Anyone (?) can write a romance novel

Over at the London Times, there’s an amusing article about a journalist who tries her hand at writing a romance novel.  When I saw the headline, my first reaction was to groan and assume it would be another hit piece on romance novels and novelists.  I could predict the tenor of the story: “I’m already a journalist, so I know how to write!  Romance writers make a fine living, so I’ll give it a whirl!  Romances are simplistic love stories, told to housewives eating bon bons, so how hard could it be?”

I was relieved to find that the article wasn’t a hit piece after all.  The writer interviews two charming editors from Mills and Boon, who ably defend the genre and its readers.  And they encourage the journalist to try her hand at it.  So she does … discovering that it’s not as easy as it seems.  The editors critique her novel in progress, give her a few tips, and encourage her to keep writing.  Which the journalist intends to do, and she’ll share her progress with the London Times.

The best part of the article were the writing tips the editors shared.  Among their tips were a few that apply to every genre:

“Base your story on universal emotional truths. Not just love and death, but renewal, justice, truth, strength, contentment, passion and tenderness.

Make your characters resonant and believable as well as aspirational. Have them communicate with plentiful dialogue, and motivate their actions soundly.

Who is driving your story? Make sure the conflict always comes from the main characters and their emotions – not from the supporting cast.

Layer the drama with highs and lows, advance and retreat.

To develop your heroine convincingly, feed her backstory through the action of the book, avoiding “chunking” – shoving in lengthy chunks of interior monologue. “

This is some of the same advice I give when I teach thriller writing courses. 

Whatever the genre, these tips are universal.

8 replies
  1. knaster
    knaster says:

    Hi Tess,

    Whatever the genre, I follow the philosophy that you should write aout what you know. I have read all your books, from the romance novels to the medical thrillers. It’s nice to know that there are some authors that can be flexible in what they write.
    You’re advice above is right on! I got the same advice from my college professor in a short story writing course. Make the storyline and the characters convincing and keep the readers’ interests. You accomplish that in all of your books. If the storyline shifts back and forth and no one can follow the story, I usually put the book down and hopefully wait for the movie version. Your books follow a distinct story and it intensifies on each page, but it doesn’t deviate from the rest of the book.
    I guess we do write what we know. Why else would I read your books/
    All i have to say is…thank you!

  2. Kyle K.
    Kyle K. says:

    Hey Tess!

    It always irkes me when people say, “I should just write a book and make a million bucks.” (Yes, someone actually said that to me once!) They don’t really understand everything that goes into writing a book, whatever genre it may be. They all have their challenges… even romance, which some people are really hard pressed to believe for some reason…!

    Definitely some really sound advice…

    Since TBG came ouf a couple months ago, and I’m assuming they need 4-6 months for editing and printing, that should make you about halfway through the process of writing your next book? How’s it going so far?

  3. l.c.mccabe
    l.c.mccabe says:


    I recently discovered a blog written by two women who love romance books. It is hysterically funny.

    One of their recent posts showcases and then eviscerates a solicitation by the Washington Post for romance writers to send in pictures of their bedrooms for Valentine’s Day. Because romance writers have to have special romantic lairs.

    If you need a good laugh, check this out:

    Be sure to click on the “More, more, more!” link at the bottom to get the no holds barred critique of that letter. The comment trail is pretty humorous as well.



  4. april
    april says:

    I really get worked up over critics of the romance genre. I really don’t think it’s much different than any other genre. In addition, a good story is a good story.

    The tips are great and universal. I think romance is extremely difficult to write because there is a set formula. You have to have two people fall in love. That said, you also have to be original or a reader will tune the book out.

  5. therese
    therese says:

    Thanks for that url Linda! I wish I could send them a picture of my bedroom….

    How quaint to think some ‘professional journalists’ still think romance authors have homes decorated like harems and just wave their hand across the keyboard pushing stereotype characters into cookie-cutter plots. “Any one can do it and get a million bucks.” Until they try.

    Tess, it’s wonderful this journalist is actually doing her job and if she does achieve publication, it will be interesting to see what she thinks about it being easy then. I’m jealous she’s getting extra attention and advice from editors while in process.

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