How To Write A Romance Novel: 3 Actionable Steps To Stand Out

POSTED ON Jul 28, 2023

Sarah Rexford

Written by Sarah Rexford

Home > Blog > Fiction > How To Write A Romance Novel: 3 Actionable Steps To Stand Out

Romance is one of the bestselling fiction genres, which means learning how to write a romance novel is where your road to success begins. In fact, in 2021, 18% of adult fiction sales were from romance alone, making it the second highest-selling category in fiction.

Readers love romance, and for good reason. Stories of love, happily ever after endings, and the tension of forming relationships are aspects of life we resonate with. Who doesn’t enjoy cracking into a new novel and finding inspiration in our favorite fictional characters? 

But writing romance is an entirely different animal. How do you compete with the millions of books already published? Learning how to write a romance novel before you ever put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard?), is the perfect place to start. 

In this article, I cover what exactly this genre is, a few of its sub-genres, and how to write romance (including how to write a romance novel outline). Without further ado, let’s get going. 

How To Write A Romance Novel: Defining The Genre

We can define the romance genre as novels whose key plot focuses on two characters and their love story. Jane Austen is a classic example of an author who does this well with her beloved characters. 

Whether it’s Mr. Darcy believing Elizabeth Bennet is beneath him, or Emma pushing herself into the love lives of those around her, romance books center on love. The depth of focus on the topic, as well as the subplots surrounding it, define what type of romance you write. 

For instance, fantasy romance books incorporate fantastical elements that add to the story. A few classic examples of this subgenre include The Princess Bride, Twilight, and Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel, Outlander

It's helpful to read young adult fiction books when learning how to write a romance novel. This popular subgenre includes titles such as To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, The Fault In Our Stars, and The Sun Is Also A Star.

List Of Sub-Genres 

When learning how to write a romance novel, it's helpful to understand that its sub-genres also include a further categorizing of plots. Before we take our deep dive into how to write a romance novel, let’s make sure you have a good understanding of where your next novel fits on the shelf. Here is a short list of sub-genre options:

  • Fantasy romance books
  • Young adult romance books
  • Dark fantasy romance books
  • Spicy fantasy romance books
  • Steamy fantasy romance 
  • Historical romance
  • Romantic comedy
  • Romantic suspense 
  • Contemporary romance
  • Enemies to lovers
  • Love triangle
  • Forbidden love
  • Medical romance
  • Second chance romance
  • Time travel romance 

The list could go on, but you get the point. Romance is a massive genre, filled with subgenres, and further subgenres within those subgenres. If you’re worried you won’t be able to master the art of how to write romance, rest assured, your plot likely fits somewhere, as long as there’s a focus on love! 

Related: Master List of Book Genres

3 Steps For Writing Your Romance Novel

With the foundation laid, how do you write a romance novel? What are a few practical steps that can take you from idea to final draft? Below are three of the most crucial aspects involved in how to write romance. I break each aspect down into actionable steps so that wherever you find yourself in the process, you are equipped to move forward. 

#1 – Identify Your Protagonist 

Your protagonist is the hero of your story and should be the character who drives the action. Helpful questions to ask when choosing who should star in your novel are which character has:

  • The biggest goals?
  • The most at stake?
  • The most complicated circumstance? 

While experienced authors can make almost any character a leading one (consider Suzanne Collins’ book The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes), it’s helpful to choose the character who makes the most sense. 

If Collins had written The Hunger Games from Katniss’s mother’s point-of-view, readers never would’ve entered the games or experienced the Capitol. In the same way, if Nicholas Sparks had cast Travis’s dad as the protagonist in The Choice, the love story would’ve had an entirely different feel. 

Make sure that as you choose your protagonist, you keep their love interest in mind. Just as directors cast actors with good chemistry, make sure your lead and their love interest can work as a pair.

Now it’s time to discuss how to write a romance novel outline, why you should, and what exactly it entails. Don’t worry if you are a pantser when it comes to writing (someone who writes without much planning), I included a minimalist outline as well!

#2 – The Importance Of Your Outline

There are several reasons why outlining can help you learn how to write a romance novel and, better yet, learn how to write romance in a way that draws your readers in. 

Write Your Book Faster 

When you choose to spend time upfront crafting an outline, you greatly cut the amount of time it takes to write the actual scenes. Instead of finishing a chapter and wondering where to go next, simply reference your outline and keep writing.

Know How Your Story Ends

Writing toward an ending helps keep you on track and avoid the pitfalls common to pantsers. Additionally, when you know how your story ends you can drop hints throughout your chapters leading up, a type of easter egg to keep the reader turning pages. 

Elliminates Writer’s Block

We’ve all been there—wanting to write but not knowing what to write. Part of learning how to write a romance book comes down to making sure you actually write. Outlining – and maybe even using a book title generator to come up with a working title – provides you a rough map for when you feel your creative energy is lacking.

Focus On Quality Of Writing Over Coming Up With Ideas

Crafting a draft, however minimal or detailed, allows you to shift your focus. Rather than preoccupy your headspace with thoughts like, “What do I write next?”, you can focus on the quality of your writing. How to write romance that sells relies at least in part on the quality of your writing. 

#3 – Six Methods To Complete Your Draft

There are many helpful methods for writing your book and various ones to choose from. You can determine what works for you by simply trying several of the options below and then sticking with the one that’s most helpful. 

Remember, these methods are meant to help you toward your end goal of completing your draft, so refuse to get stuck on a method that’s not helpful to you. Finding the right method is crucial, especially when learning how to write a romance novel. I explain why below.

