Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A Guide To Writing Romance - Part Four

If you fail to create conflict between your characters, you won’t have a story. However, when you’re planning your novel, it’s important to take into account the intensity of the conflict you intend to create, and whether it matches the kind of story you’re writing. If you’re writing a light-hearted romantic comedy, for instance, your level of emotional conflict would be far different to say a harrowing historical drama, where the intensity of the emotions are far heightened.

Read on for some useful tips on creating conflict from “The Guide To Writing Romance” online course:

Fourth Secret: Create conflict.
Your characters may be irresistibly drawn to each other, but something must keep them apart. 

You can’t construct a romance based on two people meeting, having a few happy times together – walks on the beach, going out with his friends (who all like her), meeting his mother (who approves) and finally tying the knot. What’s there to keep us reading?

The tension between the possibility of love and the threats to its success is what keeps us reading. Conflict doesn’t mean a few arguments and misunderstandings. If there’s a simple misunderstanding, your readers will wonder why the hell they don’t just speak to each other and clear it up.

And if they’re awful, cruel and far too arrogant with each other, we’ll hope they never do end up together.

The conflict must be considerable enough for us to fear they may never end up together. It could be that their emotional situations have set them at odds. Perhaps he finds it impossible to trust women or she has never been able to commit.

On the other hand, their goals and life plans may be in opposition and set them on a collision course. She’s the property developer, while he’s the biologist set on saving the habitat of a rare and endangered salamander.



Think back to the last romance you’ve read or romantic comedy you’ve seen. These might be the ones we prompted you to see in the last exercise. Or use a fresh lot. Why not? It is homework, after all.
Now, consider the tension that exists between hero and heroine. We know they ought to be together, but what holds them apart during the course of the story? Does it intensify? Is it darkest before the dawn? Just as you think it’s about to resolve, does another obstacle appear?


Sunday, 27 January 2013

A Guide To Writing Romance - Part Three

When I’m writing a novel, a character will often spring fully formed into my mind – and then onto the page. I will see this character in my mind’s eye, and know her voice, how she looks, her sense of humour, and all manner of other small details. My heroine, Alexandra, from my first novel, The Dashing Debutante, was just such a character. She showed up fully formed and I knew what she would say, how she would say it, and what made her laugh without having to learn these details before setting pen to paper.

However, at other times, I have to get to know a character before I can write about him or her, and this can take a lot more effort. Read on to find out how to create strong characters from the third extract from All About Writing's “The Guide To Writing Romance” online course:

Third Secret: Create strong characters.

Romantic stories are character-based. We need to identify with them if we are to care what happens to them.

 Let them have depth, and some quirks and contradictions. People aren’t one-dimensional, nor are they stereotypes. Neither should your characters be.

Before you begin writing, you will need to understand your characters inside and out. You should never have to wonder idly how your heroine will react when her best friend tells her she’s pregnant, for instance. You should know instantly and almost instinctively how she’ll feel – and how much of this she will communicate.

Look at some of the things that could form a character in a novel, and the influences that have helped frame who they are.

Much of this detail might never make it into your story, or if it does, only as a mention or perhaps a memory, but it will help you understand your character and their responses to every situation.


Think about your own life and identify five critical experiences that you feel helped make you who you are. Some of these will be negative, some positive.
Draw a line across the middle of a page in your notebook.
Imagine that this is the time-line that runs through your life. The start of the line is your birth, and the end is where you find yourself now. The line itself is perfect equilibrium. Now plot the five experiences you’ve identified, above the line if they’re positive experiences, below if they’re negative.
How do you think these experiences have affected you? How do they influence your responses to certain situations and people?

Friday, 25 January 2013

A Guide to Writing Romance - Part Two

When you write a novel, it is important to visualise your readers.  And often it’s not what you put in, but rather what you leave out, that is important. It is possible to over explain a point or “over tell” it. Nuances are important in writing - let your readers pick up certain facts about your characters and plot without bashing them over the head with unnecessary explanations. This is particularly relevant when it comes to dialogue. It’s not always necessary to say, for example:
“Peter, you are such an idiot!” Sarah cried out angrily.
The reader will get the gist of Sarah’s emotional state from what she is saying. If you have contextualised the dialogue (i.e. the reader is already aware that Sarah is speaking to Peter) you can let the piece of dialogue stand alone without the “Sarah cried out angrily” tag at the end. In other words, your readers don’t need to be spoon fed. This brings me to the second extract from All About Writing’s “The Guide To Writing Romance”:

Second Secret: Believe in your readers.

They’re not stupid. Most romance readers have some college education and many are educated professionals. Most work outside the home part or full-time.

