How to write a romance novel is an extension of the question: How to write a novel? We’re going to use ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes and pretend we are writing it from scratch, just like we did for GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn. The post on GONE GIRL explains how to write a novel in general.
So now, let’s get genre specific with romance.
In my search for a book to use, I chose ME BEFORE YOU because it’s rated 4.5 stars on Amazon from over 33,000 readers and just over 4 stars from over 1.2 million ratings on Goodreads. So clearly this is a book readers love. I also chose it because I hadn’t read it yet.
You can read ME BEFORE YOU before or after reading this post, but I must warn you, there is a spoiler. I give away the ending.
Find Your Romance Niche
Before you write your romance novel, you should have an idea of the premise and what the romance niche will be. For a romance story to work, the main story line is about…you guessed it…a romance.
What I mean by niche is the secondary story line. Here are some options:
- Contempoary Romance
- Young Adult Romance
- Mysteries, thrillers, or suspense Romances
- Paranormal Romance
- Fantasy Romance
- Horror Romance
- Science Fiction Romance
- Historical Romance
Knowing the niche before you start writing will help you with developing characters, plot, and settings.
How to Write a Romance Novel: Steps 1 and 2
Let’s assume you have a premise or an idea for your story, and you know the niche you want to write in. If that’s true, skip to Step 1 below.
What if you don’t have a premise but want to write a romance? Our friends a ProWritingAid wrote Use These 81 Romance-Writing Prompts to Start Your Next Romance Novel. Yes you read that right. 81 one ideas to get you going.
Once you have an idea, give the story a title.
Write a blurb. You’re writing a blurb for yourself, not the reader. It’s to keep you focussed as you write your first draft.
The title and the blurb are to keep you focussed as you write your first draft.
The blurb for ME BEFORE YOU shows the reader LOUISA is the protagonist, as she is mentioned first. The opening line is “They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose…” tells us this is a romance novel.
ME BEFORE YOU Blurb
You can change the title and the blurb once you’ve written your story. The goal now is to have a framework that keeps you focussed on the story you want to write.
On note on choosing your protagonist. In Leigh Michaels book: How to Craft a Romance Novel that Sells she says:
“Though there are always two main characters in the romance novel, in most books the major focus is on the heroine – the story is primarily her story. Though the hero’s point of view and thoughts are usually included, the heroine’s point of view and thoughts usually take up a larger portion of the book.”
Since the romance novel includes such a wide variety of genres, I want to add the heroine and hero are two characters of any type. Two people, robots, animals, aliens, etc. It doesn’t matter. What matters is which character is the reader following and cheering for. That character is your protagonist. Think of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Elliot clearly falls in love with E.T. not in the romantic sense, but in the sense that he will risk his life to save E.T. In YOU BEFORE ME, Louisa is the heroine (protagonist) and Will is the hero.
How to Write A Romance Novel Step 3
In writing the blurb, you’ve chosen the protagonist. You must know whose story you’re telling. Since we are pretending to be Jojo, we’ll decide to write this novel from Louisa’s point of view. Remember, we’re starting as if there is no story yet. You can always change this later, but for now, it’s another way to keep focussed.
The protagonist is the main character who pursues the story goal and has the most to win or lose. Clearly from the blurb, Serle has chosen Dannie as the protagonist.
It can be hard knowing who the protagonist is, particularly in a romance novel. The romance genre is often misunderstood as having two protagonists.
Here are 3 quick tips.
- Every scene must impact the protagonist in a positive or negative way. Even if they are not in the scene.
- Every scene takes the characters closer to or farther away from getting together.
- The protagonist will be the character the reader is following and cheering for.
Panster or a Plotter?
Whether you happen to be a panster (a person who writes a novel without an outline) or a plotter (a person who writes a full outline before writing a draft), you can benefit from having a process. You’re the artist, and how you create your story must be done in your own way. I’m here to give you focus while you retain the creative aspect.
If romance is your genre, you need to know the key beats. What’s a beat, you ask. These are the key scenes a reader expects in your story.
How to Write A Romance Novel Step 4
Start Your Novel Outline
A blank page can be overwhelming, intimidating, and terrifying…But what if you don’t have to face that blank page?
You’ve already given your story a title and written a blurb. That puts you in a great place to start an outline.
A Story Arc Refresher
The simplest form of the story arc, also known as the narrative arc, is made up of 5 key scenes (plot points) and can help you create your story structure in a way that captivates readers. These scenes are the Inciting Incident, Plot Point 1, the Middle, Plot Point 2, and the Climax. These key scenes must appear in the right place for the human brain to love the story.
Don’t worry about key scene placement until you have a draft written.
If you know the key scenes before you write, this is the best place to start an outline.
Every key scene must be written from the point of view of the protagonist.
Fictionary StoryTeller makes outlining easy. Add scenes and chapters as you outline. Drag and drop scenes and chapters when you change your mind about where the best placement is.
ME BEFORE YOU Outline
If you’re a visual learner, we’ve put together a short video that shows you how to start a new novel in Fictionary StoryTeller.
ME BEFORE YOU Setup & Indicting Incident
Let’s start with the setup and inciting incident in ME BEFORE YOU. The setup includes the inciting incident and leads to plot point 1 at around 25% into the story.
