Blog

5 Elements Sigh-Worthy Romance Novels Must Have


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I'm a romance novelist. Yes, I also write historical fiction. But I consider myself a romance novelist first and a historical writer second.

Why?

Well first, I love reading romances of any genre. This past summer I went on a binge and read dystopian and fantasy YA romances (books like The Selection by Kiera Kass, Beastly by Alex Finn, Delirium by Lauren Oliver). Partly I wanted to be aware of what my teen daughters are reading. And partly I like reading sweet (clean) romances and know I can usually get that in a YA book .

Second, I consider myself a romance novelist (versus historical novelist) because when I dabble with writing in other genres, my stories always end up with a romance element. It seems to come out whether I'm writing contemporary or YA or historical.

Most of the time readers appreciate the romance aspects of my books. Occasionally I get complaints like: "for a historical it was too romance-y." But overall I've gotten a positive response to the sizzle of the romance in my books. My characters aren't pulling one another's clothes off, but the romantic tension is there nonetheless.

Any time I finish reading a romance novel, I sit back and muse over elements I liked or didn't like. And if I move the book to my favorite's shelf, I ask myself what was it about the romance that hooked me?

A romance novel usually has to have several key elements to make it to my "keeper" shelf. These elements might cause some readers or writers to classify romances as "formulaic." But essentially, those tried-and-true elements are the building blocks for penning a winning romance. They're the things romance readers expect, love, and essentially why they pick up a romance in the first place.

The 5 elements sigh-worthy romance novels must have:


1. Both the hero and heroine must be likeable. The reader must be able to fall in love with the hero right along with the heroine. He has to be the kind of guy that melts readers' hearts. Sure he has to be flawed, but in such a way that readers still love him.

And the reader must also be able to cheer for the heroine. She can be many things, even a feisty tomboy. Certainly not perfect. But she has to be the type of woman our readers would aspire to be.

2. The hero and heroine must meet early in the story. It's best if our two main characters meet within the first chapter or two. Even if we have a love triangle, readers still like to know which man they're rooting for.

This goes back to the above point. Readers want to fall in love with the hero. And if they don't know who he is, then it's harder for them to relate to the romance.

3. A barrier must keep the hero and heroine from finding true love together until the end. In fact, there could be many barriers standing between the two keeping them physically, emotionally, and relationally apart.

Readers have told me one they're usually disappointed when all those barriers fall away and the hero and heroine "get together" too soon in the novel. It lets down the tension and doesn't give the reader a reason to keep flipping pages, no matter how strong the rest of the plot might be.

Drawing by Amy Blake
4. The romantic tension must be strong and gradually increase throughout the book. Obviously, a romance must have romantic moments between the hero and heroine. That doesn't have to mean we have to load our books with kissing or sex. My books have very few kisses and no sex, and yet I weave in a lot of sizzle.

I also intentionally find ways to put my characters into romantic situations that fit with each unique story.

For example, in Rebellious Heart, the hero Ben is the son of a shoemaker. At one point early in the story, I have him take the heroine's foot measurements. I shaped the scene to show the growing attraction between the two as she exposes her ankle and he touches her foot. With each scene after that, I keep putting them together in situations where that attraction has the chance to continue growing and deepening.

5. The romance must come to a satisfying conclusion (aka happily-ever-after). The couple must get together by the end of the book. They must overcome all the barriers that have kept them apart. They have to fall in love. And they have to want to be together forever. Period.

In fact, the ending really should be sigh-worthy. When the reader closes the book, we want them smiling in ultimate satisfaction because they're happy the hero and heroine overcame great obstacles, defeated the antagonist, grew in character as a result, and in the end found true love.

Is there anything you'd add to my list of must-haves for a romance? Do you think romance novels have become too formulaic? 

*A BIG thank you to Catherine Johnson for hosting a Rebellious Heart Art show! Several artists drew likenesses of the cover like the one above. To see more, head over to Catherine's Rebellious Heart Art board on Pinterest or my Rebellious Heart novel board

40 comments:

  1. That's a really awesome sketch of your heroine, Jody! Awesome job for Amy Blake. :-)

    I agree with every one of your five points, and from here on out, I think preference has a lot to do with how well readers take to a romance novel . . . and not all readers prefer the same thing. For example, I prefer for the two main characters to be in love and acknowledge their love for one another before the climax, usually about 70% into the novel (though they can't actually get together right then). While my crit partner prefers to not have the characters even acknowledge their love until the very last scene. Both types of romances work. It just comes down to what you prefer. Another thing I really love is continuing characters in a series, while that makes little difference to my crit partner. Some readers prefer lots of historical detail, whereas I'd easily trade historical detail for more drama or micro-tension. So I think it just all depends. But great job of nailing down the fundamentals for us.