They read for escapism – and for the emotional intensity they find in romances. Don’t talk down to them.

This is important because you can’t set out to write without having some idea who you are writing for. Every genre has its reader expectations. Your readers will expect that certain things will happen. For example, the hero will be desirable, the heroine feisty. They may have any number of problems along the way but they will end up with the prospect of happiness before them.

Different publishers insist on different conventions. Some want their heroine to indulge in no more than a deep and loving kiss, while others are happy with, in fact insist on, a spicy love scene or two. But these are details. The major expectations remain the same.

And that’s fine. That’s what draws people to read romance. They want to identify with the characters and live their intensity and passion along with them. They want to imagine themselves living happily ever after with the man (or woman) whose crinkly smile reduces them to mush.


Think about the last romantic comedy you watched on the small or big screen. Now, read a romance or go and see something fresh. What do they have in common? How do they differ?

This will show you that, however strict the conventions of romance appear to be, in fact they leave enormous room for creative energy.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Free Online Romance Writing Course - Part One

Over the next few weeks, I will be outlining some great romance writing tips and exercises from All About Writing’s online romance writing course, “The Guide To Writing Romance”, written by Richard Benyon and Jo-Anne Richards.
The following extract from the Introduction gives you a glimpse into the course material and the interesting romance writing nuggets that will be revealed:

Are you a natural romance writer?


Answer these questions to get a sense of whether you have a career as a successful romance writer waiting for you.

1.     Do you really and truly believe in love?
2.     Are you interested in why people fall in love?
3.     Do you love reading about people and their lives – in books, magazines or newspapers?
4.     Do you notice the way people look, how they speak and the way they behave, in public and when they think no-one is watching them?
5.     Do you take a guilty pleasure in eavesdropping on other people’s conversations?
6.     Do you invent life histories for strangers you see in bus queues, restaurants or parks?
7.     Do you secretly feel cheated by stories that don’t end happily?
8.     Do you spend time thinking about the reasons people respond to each other in the way they do?
9.     Do you enjoy talking about relationships with your friends?
10.   Do you read romance novels, chick-lit or great love stories?

Yes, yes and again, yes

If you answered yes to all or most of these questions, you could be a born romance writer. You have the most important attributes. You’re interested in people and you know that great love is possible.

For this introductory module, we’ve chosen a handful of our favourite secrets that will whet your appetite and prepare you for a little romantic action. Each comes with a five-finger exercise that should get you in the mood. Each of the exercises will call on writing skills that we’ll deal with in much more detail over the weeks ahead.

If you’re anything like us, they’ll excite you – and demonstrate that you do have it in you to be a writer of romance.

First Secret: Believe in love

If you write romance, you need to believe in your story – and that true love is possible.

You can’t write romance with your tongue in your cheek. It’s too obvious that you don’t mean it.

Lovers of romance read with their hearts. They become emotionally involved, immersed in the story you’re telling them. If you don’t believe it yourself, neither will they.

Countless aspirant writers of romantic fiction, have been attracted by the stories they’ve heard of the fortunes to be made in this popular genre.

With the glitter of greed in their eyes, they have set out to write a commercially successful novel – and it should come as no surprise that they inevitably fail. This sort of cynicism does not belong in the world of love and romance.

More than believing in love, you must also take delight in telling stories of love – and thinking and dreaming them. You must develop the capacity to live the story along with your characters and know, in your heart, that The One does exist.



Take half an hour to daydream yourself a dream lover. Imagine what he looks like. What does he do, and what are his interests? What does he say when you first meet and where does this meeting occur? Is it love at first sight, or do sparks fly?

If you are a man – and two out of ten readers of romantic fiction are – then of course, you know what to do!

The character that you bring to life here might not be new. This may be someone you have daydreamed and thought about for some time, and that’s fine. Jot these thoughts down and keep them. They may form the basis for a hero or heroine of your first romance.

If this extract has piqued your interest, be sure to check back over the following weeks or subscribe to this blog in order to receive some excellent advice on how to set about writing that romance novel you’ve been dreaming about.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Romance Heroines Rarely Date

Have you noticed that some people have a dating personality and an everyday personality and that the two often don’t gel – or aren’t even similar? Often you’ll see a woman chatting to a group of her friends and she’ll appear strong and confident and happy. However, fast forward to when she’s on a date with a man, and you may find a quiet, withdrawn person, who seems nervous and ill at ease; or alternatively someone who is overexcited and on edge.