Simple table outline 

One of the most efficient tools to aid you in writing your draft is via a simple table created in an Excel spreadsheet. A table outline is extremely helpful if you have a difficult timeline or perhaps two overlapping timelines. 

For example, Nicholas Sparks’ book, The Longest Ride, combines many shifting elements. If your romance book falls into a similar category, you may want to try a table to keep track of any moving pieces. 

Remember that the point of a table outline is to help keep you moving as you draft your manuscript. The quicker you can get your initial draft down, the more likely you are to stick with edits and publish!

Post-it note method 

Discovering how to write a romance novel in a way that is most efficient, while still being effective, can be difficult. This is where the tried and true post-it note method comes to play. Post-it notes are an extremely visual, interactive way to plan out your various love stories. 

If your story focuses on a love triangle, you may want to try out the post-it note method. This method allows you to easily structure and move post-its around. If you want your protagonist to fall in love earlier than later, or introduce the third player in the triangle a bit sooner, simply move your post-it note up the line. 

Snowflake method 

Randy Ingermanson is responsible for what we know as the snowflake method. Writers often design great plots and draft compelling drafts from this method.

Put simply, the snowflake method builds off each element of your story. Start with a line, build to a paragraph, chapter, and so forth, until you complete your rough draft. For more on the snowflake method, view this resource.

Skeletal method 

If you prefer to write as a pantser, this is the most minimalistic, basic method and will likely work perfectly for you. Simply plan out your chapters, write down a few bullet points of the main ideas and supporting events taking place within the chapter, and then get to writing.

Template method 

You may want to browse various templates or research your favorite romance authors and see which method they use. Open your favorite search engine and look up “how to write a romance novel template.” 

Many, many different methods should pop up at your fingertips, including what you should include in acts one, two, and three of your romance novel.  

Reverse outline 

Alright creatives, I see you. If the above methods seem too straight forward or you want to give yourself a different type of challenge, you should attempt the reverse outline. As the name implies, when you use a reverse outline you start at the end of your novel and work backward. 

This type of planning allows you to make both your plot and your characters even more complex. Because you know X falls in love with Y at the end, you can develop their character arcs accordingly, drop hints, and craft character journeys you wouldn't be able to otherwise. 

Examples Of Various Romance Books

Now that you’ve identified your protagonist, know how to write a romance novel outline, and have several methods to complete your rough draft, it’s time to look at concrete examples of romance books. 

Below are five common subgenres with examples from authors who have proven they know how to write a romance novel. Studying the work of successful romance authors will help inspire your own writing, ignite your creativity, and ultimately, help you move forward well. 

Contemporary Romance

According to the New York Post, Emily Henry’s People We Meet On Vacation is one of the best in this genre. Here are a few things Emily does well that we can all learn from.

First, she casts two unlikely characters in leading roles: Poppy and Alex. They are completely different from each other (a common romantic trope), but she highlights their differences with concrete details. These details are a second aspect she does well. 

Emily Henry’s characters feel human, relatable, and even whimsical, yet she puts them both on a one week timeframe. The clock is ticking, and readers have to keep turning pages. This added tension sets her book apart.

Young Adult Romance

John Green’s instant bestseller, The Fault In Our Stars, went on to sell over 23 million copies worldwide. Despite incredibly tragic circumstances, both of Green’s main characters share a comedic optimism that remind readers of the importance of hope. 

Another compelling facet of this romance novel is its writing style. If you want to learn how to write a romance book, read John Green.

But at a deeper level, one fan says, “It teaches you that life doesn’t have to be perfect to love it.” This idea is something every reader can resonate with, and the mix of tear-jerking scenes and light-hearted comedy will make you fall all the more in love with Green’s characters.

Religious Romance

Francine Rivers is best known for her romance novel, Redeeming Love, although she has written many other books as well. Redeeming Love was originally published in 1991, but became so beloved by readers that it was made into a feature film in 2022. 

What makes Rivers’ book so iconic is both it’s references to the Biblical characters in the book of Hosea, but also her unflinching description of her protagonist’s experiences from the safety of home as a child, to the brothels of 1850s California, to her relationship with a man named Michael. 

Historical Romance

We can’t discuss historical romance without mentioning Jane Austen. Her classic novel, Pride and Prejudice, has hit the screen twice, in 1995 and in 2005, and her characters feel almost like historical figures that belong in a history book. So, what did she do so well?

Austen’s characters embodied the culture of their time:

  • They battle the tension of class
  • Struggle through the proper etiquette of courtship
  • Work with their own strong feelings both against, and ultimately for, each other

In fact, the love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy is similar to an enemies to lovers novel, showing that romance writers can mix subgenres for an original take on classic plots.

Romantic Suspense

New York Times bestselling author, Nora Roberts, paves the way in romantic suspense with her 200th book, The Witness. Her fascinating plot reveals the unromantic perspective of Abigail Lowery, paired with the local police chief’s interest in not ust her, but her past. If you want to stay up all night reading, taking notes on how to write this genre well, and keeping the light on, pick up a Nora Roberts novel.    

Start The Process Of Writing Your Romance Novel

No matter what romantic subgenre you choose to write, if you create at least a brief outline, follow the process that works best for you, and take notes from the leading authors in romantic fiction, your first draft will hold a quality few first drafts can rival.

It takes daily commitment to finish a manuscript, but we’re here to provide you with all the resources you need! You now know how to write a romance novel and can begin your journey. Feel free to check out the below resource to help you start on your outline! Even the most simple outline can empower you to finish your first draft. Happy romance writing!

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