helps you publish, but not many include print publishing as an option within the software. This is where Squibler is powerful and unique.

12. A Happy Ending

There is an unspoken rule within the romance genre. And that is the happily-ever-after. Or at the very least, a happy-for-now. No matter how much trauma and emotional turmoil an author puts their characters through, readers just know that they’ll be okay in the end.

Many criticize romance for being too formulaic. This is because romance does have a formula, which isn’t always a bad thing.

But, the formula does include the HEA. It’s like an invisible line of trust between author and reader.

There are some who try to break conventions. They write a wonderful romance but end it with a less than happy situation. These often conclude with one or both of the lovers dying. Some argue this would no longer even be considered a romance, but a tragedy.

The issue is up for debate. But, the fact remains that a romance without a happy ending will leave readers, and especially dedicated fans of the genre, feeling betrayed.

That’s not to say you can’t think outside the box. Just be aware of what people are expecting. With romance, unhappy endings can lead to failure if you are not very careful.

If you want to break the mold without enraging your readers, you can try to compromise.

Some Sort-of Happy Endings:

  • Let the lovers end up together, but one is permanently sick/disabled.
  • They are together but have a constant thorn in their side – like a nasty and manipulative mother/mother-in-law who disapproves of the relationship.
  • A historical romance could have them ending up together but still living in a war-torn, poverty-stricken country.
  • Let them be together, but their relationship has the permanent stamp of someone’s mistake or betrayal – perhaps a child with another person.

These types of melancholic endings will still give your readers that satisfaction of seeing the lovers together forever. But, it lets you add a sense of realism and tragedy. There are some people who love a darker twist and will appreciate an ending like this.

Write Your Romance Novel With Confidence

Whether you wanted to learn how to write a novel with romance weaved throughout, or you want to write in the romance genre specifically, you can now do so with confidence.

The basics of outlining and structuring a novel are the same across all genres, but romance does have a few of its own quirks and unwritten rules. Familiarize yourself with these things and you’ll be able to expertly craft that winning romance in no time.

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