What Makes a Romance Novel Truly Romantic?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Since it's Valentine's Day today, I couldn't resist a post about romance.

I admit. I love romance.

I love romance in real life. I love it in movies. I love hearing sigh-worthy news from friends. And I absolutely love romance in books.

There's just something in most of us—especially women—that draws us to the sweetness, tenderness, and self-sacrifice that goes into building a happy, satisfying relationship. We crave that in our own lives. And we also find pleasure in seeing it in others.

Obviously that's one of the reasons I'm drawn to writing and reading romance books.

But what goes into making a delightful romance story? What makes a romance novel truly romantic?

Lately I've had to do a lot of reading for a nationwide contest that I'm judging for published romance books. Plus I've also been listening to the audible book for Jane Eyre on my ipod.

What I've noticed in all this reading is that the romance genre encompasses a wide spectrum of displaying sensuality. There's everything from closed-bedroom-door sensuality all the way to the open-door-and-then-some.

If you've read my books, you'll know mine are the closed-bedroom type. That doesn't mean that the book lacks spice or spark. I've been told by more than one reader that I'm good at adding sexual tension without the sex.

Whatever the case, let me state the obvious: sex does not equal romance.

In other words, dropping a bunch of sex into a book doesn't make it more romantic than a book with less. And the opposite is true as well—closing the bedroom door doesn't mean the author is focusing more on the romance.

The romantic element of a relationship is entirely different from than the physical. Romance is the back-and-forth caring, doing those things that woo someone's heart, and having a certain amount of chivalry or nobleness—particularly from the hero.

In all the books I've been reading lately, I like the ones that develop the romance aspect, regardless of the sensuality or lack thereof. I enjoy stories best when the author takes the time to build the romantic relationship, to show the love gradually growing, to have the couple doing kind things for one another, engaging in warm conversations, and getting to know one another. 

Oh sure, I like a heart-stopping kiss or pulse-pounding encounter. But more than that, I like when the characters actively do things that show they care for each other. That could be something as simple as a bouquet of flowers. But it could also mean a special picnic, evening out, or even a flamboyant date night.

What makes a romance even more sigh-worthy (in my opinion), is when the hero recognizes how special the heroine is and SHOWS her in the various things he does for her, the ways he protects her, or the tenderness with which he cherishes her.

For example, in A Noble Groom (my book releasing in April), the hero notices that the heroine is secretly hiding money in a crock under her bed. Unknown by her, he begins to add money to her supply. Of course she eventually discovers what he's doing and is touched by it, especially since it's the complete opposite of what her deceased husband used to do—steal from the crock and gamble away the savings.

The hero does something chivalrous and sweet. While those kind of romantic moments happen all too infrequently in the daily grind of real life, we're still drawn to that kind of display of caring because it mirrors the longing inside us for deeper connections and more loving relationships.

So what makes a romance truly romantic? Whether the bedroom is closed or not, a good romance has at its heart a loving exchange of kindness, sacrifice, and tenderness. It exemplifies what relationships were meant to be like, and perhaps can be like, if we put forth the effort.

To celebrate romance, I'm giving away an early copy of The Noble Groom (releasing April 1)! (Deadline to enter giveaway: Wed. Feb. 27 midnight; US addresses only. Winner will be announced on the Thurs. Feb. 28 post. Book will ship to winner in early March.)

To enter your name into the drawing, leave a comment telling us the most romantic moment you've experienced! Or answer this question: What makes a romance truly romantic to you?
(Make sure to leave your email address with your comment so that I can notify you if you win.)

Sending you all lots of LOVE this Valentine's Day!


  1. I love this post! I love reading and writing romance and these issues you talk about are things I've thought a lot about, particularly how to add that spark and sexual tension without the often times overly done bedroom scenes. I agree, sex does not equal romance. In fact, often times I believe it takes away from the true romance.

    But to answer your question, what makes romance truly romantic? You mentioned it: Sacrifice. In one of my stories the hero does something to protect the heroine even though he likely will lose something he values for himself in the process. But he doesn't even consider it, he acts because he knows he must protect her. Giving up something for the well-being of someone else is a large part of romance.

    Looking forward to The Noble Groom releasing in April!

    1. I would love to win your new book. I enjoy reading and I am always looking for new authors and/or new books.

      I love romance books as I am a romantic at heart.