    I so love a good romance, regardless of when or where it's set. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I should clarify. When I say my characters acknowledge their love for the other earlier in the novel, they acknowledge it to themselves individually, but not to each other. So the reader knows the two characters love each other, but there's still a really big question of how everything is going to actually work out for them.

      The other thing I've done, which is probably my absolute favorite but doesn't work for every novel, is to have one of the characters confess that love before the ending, but the other character turn him or her down. Using that can be kind of tricky, because you can't have the character that turns down the other one appear as a jerk so late in the novel. The reasons for saying no to the person they really love have to be very justifiable. That kind of scenario has to be done well, but it's one of my absolute favorites. :-)

      Delete
    2. Hi Naomi,

      Great points! There is a lot of variety within the above points and how we play them out. As you said, sometimes we can have the characters admitting their love earlier, but still have them kept apart. Sometimes we can have them stubbornly keeping their feelings to themselves until the very end. The important part of that is that they are kept apart! We all know in a romance book or even movie that the main characters will get together in the end, but the HOW is what keeps readers turning the pages, right? :-)

      Delete
    3. Thank you so much Jody for posting the drawing. That was so fun to do! Also, thank you Naomi for that nice compliment of the drawing. Hoping it helps draw attention to a book that I can't wait to read.

      Delete
    4. Hi Amy! Thank YOU for such a LOVELY drawing of my book!! I was blown away by it! I truly appreciate you taking the time and attention to do something like that! It means the world! :-)

      Delete
  2. I m excited for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. and i watch Charlie Hunnam's work it is pretty awesome to see on the screen in Fifty Shades Movie.
    EL James

    ReplyDelete
  3. As a man who reads this genre because I have friends who write in it, I need to add that there needs to be a balance between the barrier and the romance. The stronger the barrier is (let's read conflict here in the old story structure meaning) the stronger the romantic tension will be. The stronger those two elements are, the more likely you have written a real pager turner (and not just to get to the good bits).

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree with your five points. But I do have a question with the secondary characters. How much power should one give to them in the romantic genre.. With some of the books I am currently reading even if the story line is interesting, the lovers have all the five elements you have mentioned, yet because of too much ativity from the sencondary characters,it dilutes the romance or rather the tension of the romance.

    Rubina
    http://rubinaramesh.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rubina,

      Yes, I can see what you're saying, which perhaps goes with point #4 in that our focus should be on increasing the romantic tension. Our secondary characters shouldn't distract from that. Instead, we need to think of ways to "use them" to the benefit of the developing romance. Same with the external plot, antagonist, etc.--in a romance, essentially all of the elements should play a role in or enhance the romance. Don't you think?

      Delete
    2. Emma Rose gives away free romance books all the time and they are SOOO good. Her site is http://emmaroseromance.com

      Delete
  5. I just have to say, of all your books, Jody, "Rebellious Heart" far and away had the most sizzle!!! That first kiss in the tavern? HOLY. COW. Loved it! I was like, woohoo! America's Forefathers gettin' it ON! ;-)

    I agree that the readers need to know early on who to root for, but sometimes the story doesn't allow that to happen via the hero and heroine meeting early. For example, Deeanne Gist's "A Bride in the Bargain" begins with the hero in Seattle and the heroine in Boston, and their individual stories don't intersect for several chapters (after all, she has to GET from Boston to Seattle!). But so long as the READER is introduced to them early on, it still works. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. America's Forefathers gettin' it ON! LOL!! Too funny, Amy! I'm totally cracking up at that one! The sizzle usually has to do with the differences between my in-house editors. My books always have a great deal of sizzle in the first draft format. But I'm always required to tone it down. And my current editor is a little more lenient with how much I tone down! ;-)

      Good point about sometimes allowing the hero and heroine to meet a little later. In a Noble Groom my hero and heroine don't meet until Chapter 3. I introduced each of them before that, but they didn't actually have that first meeting until three chapters in. I'd personally be leery about pushing the first meeting too much beyond that. I think the earlier the better. Otherwise we risk boring our readers by setting up the story too much (similar to dumping in too much backstory too soon). Most often we need to throw our characters together and then explain how they got to that point in bite sizes.

