Two characters are in love and a romance novel is born. The world is against them, or the lovers are against themselves. Or both. You’ve got a love story, but you want it to connect with your readers, to entice them, to take them on an emotional ride. Writing gripping romance is more than a formula of two lovers plus adversity, but there are strategies you can use to improve your romance story. The following four tips will help you take your romance novel to the next level for your readers.
1. Use organic external obstacles
External obstacles should make sense in the world and in the plot. When the obstacle feels real to the world, it’ll make the world feel against the characters from getting together. As they overcome the world (or force the world to change), their relationship will be deeper, more tangible, more believable.
Don’t cheat and go with easy obstacles. You shouldn’t be making up random conflicts as you go. Simply flinging problems at the characters, without having the world or plot set it up in some form, won’t feel organic. It won’t engage your readers or suspend any disbelief.
As you do the work, your characters will do their work to come together.
Bonus: don’t make the characters decide the problem isn’t a problem, wishing it away while it still remains. The problem will still come back to pester them eventually, and the happy ever after will be shattered.
2. Understand the characters’ internal conflicts
Internal conflict is just as important, if not more important, than external conflict. It’s the reason why they feel they can’t be with the other person, whether it’s feeling unloved, afraid of love, that they aren’t allowed to love, etc. Internal conflict adds another layer of conflict that must be resolved to reach happy ever after. The characters should need to fix the world (external conflict) and themselves (internal conflict), but to do that you have to identify each character’s internal conflict(s).
As you understand their internal conflicts, you’ll know where the tension between the characters comes from. You’ll be able to figure out how it needs to be heightened or resolved in each scene, how to pit characters together to spark different emotions. You’ll know when a conversation needs to dig deeper to progress the story. If you don’t understand the characters’ internal conflicts, you won’t be able to build and break the chemistry between characters, and between the characters and readers.
Bonus: make sure your characters have different internal conflicts.
3. Let characters make their own mistakes
Let the characters make mistakes, and let them do it themselves. This is their romance story. It doesn’t work as well if someone else fixes it or it’s caused by an external event. As the lovebirds make mistakes, flail, and fight to overcome them, the reader will go on an emotional journey as they experience the tragedy and are uplifted by the resolution.
Bonus: abuse isn’t a mistake. One partner shouldn’t hit/hurt/abuse the other and then be forgiven. Aim for mistakes that avoid abuse for abuse’s sake (or violence’s sake), instead focusing on mistakes that deepen character development (such as deepening an internal conflict).
4. Push beyond hating each other for hating’s sake
Move beyond the trope of characters bickering until they fall in love at the end. Each character should be unique by themselves. Sometimes that uniqueness will clash and lead to confrontation, but that confrontation will be supported by character development.
The reader needs to fall in love with the characters for more reasons than their bantering. Witty banter for banter’s sake doesn’t make the characters fall in love or overcome each other’s differences or connect the reader to the characters. Dig deeper, let why they are
Bonus: this uniqueness should be related to the internal conflict (see above).