How to Write an Enthralling Romance Novel

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What kind of plots keep romance novel readers hooked until the end?

This question is at the forefront of every romance writer’s mind. Any author wants their novel to hit the top of the bestsellers list. If you’re wondering what attracts an audience, the answer is simple: three-dimensional characters, exciting twists and turns, and a good ending.

Considering what your audience wants is an integral aspect of novel writing. A basic Google search tells us that most romance novel fans are women, which means these readers may want to see strong, empowered representatives of their sex in the lead roles. If you’re a man who is thinking about writing a romance novel with a female protagonist, then make sure you do your research on how women actually behave. (Think about the ladies in your life and partly base your protagonist on them.) 

Sometimes, male authors resort to stereotypes when it comes to their female characters, which will leave female readers with a bad taste in their mouths. The book will feel disingenuous, and it won’t be received as well as it could have been. The same applies if you’re a female author who wants to write a romance novel with a male protagonist. Conduct proper research so that your protagonist is believable and relatable.

Once you have identified your target market, you can work on the rest of the plot. To captivate your readers, you should know how to build appealing, relatable characters, a charming setting, and a compelling emotional conflict.

If you already have a manuscript but want to make it more riveting, then a manuscript critique would be perfect for you.

Building characters

Creating interesting characters is one of the greatest challenges a writer faces. Make sure the details of your protagonists are crystal clear. Details such as their age, physical appearance, positive and negative habits, occupation, backstory, and others are necessary for the reader to be able to identify with the characters. You must know the answers to questions like:

  •       What are the main characters most passionate about and why?
  •       How do they speak and walk?
  •       What is their family background?
  •       How do they react in stressful situations?
  •       Have they experienced trauma in the past?
  •       How do they overcome obstacles?
  •       What puts them in a good mood?
  •       What makes them sad and why?

Make sure the characters can evoke deep emotions. This may require research; for instance, if the hero or heroine has a condition such as leukemia or OCD, you need to thoroughly research it. If your protagonist serves in the military, but you have little knowledge of what military life is like, you should do some research to get a sense of how to craft the character’s emotional journey. You don’t want your readers to have to suspend disbelief too much when reading your book, or else they will be taken out of the story.

In short, you should develop your characters meticulously to avoid unrealistic portrayals and potential plot holes. Besides, you definitely don’t want to build flat characters, that is, characters who are not well rounded and lack complex emotions, personality, ambitions, or internal conflict. If you’re struggling with this, it may be worth it to reach out to a developmental editor, who can help you identify big-picture issues and determine how to rectify them.

The characters in your novel should be likable and believable and have something in common with one another. Structure your story so that there are multiple opportunities for the protagonists to fall in love. Remember: Most readers are looking for the slow burn of a romance.

There may also be instances where secondary characters steal the spotlight from the protagonist. If the brother or sister of the main character is more intriguing, readers may lose interest in the protagonist. Be sure to watch out for this trap.

Choosing the setting

The setting is an essential element of any story and can make or break it. You can look into where most romance novels take place, and if you want to play it safe, you can set your story in a similar environment. However, don’t be afraid to take your story somewhere quite different. Creativity is always welcomed in this genre, and some readers look for romance novels that deviate from the norm. For instance, if the market is oversaturated with stories that take place in Ireland, then it may be worth setting yours somewhere else so that your book stands out from the crowd.

Consider setting options such as a small island or a remote cabin in the wilderness. To write a character-driven romance, choose an intriguing and realistic setting. Research the place you have chosen—after all, the novel should be immersive.

Developing the plot

If the story involves a love triangle, be careful when developing the plot—you want to make sure the two main characters retain their moral integrity in the eyes of your audience. Though your characters may occasionally do things that anger or upset the readers, you want to make sure that the end justifies the means. If your characters are becoming too unlikable, consider rewriting certain scenes or plot points. 

You can’t go wrong if you choose a tried-and-true romance novel plotline, such as the protagonists slowly easing into love from an initial friendship. Another great romance storyline is two enemies who develop feelings for each other after going through a series of challenging hurdles together.

The idea of love at first sight may be romantic, but it doesn’t work well in a romance novel. Even if your characters are attracted to each other right off the bat, they’ll still have to work to make their relationship a reality. 

You should also avoid glamorizing abusive relationships since this can have real-world consequences on impressionable readers. Though all relationships will have moments of conflict, those that involve physical and emotional abuse are problematic, and they should not be idealized. If you don’t want your characters’ relationship to come across as abusive, then be careful with how they argue or communicate. When in doubt, ask someone you trust for their opinion. If they think the relationship is abusive, go back to the drawing board and rework it. If, however, your goal is to portray an abusive relationship, then just make sure that the readers know this relationship is not something to aspire to.

The point is to come up with a storyline that’s realistic and compelling for your readers; other than that, you can be as creative as you want.

Creating conflicts

Conflict is essential in any type of novel but perhaps especially so in romance novels, which dive into the complexities of human emotions and relationships. Conflict is the vital ingredient that makes a romance novel compelling. 

Besides highlighting the relationship between the main characters, conflicts should be deep and layered. There are two basic types of conflict: internal and external. Internal conflict occurs inside a character’s mind and reflects competing emotions, while external conflict forces characters to determine their priorities.

With a strong conflict, a writer can create tension and excitement that enhances the plot. There could be a conflict when a character can’t realize their goal, such as a passionate, romantic relationship with the other main character. The protagonist may have to find different ways to capture the attention—and heart—of their love interest. A timeless quest like this can easily make for an enthralling romance novel. Just make sure the obstacles your characters face and the struggles and emotions involved in overcoming the hardships are realistic and relevant to keep your readers glued to the page.

Sometimes, a simple conversation between the two main characters can be enough to resolve a conflict. That’s fine for smaller conflicts, but your main plotline should revolve around a difficult challenge. Readers want a sense of mystery and wonder, and an intense conflict is the best way to achieve this. Life is full of difficult decisions, so your book should be as well.

If the heroine of your story had a tough childhood due to her parents’ strained relationship or the betrayal of her best friend, then she might find it difficult to accept love from anyone. This is a good example of internal conflict, which allows you to showcase the growth of the character.

Obviously, the resolution of the conflict is equally important. After the gripping trials and tribulations of your characters, your readers want a satisfactory ending that makes going through all those pages worth it. Happy endings are the default, but depending on your story, a tragic or thought-provoking ending can be even more powerful.

You can certainly pull off writing a riveting romance novel if you have a rich imagination, conduct sufficient research for character and plot development, and build a strong emotional conflict. Remind yourself what your goal is—to craft a powerful storyline that prompts readers to keep turning the pages. If you want to write an enthralling romance novel, allow our big-picture editors and manuscript critique professionals to help you develop your romance novel into the most exciting version of itself.

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