      Delete
  6. Absolutely LOVE your five points Jody! All of them go into making your books a SIZZLING SUCCESS!

    I think my "steppie" must have read your books! She is currently in Nigeria and is finally marrying the man of her dreams over there,because of the barriers that the pair of them faced! His Family can't afford to come to Aus for the wedding (one barrier) and (second barrier) you wouldn't believe the traumas of successfully obtaining a VISA from the Embassy to visit Nigeria..DEFINITELY point three!
    Lastly but CERTAINLY NOT least.. points one and two combined, definitely apply to these two kids! They met two years ago working on a community project and an instant rapport was evident!
    Their specialty was in the area of housing and promoting health education(particularly for women) so a very worthy line of work!

    Point FIVE applies tomorrow (Thursday) as their wedding finally takes place!

    I think we have enough points to write OUR own book, don't you? LOL

    Jody, in all seriousness, please would you send a few prayers their way, as they walk together down their chosen pathway? We are praying that God will guide and protect them along the way and for a safe journey home!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely will be sending prayers their way! Always love a wonderful real-life romance story! :-)

      Delete
  7. Jody! Those five points are right on. I wouldn't change them a bit! And yes you are the master of romance!
    HUGS!
    Amber

    ReplyDelete
  8. I actually don't like it when the hero and heroine are kept apart for the whole book. I've put down MANY books because the circumstances just get to be too much. Of course, I'm not saying having them wait until the end to get together is an automatic dealbreaker, but it definitely makes me sigh (in a not so god way) from time to time. My favorite stories have the main characters falling in love toward the middle-ish and then working together on the other major plotline. Colleen Coble is good at this. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I meant to say "in a not so GOOD way." Lol.

      Delete
  9. This is a very helpful list; I'll keep it in mind as I write my own (fictional) love stories. I always thought that books were more interesting if they had romance in them. I especially agree with the part about how the hero and heroine must meet early in the book. I recently read a book where the heroine spent more than half the book in love with one man, and then another man suddenly popped up and she fell in love with him instead. It was very frustrating and it seemed a little too convenient, which made me dislike both the MC and the second man.

    ReplyDelete
  10. These five points are spot on! I'm working on the pace of the relationship in my rewrites and trying to make sure the heroine "thaws" believably and not too soon, but don't want to make readers wait too long. Found this post and the comments very helpful!

    Can't wait to read RH, Jody!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Natalie! It's a fine balance between making our readers exasperated by holding our hero and heroine apart, and making them anticipate that final getting together moment. Glad the post and comments were helpful! :-)

      Delete
  11. I'm a romance junkie from waaay back! And I did enjoy The Preacher's Bride and The Doctor's Lady very much. I have some catching up to do for the rest, but they're definitely on my list.

    I agree with the 5 points, but I'm a little like Naomi in that I really love when they acknowledge their love a little before the end. I have a lot of keepers on my shelf that end with the I love yous, but my very favorite ones are the stories where the couple has to overcome that last big hurdle together before the HEA. Sort of an early test to their commitment.

    This list is "romance concentrate," like the base that makes a good soup; you've gotta have it to make the end product worth consuming. Without these elements, all the other ingredients just don't quite measure up.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Spot on, and no, I'm not from the UK. Watching to much British TV? Excellent points in your blog, but I also agree with Naomi. I really like a romance where the hero and the heroine realize about 1/2 to 2/3's of the way through the book, that they are in love. For some reason they can't admit that love to the other person, increasing the tension until the HEA. I write them that way myself.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Great post, thanks Jodi. I think a romance is enhanced when one (or both) of the main characters has a deep flaw or is dealing with an issue that only the other person can help them through. At the end of the novel, each character has gone through a transformation which was necessary for them to receive each other's love.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I think the romance "formula" is fairly important and I do believe it's what people enjoy most about reading romance. I think the "happily ever after" is extremely satisfying especially with characters that you've grown to care for. I think you also hit the nail right on the head when you point out that the heroine has to be a character that woman will like or aspire to be. No one wants a whiny, weak, leading lady. Recently, I was lucky enough to come across the book, “Come Fly with Me” by up and coming author Judith Whitmore. (http://www.judithwhitmore.com/books/come-fly-with-me/). The book was extremely addicting and it didn’t take me long to read (because I couldn’t put it down!). I thought the author put a unique spin on romance novels and really focused on making the lead female, Kate, the hero of the book :) Kate wasn’t rescued by some knight in shining armor,she does the rescuing,although she does meet a very handsome pilot, Rick. The book takes you into Kate’s world; her loveless one-sided marriage, her passion for flying (she’s an aerobatic pilot!), and her “awakening.” She is an intelligent, likeable and determined main character and you will thoroughly enjoy the adventure that awaits her and Rick. I highly recommend Come Fly With Me to all the romance junkies out there