  2. Amen! I love this post. I'm always amazed how some equate sex with love. Love with self sacrifice is soooooo much deeper. :)

  3. I loved this post Jody! Romance flavors any plot, in my opinion. Loved your Unending Devotion and looking forward to The Noble Groom!!

  4. What comes to mind is the word "cherish" when I think of romantic books that stand out. It's the way a hero's eyes light up when the heroine walks in or how the hero's usually gruff ways change after falling in love.

    I'm looking forward to readying all the comments to this question.

  5. For me it's always the little things! I would love to win!

  6. This sounds ridiculous, but my very bug-phobic husband ran to the pet store to buy crickets for the frogs my class kept as pets. THAT'S love. :)

  7. The most romantic things I've experienced aren't the perfectly executed efforts of a hero in a novel. Instead, they are the bumbling attempts made by my romance challenged husband like the time he bought me a coat he'd seen me admire but purchased a size 16 when I wear a size 6. Or the time he surprised me with new tile in the bathroom but because of his color blindness got the green tile when the bathroom color scheme was blue. Those are the things that make me fall in love with him over and over again. Can't wait for A Noble Groom to hit the shelves!

  8. I second the "Little things"'s not about flowers and jewelry, and dinners's knowing that blue is my favorite color and that I love Milky Way candy bars! Can't wait for the new book!
    ladypines at aol dot com

  9. What a wonderful post! Romance to me is the little things. The simple look, touch, kind word or deed. The thinking of the other person more than yourself. A good, heart stopping kiss isn't bad either!

  10. The most romantic thing I ever experienced was when my now ex-boyfriend surprised me with tickets to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Except he forward me an email from his aunt about Thanksgiving that year and mentioned the plans to her. I didn't say a word and played dumb when he told me for real. It was the best date I've ever been on.

    briannasoloski at gmail dot com

  11. What makes a romance truly romantic to me? Well, when I'm reading a book, it's when God is the center of the relationship. I always love seeing a character come to redemption, and then having them have a selfless love for someone just makes my heart flutter. ;) I also love it when you can tell someone is legit with their love- by showing it through actions. I think that's the sweetest thing!

    Thanks for the great giveaway! I can't wait to read A Noble Groom!


  12. This is a wonderful post, Jody! Happy Valentine's Day!
    I think one of the most romantic moments in my marriage was when we had the least money. I walked to the grocery store and counted out change to buy my husband his favorite candy, a Peppermint Patty. That's all the money I had. When he came home, he had done the same thing for me and bought my favorite candy bar. We smiled and hugged and kissed. We've never fretted again about gifts because it really is showing our love and care for one another...everyday!

    I have been drooling over this book since I first saw the cover released. I can't wait to read it :)

  13. I would say the most romantic thing I've experienced (so far!) was having a song written and sung for me.

    I have loved all of your books, and cannot wait for this new one.


  14. The most romantic moment I've ever experienced was nothing particularly sacrificial but in its own way monumental. Upon meeting and having dinner for the first time he never took his eyes off of mine. Not to look at the waitress nor the menu. We talked, had dinner and spent the evening looking into each others eyes. It was breath taking, it was spiritual and it was a bit unnerving. It was as though the entire whole of the world did not exist, only us. It was romantic; too bad the relationship wasn't as strong as his ability to stare. :). amberd75(at)

  15. It's the caring part of romance that makes it the most romantic to me - I like to see subtle, thoughtful displays of love by doing small tasks, or helping to carry a burden

  16. I think what makes romance truly romantic is when its weaved together within the will of God. I love to see two people who are completely sold out to God come together and create a truly beautiful love story.

    Jody, thanks so much for the chance to win a copy of your new book! I just finished Unending Devotion and LOVED it! You never disappoint! :)


  17. Wonderful post, Jody! I love romance, too.

    I love to see the hero risking something for the heroine with no guarantee of a good return. He steps out and makes himself vulnerable for her. *sigh*

    All your books have blessed my heart and taken me on a thrilling journey. Can't wait to read ANG!

    Happy Valentine's Day!

  18. Love is when the happiness of another is essential to your own... I heard this quote somewhere and wrote it down. Don't know who said it, but it makes you think.


  19. Oh yes! I love books where we see a growing *friendship* between the two characters, one that contributes to their romance.

