Developing the Romance in Your Romance Novel
RWA National defines a romance novel as “a central love story” with “an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” To be emotionally satisfying, the romance must be true both to what the reader knows and to what the writer has to say.
Good love stories are universal (tap into the readers’ shared emotions and experiences) and unique (use specific, significant details that belong to the story). Using examples from bestselling authors and Virginia Kantra’s own work, this workshop explores how combining universal emotion and unique detail in seven essential romance components results in love stories that are believable, memorable…and satisfying!
I. Physical awareness/attraction. You have to have it.
A. Universal: biology drives desire. What each sex finds attractive.
B. Unique: use observation and characterization to move beyond cliché and find specific triggers.
C. Level of awareness must be appropriate to
1. The subgenre
2. The characters
3. The stage of the relationship
4. The level of action/external conflict
II. Emotional conflict. (Not only external.)
A. Why can’t the h/h be together from the beginning of the book?
How must they change/grow before they can commit to each other?
B. Universal: usually issues of fear, trust, conflicting loyalties and/or control
“I’ll never love (or love again) because…”
C. Unique: motivation and specific supporting detail
D. Obstacles have to be big enough to sustain the book, but not so big they require years of therapy or challenge the HEA.
III. Scenes that develop emotional intimacy.
Romance exercise: “It’s the relationship, stupid.”
My hero admires my heroine’s ____________________________.
He uncovers/appreciates her ______________________________.
He’s challenged by her __________________________________.
Do the same for the heroine.
What are the scenes that move the romance forward by showing these qualities?
IV. Dating/courtship scenes
A. Setting can be inherently romantic (tropical cruise, castle)
and/or foster intimacy through isolation/hardship (road trip, jungle)
1. Universal experience: the “date”
Pacing of novel rarely allows luxury of leisurely dating
2. Use accelerated timeframe/intensity of action to foster intimacy
C. Change of setting/pacing allows for “date” – scenes necessary to show that after the timeframe of the novel, this couple can enjoy one another’s company
1. Resting scenes. Can go conventionally appealing or mix it up (bar, ball game, family picnic) in a way which is
true to the situation
advances plot/shows conflict
reveals character/fosters intimacy (opportunities for dialogue)
2. Courtship rituals
Universal: flowers, food, alcohol, “dressing up”
Unique: objects that spring from characters/conflict.
Must be: sensually evocative, appropriate to story/credible, appealing.
V. Sex scenes
A. Universal: Biology drives desire, but not everyone finds same words/acts erotic. Hot sex without emotional context may show attraction or provide adventure, but it won’t prove the h/h are suitable life partners.
Need to engage brain, heart.
At some point, need realization of love and commitment. (See “Payoff”)
What’s at stake with each kiss/love scene? Discovery, intimacy, communication, conflict, control.
How does the physical action reflect or impact (complicate or resolve) the emotional conflict?
How do the scenes change as the story and the relationship progresses?
VI. Lovers in society. No man is an island, and no couple can live on one forever.
Values, gender politics and genre expectations
Couple must negotiate a settlement which satisfies each of them (and therefore the reader)
Scenes which show integration into existing family structure (parents, kids)
Scenes which show formation of new family unit (primary bond/loyalty, kids)
Do not let matchmaking mother, insightful best friend, the adorable child do the work of the h/h.
VII. The payoff
1. The “duh” moment - realization of feelings
2. The “yes” moment - declaration of surrender
3. The “aww” moment – love, commitment, hearts, flowers, violins
The first two can create added complications and conflict. The third cannot.
External conflict must be resolved by H/H acting to defeat the antagonist. Threat of antagonist must be defeated/contained for credible HEA.
Epilogue satisfies reader expectations without sacrificing pacing, straining credibility
USA Today bestselling author Virginia Kantra credits her enthusiasm for strong heroes and courageous heroines to a childhood spent devouring fairy tales. A six-time Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist, Virginia has won numerous writing awards, including two National Readers’ Choice Awards.
Virginia has sold over twenty books to Berkley and Silhouette. IMMORTAL SEA, the latest book in her paranormal series, Children of the Sea, is an October 2010 release.
Visit her on the web at http://virginiakantra.com and on Facebook.