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Show the Love—Genre Requirements (Romance)

August 21, 2017 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified August 21, 2017

While most writers want to create a unique story with fresh characters facing new challenges, it’s also true that most novels enter the world facing reader expectations regarding genre.

Suspense novels require a ticking clock and a sense of danger.

Mysteries have to play fair with clues; readers must be able to solve the mystery with the clues provided.

Science fiction novels need to contain elements, technology, or events that are possible or could be possible or have been possible in the past based on what is known of scientific principles.

Romances have to include romance.


Today I want to focus on the romance in romance novels, specifically the falling-in-love part.

While many stories feature romance as a secondary element or plot thread, I want to look at romance novels in particular because they have a requirement that other novels don’t necessarily have to have—romance novels need to show the lovers falling in love.

Now, if the story deals with a married couple that’s going through problems but they’ve already done the falling in love part, that’s a different story with a different setup. You can show that the characters love each other without having to show them falling in love all over again.

But in most romances—no matter which subgenre we’re talking about—a major part of the story is concerned with the lovers as they fall in love.

The characters may be strangers, friends, or antagonists when the story opens, but by the end, the characters are in love. And that journey has to be shown to the reader.

The characters may have to solve a mystery or save the world, but they also have to fall in love. And in romance, that means a progression toward love that plays out on the page.

And that means that you’ve got to show your lovers falling for each other. Simply announcing that they’re in love three quarters of the way through the book doesn’t cut it. Your job as a writer is to make readers believe the characters are in love. And that’s not always easy.

Lust isn’t love. It can lead to love, but you have to make sure that your characters feel more for each other than a desire to have sex.

Attraction isn’t love either. It may be the starting point, but attraction isn’t enough for love. Not in a romance. Just because a character likes the way another character moves or talks, that doesn’t mean love exists. Attraction may be enough for some characters in some stories, but not for the leads in a romance.

Show the attraction, yes. Show the lust. But also show admiration. Respect. Affection. Show friendship.


An example

Show why Marcus is falling for Emily.

What about Emily is he drawn to? Beyond the physical, what does he notice about her that snares his interest? What satisfies something in him when he recognizes it in her?

What in Emily speaks to his inmost being?

For Marcus to see something in Emily that captures his attention and then his heart, you have to show Emily doing something or being someone who grabs his attention. Emily should have something that other women don’t have. She should be something that other women aren’t. She should complement Marcus in some way.

The characters can disagree, they can fight, they can break up. But all along there should be something specific in each of them that draws the other one closer and closer still. There must be something that sets them apart from other men and women and makes them stand out to this one other character.

Think of them as being magnets and iron to one another.

There needs to be something—maybe several somethings—that attracts them to this other person. Whatever it is that draws them has to be strong enough to withstand all the forces that work to push them apart. Whatever pulls them together has to be strong enough to take two highly different people and make them one couple, an entity that never existed before. An entity that can’t be broken apart.

As with any behavior critical to a story, falling in love has to have a motivation; characters must have reasons to fall in love. They can’t just fall in love because you’re writing a romance and they must fall in love. You have to include all the pieces that add up to them falling in love.

You need to show the reason one character falls in love with another as well as show the other character doing things that make the first character fall for him or her. You need to show the fulfillment of the reason play out in front of the reader. That is, you show the motivation from the viewpoint of one character and you show why that character falls for another character through what the second character is doing.

The characters need to fit. So Emily has what Marcus needs. And because you tell us about and show us the inner man, we see what Marcus needs. And because you tell us and show us some more, we see how Emily meets his needs.

If Marcus needs a woman who will love his daughter, we need to understand that that’s one of his needs. And we need to see Emily loving his daughter.

If Marcus needs a kickass woman to travel the world with him as they chase down spies, we need to understand that that’s what he’s looking for—whether he’s admitted that to himself or not—and we need to see Emily operating as a kickass woman who can do the job.

This means that you need to write situations where we can see Emily doing and being what Marcus needs. We need to see Marcus noticing Emily’s skills and gifts. We need to hear Marcus (in thoughts or speech) recognizing those gifts and skills. We need to hear Emily looking for ways to love Marcus’s daughter or plotting to catch the spies.