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Jody!

    What a great list. It hits all the sweet spots for this reader of romance.

    A strong #3 is crucial for me. For instance, I lose interest in a romance novel if the barrier between hero and heroine is a misunderstanding. I feel like any increased tension (#4) based off of a misunderstanding wouldn't be as enjoyable.

    So that would be my only addition within the great points you made. I'm sure every reader has her own preference about these things!

    Thanks for writing! :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. I agree! Just finished Rebellious Heart and each one was present there. Btw, I enjoyed it very much. :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Excellent post! I agree with all of this! The only book that I've read (and liked) that doesn't fit is Siri Mitchell's Love's Pursuit, which was beautiful and poignant, but has an unusual ending.

    I laugh, too, that I posted something similar on the very same day! http://www.rachellerea.com/2013/09/why-i-read-christian-romances.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rachelle! Thank you for sharing the link to your post! Wow! We did have some very similar thoughts! I'm glad to know I was on track with my post!

      Delete
  18. One of the main things that is setting people off about the “Fifty Shades” movie actors is they don’t look anything like the way the characters are described in the series, but that could be because people are picturing them as the previous characters they have played and not the way they would look or come across when they are in their Christian and Ana role.
    So Waiting for them to be on screen...
    50 shades of grey movie
    Thanks For Sharing....

    ReplyDelete
  19. Jody, have you ever had a secondary male character take over the story? Where he could potentially be the hero?

    I love your list, and agree with all but one of your points. I sometimes wish romantic writers had more freedom to let their heroine possibly pick the "other" man in a romantic triangle. What if the hero isn't the right choice for her? I don't run across it often, but I did a few times last year and really wished the book had taken a different turning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi again, Carissa! Yes, the trouble with letting a secondary male take over is that readers usually form an attachment very early (or should!) to your hero. And so if they're already falling in love with your hero, it will be difficult for them to make the switch to falling in love with another man.

      Delete
  20. Excellent post!!! I have learnt many things form here. I have also website where you can ivsit and pass your leasure time. In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. To get more information, visit here……………
    romantic love

    ReplyDelete
  21. This post is very interesting

    ReplyDelete


  22. The greatest collection of love stories ever told.

    Buy Make out Behind Bars by J. Zaraiya now!!

    http://www.xinxii.com/mydocs.php?pid=3de6b
    http://www.makeoutbehindbars.webs.com

    https://myspace.com/j.zaraiya

    ReplyDelete
  23. The three go out for dinner and the real Ginny feels left out as her sister has a great time with Craig, regency romance

    ReplyDelete

  24. Call us now at OUR toll free. We are Americans #1 Free Chat Line. NO credit card is required! Call Now! FREE CHAT!!! 1-706-443-9999
    (over the age of 18). Meet exciting local guys and gals! Site: www.freenitechat.com

    number to free chat lines
    free chat lines on phone
    Sex Chat with SEXY Singles

    ReplyDelete
  25. These are great points in writing romance novels. I also do love reading romance novels as it excites me.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Thanks to Dr.AGBAZARA for hearing and responding to my work for my marriage to be restored and perfected by His great power. I await His perfect timing to reveal His great works. I have been told to Expect my Joy` and I do! today my Husband came back to me with the power of Dr.AGBAZARA SPELL TEMPLE. Here is he`s email address if you are having problems in your relationship or marriage: agbazara@gmail.com OR call +2348104102662


    ReplyDelete
  27. Hello! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the great info you have here on this post. I will be coming back to your blog for more soon.
    Buy Romance Novel Online

    ReplyDelete

© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!