The problem with dating is that it is a highly pressured activity. It’s far nicer to get to know someone slowly, within your group of friends, before the relationship blossoms into romance. But this usually only happens at university, or when you’re very young and have a large crowd of single friends. As people get older, romantic relationships often begin with a formal date, which can be difficult, as there’s romantic pressure right from the beginning on both parties as well as a weight of unspoken expectations.

Dating isn’t a natural way to get to know someone. It basically places two people, who might have completely different perspectives on how a romantic relationship should develop, together, and hoping for the best.

In most romance novels, the heroine isn’t usually looking for love. Often she is going about her everyday activities, and being her true authentic self, when she is thrown into the path of the hero, and so begins the relationship dance that eventually leads to love. A much-used premise for a romance novel is the hero and heroine who can’t stand each other when they meet, but they end up falling in love as the story progresses.

This all seems far more romantic than dating, which actually starts off backwards! When love creeps up on a romance heroine unexpectedly as she is going about her daily life, it’s far more satisfying somehow, than if she was expressly looking for love through going on dates. Of course I’m not saying that dating cannot lead to authentic love, but I do think that dating sets up a situation that can be…well… unromantic!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Details are Important in Books, Love and Life

Writing a novel requires you to have two very distinct abilities. You have to be able to see the big picture, as you imagine your story from start to finish. It’s like a giant arch, with the story starting off on one end, stretching to the heavens and then curving down towards the other end.

The second skill that you need is to be able to see the details in each scene… the paving stones of the giant arch, if you will.

I remember when I started writing my first novel, I was in such a hurry to get to the end of the story. I felt a sense of urgency as I pictured the whole book in my mind, and I wanted to get it all down on paper as quickly as possible.

I learned, however, as the actual process of writing slowed me down, that you can’t hurry writing a book. You can certainly write a story in a short amount of time, if you’re a fast writer, but there’s no way you can write a book overnight. It’s imperative to allow yourself time to write each chapter and to focus on the details of constructing it while enjoying the entire process.

Certainly having the desire (and the drive) to finish a book in a reasonable amount of time is important, otherwise you could end up with a pile of half-written manuscripts at the back of a drawer; but hurrying the process of writing while thinking only about your end goal doesn’t work when you’re constructing a piece of literature.

The same lesson applies to life, I believe. It’s good to have an overriding idea of the kind of life you want to lead over the next fifty years, but if you don’t live in the moment and find joy in details, your life will have a harried, unfulfilled aspect to it.

If you think of life only as a series of goal posts (or future chapters) you miss out on all the fun involved in zigzagging in a certain direction, and going off on totally unexpected tangents.

Sometimes when I’m writing a book and my story goes off in an unexpected direction, instead of reining it back in and sticking to the rigid outline of my synopsis, I follow that tangent, even though I have no idea where it’s going.

In relationships, people can be in a hurry to reach a predetermined goal post, where they’re more interested in the outcome of a relationship than anything else. But if you’re in too much of a hurry to get to the HEA (Happily Ever After) of your love story, you miss out on all the fun of progressing through the different stages of a relationship… the scary, yet exciting beginnings which lead into the more settled getting-to-know-you stages, and then the full-grown love that matures only over time as you grow to actually love someone as opposed to just feeling in love.

Learning patience in writing – and life and love – isn’t easy, but as you slow down and savour each detail, you could end up with a masterpiece on your hands.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Writing is not simply putting words on a page

Writing is not simply putting words on a page. The process of writing begins somewhere else, and the words on the page are the result of this process. So where does the process begin for me? I’m not actually sure. My first book, The Dashing Debutante, came into being because a funny piece of dialogue popped into my brain, and I built the entire story around this piece of dialogue. The story appeared in my mind, in pictures, and I translated those pictures into words typed on a page. But the story had been germinating in my mind for a long time before that.

Words, thoughts, ideas, fragments of conversations, startling realisations, wise sayings, other writers’ words, interesting concepts, dreams, mind paintings, different philosophies, and the ongoing analysis of relationships, all form part of the process of writing for me. I’m not only writing when I’m seated at my desk in front of my computer. I’m “writing” when I’m standing in the check out queue in the supermarket or reading a book, or when I overhear an interesting piece of dialogue in a coffee shop. I can “write” when I’m at the movies, or when I’m dreaming, or when I’m walking around my neighbourhood or running on a treadmill at gym.

Writers are constantly involved in the process of writing. We live it, and from somewhere in our deep subconscious, and often when it’s least expected, a book will rise to the surface, slowly separating into form, rather like cream rising to the top, separating from milk. And when it becomes substance in the form of words, the process of writing ends, rather than begins, when the words are typed onto a page.