And not only do we need to see Marcus’s motivations for falling in love with Emily and see the skills, strengths, and weaknesses in Emily that make Marcus fall for her, we need to see everything from the opposite point of view as well.

So we need to see what motivates Emily to fall for Marcus. We need to see Marcus in action doing things that make Emily fall for him.

We need to see how they fit each other’s needs and deficiencies and desires.

In romances, characters can’t just claim to be in love by the end of the story. They have to have reasons to fall in love. And you have to make those reasons clear.

One writer might be more obvious than another in the way the falling in love is shown—Marcus had never expected to meet a woman as fearless under pressure as his partner’s wife, but Emily was in a category all her own—but readers need to see the characters begin to admire and then cherish each other.

Readers shouldn’t be surprised when a character realizes that he or she has fallen in love. The reader should be able to pinpoint the moment the character finally toppled. The reader should be able to point to those events and moments that built toward love for both characters.

As you evaluate the falling-in-love element in your romance, ask yourself a few questions:

Why does Marcus love Emily? Why does Emily love Marcus? What is there about each of them that stirs this other person to love? (There can be multiple reasons, of course.)

Why do each of them fall for one another rather than someone else? Are those reasons obvious to the reader?

Do they fall in love only because of the situation, or have you given them reasons intrinsic to the characters? That is, do they actually love one another, or do they love the adventure they’re involved with?

How have you shown the motivation(s) for each of them to fall in love?

How have you shown each of them doing something that appeals to the other character?

Are they together on enough different occasions and for long enough time in total to develop feelings of love?

Have you shown the moment of realization for each of them, the moment they know that they’re in love? Was the moment emotional enough? Did the moment of realization match the character?

Did they actually admit their love to one another? If so, did that scene fit the characters? If not, will they admit their love in another book? If they only get one chance to declare their love, make sure they do it in some way, a way that fits them.


Once you’ve written at least a first draft, consider your romance couple. Have you given them strong enough reasons to fall in love? Would such people fall in love and stay in love? Have you given them strong enough motivations to fall for the other character that you paired them with?

If you haven’t included enough to convince readers that they’re in love, rewrite.

Have you paired the right characters?

If you’re characters don’t fit, if they wouldn’t fall in love, recast the story.

Have you shown the falling-in-love part, the attraction and giddiness, the doubts, the inevitability? Have you shown the frustration that loving another person can bring? Have you shown the joy, the satisfaction, that love produces?

Readers come to romance to feel emotions. Make sure your characters’ thoughts, speech, and actions stir reader emotions.

There’s a lot more to romances than this one element, but it’s an element you can easily look for and rework if it’s not complete.

If you’re writing romances and your characters will fall in love over the course of the story, be sure to show the fall and show it from both sides. Help your readers experience the thrill and the emotional highs and lows of watching two made-for-one-another individuals discover that they are not alone.

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Tags: , ,     Posted in: Genre Requirements

13 Responses to “Show the Love—Genre Requirements (Romance)”

  1. Steve Lowe says:

    All you need is love. (Sgt. Pepper)


  2. Lynda Dietz says:

    This explains things so well. I’ve edited manuscripts where I’ve left the author notes like, “But WHY are they in love? Just because you told us they are?”

    I appreciate the way you’ve outlined all the questions that should be asked. Thanks for a great post!

    • Lynda, I’ve run into the same situation in more than a few manuscripts and have asked the same question you ask. For romance, it’s one that definitely needs to be answered by the events of the story. Thanks for letting me know that you liked the article.

  3. Kerstin says:

    Ah, I hope you’ll do this for other genres as well. I don’t write romance, but it’ll still be useful for the subplots. People do fall in love in my stories, even if it’s not the main focus.

  4. Janell says:

    A great guide to making sure your romance does its job! :)

  5. Helen says:

    Thank you Beth. This was really helpful in more ways than just about writing a romance. I look forward to the same for the other genres.

  6. Thanks for these specific tips for romance writing. They’re greatly appreciated. I’ve shared them online.

  7. Gina says:

    These are so helpful! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Amina says:

    Hi! This is really helpful. Writing romance is tricky. I love your blog. Is there a subscibe button here?
    I am writing romance and even though I know some things, it gets frustrating to maintain the balance. I love this blog. Definitely one to bookmark.