To start an outline in Fictionary StoryTeller, I’ve named the opening scene The Setup. I’ve set the story arc scene to yes, and the purpose of the scene is the inciting incident. As you build your outline, you’ll add more scenes and chapters. The setup shows the reader Louisa’s normal life and why she has feelings of inadequacies.
The inciting incident is the moment Louisa’s world changes in a dramatic way. Louisa losing her job is the trigger for her to find a job taking care of Will. Without the job loss, she wouldn’t have changed her life and wouldn’t have met Will. This is the reason I chose this as the inciting incident and not a scene where two characters meet. In a love story, the inciting incident can also be the scene where the love interests meet each other. As the outline builds and the story gets written, it may turn out a different scene is the inciting incident.
Keep in mind this is an outline. In the final version of ME BEFORE YOU, the opening scene is not the inciting incident. In the published version, the opening scene is a prologue from Will’s point of view.
When we begin an outline, we don’t know where the key scenes will end up. What we are doing here is building a framework to write our story.
ME BEFORE YOU Plot Point 1
Plot point 1 is the point of no return. Louisa can’t back out of the central conflict. This is when the setup of the story ends and Act I is over.
During the setup, Treena tells Louisa she is going back to college. This puts pressure on Louisa that she has to keep a job. It doesn’t mean she couldn’t quit the job taking care of Will, because she could find another job.
Plot point 1 happens when Louisa overhears that Will has a plan to kill himself. She’s the only person who has made Will smile or show an interest in anything up to this point, so she can’t leave the job. In the Romance genre, this is referred to as the point of adhesion. This maps to plot point 1 in general terms and is the end of Act I.
You’ll notice I’ve only written a summary of plot point 1, and the outline is already building. Soon, we’ll have to think about what will happen between plot point 1 and the middle. But first, let’s decide what the middle will be.
ME BEFORE YOU Middle
Act II is often the hardest part of a novel to write. It takes up 50% of the word count and goes from plot point 1 to plot point 2. This is the whole of act II. By having a structure ahead of time, it will be easier to write the connecting scenes. The first half of ACT II is taken up by scenes from plot point 1 to the middle. The second half is taken up by scenes from the middle to plot point 2.
Like all well-written middle scenes, Louisa moves from a reactionary mode to a proactive mode. Two worlds can overlap as happens in ME BEFORE YOU.
Here are the minimum number of scenes needed between the middle and plot point 2.
ME BEFORE YOU Plot Point 2
Plot point 2 is a low point for the protagonist. Louisa’s actions since the middle have caused disaster. Plot point 2 causes Louisa to become more determined to reach her goal of saving Will from himself. This must be the worst moment for Louisa, so it must hurt.
Once you’ve decided on plot point 2, the following are the key scenes that should be included in the story to bring it to an ending that satisfies and thrills the reader.
ME BEFORE YOU Climax
We’re now close to the end of how to write a romance novel. A climax scene must have the highest level of conflict, the greatest tension, or the most devastating emotional upheaval. Let’s see what Moyes (in our made up world) decided in her outline.
Romance Novel Outline – Story Arc Scenes
The following outline is what we have to start with. If you’re a panster, I believe this is the minimum outline that must be created. Don’t worry that this will stifle your creativity. There is now space to let the story come to you as you write. You may even choose to change the key scenes. The goal is to do so knowingly and not by accident.
You control the creative design of your story.
How to Write a Romance Novel: After the Story Arc
You’ll continue adding scenes until you’ve added enough scenes to your outline that you feel confident you can write your story.
Now that you have key scenes outlined, it’s time to outline the scenes between the key scenes. Our next blog on romance will cover this in more detail. For now, be proud you’ve put together an outline.
If you’ve already written a draft, then you can use the key scenes to revise and edit your draft.
How do You Know You’ve Written a Draft?
We often refer to a manuscript as a draft, so let’s get specific. I consider a manuscript a draft if it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
So yes…that’s obvious and vague.
A draft means the story contains an inciting incident, plot point 1, a middle, plot point 2, a climax, and a resolution. The first five are key scenes on the story arc.
Once a story has these plus the scenes that connect the key scenes together, we can consider it a draft.
A draft must exist before you can determine the impact every scene has on the protagonist, which is really important in determining if the story is going to work.
Then you get to move on to editing that draft! For more help check out How Creating a Book Outline Helps You Edit.
What to do After You’re Sure Your Story Works
Once you’ve written and revised until you’re sure your story is the best you can make it, it’s time to move on to a copy edit. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention ProWritingAid. It’s the tool I use for copyediting.
How Many Words in a Romance Novel?
Now that you have a draft, you’ll want to check the work count. Here’s where romance writers get a break from other genres. A romance novel can be anywhere from 40,000 to 100,00o words. This is dependent on what type of romance novel you’ve written.
A historical romance novel with be longer than a young adult romance novel. Check out Word Count Per Genres to see where your story fits in.
How Many Pages is a Typical Romance Novel
In the publishing industry, it’s generally accepted that there are 250 words per page. A 40,000-word novel translates to 160 pages. A 100,000-word novel translates to 400 pages.
Are You a Professional Editor and Romance is Your Speciality?
StoryCoach for professional editors is a tool for performing better structural edits in less time.
How to Write a Book Resources
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Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trial and turn your words into stories readers love.