Passion Project: How To Write A Romance
NEXT|March 2020
Have you ever secretly thought you could be the next Nora Roberts or Diana Gabaldon? Award-winning Kiwi romance novelist Bronwyn Sell takes you through her 10-step plan
Bronwyn Sell

If I had a page of text for every time I’ve heard something along the lines of, “I would totally write a romance novel, if only I had a spare weekend,” I’d have a workable draft by now.

It’s not that easy, of course. But like the genre itself, the life of a romance novelist has an aspirational appeal – making a living (hopefully) from sending love and optimism out into a world that sorely needs it. So, if you harbour an ambition to write a romance, here’s a 10-step plan to get you started.

1 UNDERSTAND YOUR GENRE

In the book industry, “romance novel” has a specific meaning. For all the dismissive talk that it’s a formulaic genre, there’s only one strict rule: your romance must have a happy ending. It can be a happy-ever-after or merely a happy-for-now, but it must be optimistic.

If you have a romance subplot but your heroine ultimately chooses to find herself rather than find love, you may be writing women’s fiction. If you kill her off or the relationship doesn’t work out in some other way, you may be writing a love story. Either way, don’t market it as a romance. Romance readers will eviscerate you. To cultivate a long and mutually beneficial relationship with your readers, you must give them what they long for – an emotionally satisfying ending after a compelling journey of discovery. The question is not whether your protagonists will get it together at the end, but how on earth they’ll solve the seemingly insurmountable conflicts in their way. Like life, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

2 FIND YOUR SUBGENRE

One of the great things about writing romance today is that nearly any niche can find an audience, from a rural romance set on a South Island sheep station, to a time-travelling LGBTQIA young-adult historical vampire space opera. Write the book you’d love to read. I adore a clever romantic comedy, so that’s what I write, and I also enjoy a good action thriller, so I write romantic suspense too, under a different pen name. Once you’ve chosen your subgenre, or at least narrowed it down, read voraciously within it. The brilliant thing about writing is that it’s largely learned by osmosis.

3 CHOOSE A TROPE

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