  20. The most romantic thing was when my husband proposed to me. At least I think it is romantic. It isn't the take-the-girl-to-a-nice-restaurant-and-hide-the-ring-in-her-food routine. Earlier in the summer he had spent a few weeks in Guatemala (where he is from)and he had a lady make a bracelet that said "Will you marry me?" braided into it. When he got back to the states he had a friend of mine take me ring shopping so he'd know which one I liked. When she called him to tell him he rushed to the store right after his shift as a janitor and bought it. He went straight to my house without stopping to shower or shave or change clothes or anything. He got down on both knees and produced two small black velvet boxes. He handed me one and said my answer to that box would determine if I got the second one. The first held the bracelet the second the ring. Of course I said yes. I think it is romantic because the fact that he had to rush over without even showering the stink off him showed how excited he was to start our lives together and also how comfortable he was with me that he knew we could be together at any time and I'd love him the same.... whether in a suit or smelling like toilets.

    Can't wait to read the new book =)

  21. My hubby fulfills my definition of romantic; he changes the oil in my vehicle, helps around the house, works hard to provide for our family, enjoys our children and shows his concern for me in many little ways daily. It's the thoughtful things day to day that show me he loves me and I'd take those over any gift of flowers or chocolate once a year!

    Thank you, Jodi, for the chance to win a copy of your new book!

  22. Well that's a nice offer. Count me in. May I put your upcoming book on my blog?

    I've had many romantic moments. To me romance isn't about a certain thing or moment but feeling like the other person puts you high on their list of "gotta have love".

    I'm trying to write my first short story romance's not easy. :) Usually I stick to mystery (not easy either) or creative nonfiction.


    1. Teresa, I would be honored if you put my upcoming book on your blog! That would be fabulous! Thank you so much! :-)

  23. Would love to win a book.
    My idea of romance - the little unexpected things my husband does for me.

  24. My idea of romance is when my husband does something around the house without me asking. Like seeing that it needs to be swept or dusted and doing it, or taking out the trash when it's full, or putting away his own clean clothes. Early in our marriage, we shared housework, etc, equally, but as life got busier and children came our roles became more traditional. I fell in love with him when I realized that he wasn't concerned about traditional male/female roles, and when he does these little things 30 years later it reminds me of why I fell in love with him in the first place!


    (sorry, I'm cautious about bots scanning web pages for email addresses).

  25. Love the mixed couple picture! Happy Valentine's Day!

  26. Hi Everyone! I'm loving hearing all of your delightful romantic experiences today! You're warming my heart with your stories and appreciation for your special someone! :-)

  27. Hi Jody, thinking of romance, I would think that having a special someone in your life that knows you and wants to make you happy, knows what you want and gets it without being asked or told about it. one who give affection and cares honestly about you.
    thanks for sharing your new book.
    Paula O(

  28. I completely agree, caring, protecting and cherishing the one you love is what romance truly is! By the way, I just finished The Doctor's Lady, it is one of the most amazing, romantic books ever! (As soon as I finished it the first time, I read it again!)
    Happy Valentine's Day

  29. So agree with you. I find Christian Romance very satisfying and it doesn't involve explicit love scenes. And to be honest, I think that if a book is to focus just on sexual content it becomes boring, disgusting and just... ugh! Contrary to the sweet, *sigh* feeling a hopeless romantic like me would want to have while reading.

    AWWW!! The example in A Noble Groom! Now I'm too eager to read it myself.

    No need to enter me in the giveaway, thank you. Happy Valentine's day everyone!

  30. The most romantic moment I experienced was when my husband proposed to me out on a rock overlooking the ocean in Cannon Beach, OR, as detailed here:

    Our Engagement

    But if you want the whole story of how we met, start here:

    How We Met

  31. I haven't experienced romance yet, I am in my 20's so there is still time, But..... I have been watching my grandparents in the last couple of years and the look on my Grandpa's face when Grandma does something for him is true Romance/Love. Grandpa has had many health problems lately including a stroke a year ago and Grandma now has to take care of literally everything for him. He no longer is aware of most of reality but the love in his eyes for Grandma never wanes, it is the one constant left. Not to be forgotten, it seen every day just how much she loves him as well. If I ever find romance of my own, that is what I want, to love and be loved like my Grandpa loves Grandma.
    Jasmine A.

  32. What makes a romance romantic to me is unending, whole devoted, and complete loyalty, faith, and love. I think that's one of the reasons I love Westley from Princess Bride, because he never doubted their love would end even when Buttercup did. And I also love when a romance is like John and Jean Groberg's portrayed in The Other Side of Heaven. John put God first and held on to the faith that he would get the love of his life in God's time, and that if it was Jean she would be waiting their for him.

    LOL that's a long answer! ;)

    Amada (pronounced:


  33. I think romance is truly romantic only if there is really true love behind the actions.

  34. Jody, your Pinterest board is killing me! I'm so excited for the release of A Noble Groom.

    As for your question, my husnand,wonderful as he is, is not demonstrative at all. We'd been having a lot of external troubles amd feeling the tension. One day, he called me to the computer, pointed to the You Tube video on the screen, and said, "The thought for the day." The song was Right Down the Line by Gerry Rafferty and was absolutely perfect. It brought me to tears and I held onto it for quite awhile to get me through some bumps in life. I jold that "thought for the day" to be the most romantic moment in my life.

  35. This post comes at a good time for me because I've been struggling with my own manuscript, particularly in terms of how to describe romance. I'm still waiting to experience my most romantic moment, because all the other moments that could have "passed" as romantic didn't even come close to being real. But what makes something truly romantic for me is when the person is considerate of another person's feelings and desires, rather than wanting someone who is just an audience or a fan club. I think it's when someone recognizes the person he or she loves as someone they'd be willing to make sacrifices for, and knowing that that person would do the same for them; the sacrifices are worth it because they love each other and are there for each other.

  36. My husband once brought me a tiny wildflower from work. He said he'd seen it from the seat of the heavy equipment he was running and thought of me. It meant more to me than an expensive bouquet of roses :)

  37. Awesome post!

    I have not been in a relationship but the things I find most romantic are the little things that say they were really thinking about you and not just because it was a day they had too!


  38. Hi Jody...
    I'm really looking forward to your new book and would love a chance at winning a copy! : ) I totally agree with your post. Some of my favorite novels have such strong romance and appeal...but keep the bedroom door closed. You mentioned that you're listening to Jane Eyre...I think that novel just jumps out at me every time when I think of romance. I think because both Jane and Rochester are wounded people (for different reasons) and desperate to love and be loved. It just makes the passion they share between each other so deep.'s hard to pinpoint the most romantic moment I've personally experienced. I am blessed to have a wonderful, loving, Godly man as my husband. He shows love and affection in so many ways...everyday things...and I'm thankful that I can look over at him and gush with love the way I do. I've shared my greatest moments and hardest moments in life with him and it has definitely drawn us closer together.

  39. I agree actions speak louder than words and I love a book when you see the relationship building and growing... I agree that sacrifice is the most romantic way to show romance because it puts the other person first! And it is the way our greatest example showed us love by dying on the cross! I loved this blog and it is so true how you explained everything! Hope you had a great Valentines day! Can't wait to read your new book!
    Lisa Medeiros

  40. Oh, definitely when a hero rescues a damsel in distress! That's about one of the most romantic things there could be in a book. Also, I think when two people cherish each other so much that all the people watching them can see it just by looking at them. *sighs* That's definitely such a beautiful sight, especially in these days.

    Thanks for the giveaway, Jody! My daughter is so excited for your upcoming book! I'm entering for her...


  41. Well currently I'm single so I haven't had much "experience " with romance. :) I like to think that rather than having a boyfriend, I consider the Lord as my True Love. :D
    Thanks so much for a chance to win a copy of your new book! I can't wait for it's release!

  42. The most romantic moment for me was meeting my hubs. I met my hubby online while he was stationed in Japan, and I was living in Canada. The countless (loooongggg) emails and late-night (to late morning!) phone calls led to him flying into Seattle for Christmas to spend it with me and my son.

    At the airport, I thought I'd be smart and stand back from the luggage carousel so I could be the first to see him. While waiting, I got a tingle up my back, and I *knew*. I turned around, and there he was, walking up to me from behind, grinning from ear-to-ear. In that moment, I knew he was the one I'd marry. We had our first kiss at SeaTac International Airport, and sure enough, after conversations with my mum and son, he proposed seven days later, on Christmas day. This year, we'll be celebrating our seventh year of honeymooning. <3 The Lord couldn't have provided a better husband and father.

    Thank you so much for the chance to win a copy of your book!

  43. I once read that love is when someone else's happiness is as important to you as your own.
    I think of that when someone wonders if what they feel is love or if their relationship is based in love.

    Like other posters, I also prefer slow building romances and I don't need to hear or read the graphic intimate details. Sex isn't a spectator sport!

  44. Your example of the hero secretly adding to her stash reminds me of a favorite TV hero. On the surface he's obnoxious and drives her completely crazy, but when she's not looking, he's always doing things amazing, sweet things.

    I'd love to win the book.

  45. Most romantic thing is the hero doing nice and wonderful things for the heroine without her realizing it (ex: Darcy in Pride & Prejudice).

  46. It is the journey of two hearts who are orchestrated by the Lord to come together and serve Him through joys and trials. The reader is given a special incite into their lives and over a span of days, months and years. We are there. We are an unseen part of their journey and life.

  47. My most romantic moment was something my husband of 34+ years said to me on the phone not long after we began dating. He'd always call me when he got home from taking me home and let me know he arrived safely. He called and said, "Every time I close my eyes, I see you." Sigh.

  48. One of my most romantic moments was when I was working in Bedford, UK for three months. I received a massive bouquet of flowers from my now husband at the office in the UK. He had to call the UK and order them. He trully struggles with accents so I realized what it meant for him to go to such effort and pay for them in BP on his credit card. Mary Koester

  49. Can't say that I recall any special romantic moment, but any time spent with my husband is wonderful! :) Going on 30 yrs this yr!
    Would love to win your new book. Loved them all so far!

  50. One of my most romantic moments was when my husband came and "rescued me" after we had a major earthquake where we live and I was stuck in another city because of roads that were closed. He didn't even know where to find me, but was determined, and drove 35 miles to the other town and asked around where the shelters were. He showed up at the shelter I was at in the middle of the night and found me and our son trying to sleep on a cot. This was years ago, before we had cell phones. I still remember that he felt like my knight in shining armor.

  51. My most romantic moment didn't seem so romantic at the time, but when I look back at it, it really was. First let me set the scene. It was our tenth anniversary. For our tenth anniversary, we were hoping to go on a cruise but we couldn't because our son was very sick. He was diagnosed with cancer seven years into our marriage, it came back 1 1/2 years after that, and then it came back again three months before our tenth anniversary.

    So at the time of our anniversary we were already worn out because of three years of fighting cancer. We lived about two hours from the hospital, so it made for long days and weeks. During the two months prior to our anniversary we were preparing our son for a stem cell transplant. I was living at the children's hospital with our older son, my husband was living at home because he needed to work so we could pay bills and he also had to take care of our younger son. He also needed to drive my younger son back and forth to grandparents when he was too busy with work to take care of him properly. Unfortunately, the closest set of grandparents was 1 1/2 hours from our house and 1 hour from the hospital. Needless to say, we both were beat, physically and mentally.

    My husband had the day of our anniversary off, so he drove to see me. But he slept in all morning because he was so tired. He stayed with us all afternoon, but the only time we had alone was about 90 minutes when our son was getting radiation. We stayed in the hospital room because we were too tired to even go to the cafeteria, much less a restaurant. But my husband brought a box of TGIFriday frozen Buffalo Wings, one of my favorite foods. We couldn't have flowers because my son's immune system was too weak. So we sat next to each other staring at the television and eating wings for our anniversary. We hardly talked because it took up too much energy and we knew we'd have to make the trek down to recovery soon to bring back our son plus he still needed more chemo that evening.

    See what I mean? It wasn't romantic at the time. In fact that memory made me cry sad tears for a while, especially when I heard of friends having romantic anniversaries in Hawaii and other tropical places. I was very jealous. Not only did they have healthy kids, but they got to go on romantic vacations to exotic places. But as time went by, I realized how romantic the day was for us. We were so worn out, that being exhausted would have been an improvement. But my husband drove four hours round trip to spend an hour alone with me. He brought my favorite food. And I didn't have to do anything. He came just to be with me, even if it meant staring at a television because I couldn't do anything more than that. No, it's not the romance of Hollywood or even a romance novel but it still brings me to tears (good tears now) when I think of it. But he's such a guy about it. He shrugs his shoulders and says he hopes our 15 and 20 will be better than that one.


  52. WOW!! I'm SO touched by reading all of your stories, everyone!!! Thank you for sharing them! You've blessed me with all your heartfelt comments! :-)


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