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Do You Have What it Takes to Write Romance Novels?
 
 
Getting Started Being a Romance Writer

Ask anyone on the street what 10 things they'd like to do before they die, and chances are one of the responses will be to "write a book." It seems like everyone has a novel or memoir inside them, just waiting for the right time to come out and be put to paper.

The difference between these people, and the people we know as authors, isn't as drastic as you might think. While having the ability to write well and to develop a personal voice that others want to hear are helpful in becoming a successful writer, the most important thing is to carve out the time and energy to actually do it.

Objectives

In this article, you will learn how to get started transforming the ideas in your head to words on the page.

ü How can I develop writing skills?

ü Where can I go for help in learning how to write?

ü What is a realistic schedule for writing a romance novel?

ü How can I get started today?

Write, Write, Write

Almost every successful romance author will tell you that writing is not as easy as it seems. Sure, it looks like a glamorous career from the outside: You can work in your pajamas, spend all morning dreaming up your heroine's gown for the ball, and research FBI protocols from 1975. And you're practically required to read romance novels regularly, if only to remain up-to-date on changes in the industry and on the newest authors to hit the scene.

Unfortunately, romance writing isn't all fun and games. It's also work. Many authors commit themselves to a certain number of words or pages before their work is done for the day. When the muse isn't nearby or the sunshine beckons, sticking to this self-motivation can be incredibly important.

There's also the importance of actually being good at what you do. While you don't have to have a perfect grasp of grammar or have written short stories your whole life in order to get started writing romances, you do have to know how to transform ideas into words.

There are two essential truths that every romance writer must take to heart:

  • Writing is a habit.
  • Writing is a learned skill.
Once you've mastered these, you should be able to move forward with all the characters, plots, and love stories you've got waiting to come to life.

Writing Is a Habit

If you've ever kept a diary or maintained regular email correspondence with a friend, you probably know this already. Taking the time to sit down and write out your thoughts isn't a natural inclination. Few of us have the time in an already busy day to really focus on ourselves long enough to form coherent thoughts, let alone sentences.

Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy answer. Writing is a habit you must develop over time, much like brushing your teeth or calling your mother every other week.

In order to start getting in the habit, look at your day and try to find a time that isn't already filled with kids, chores, work, or the other things that drive you. Even if you can only find 20 minutes or an hour each day, you can start developing good writing habits. Many romance writers actually write their novels:

  • During lunch breaks
  • While the kids are at practice (soccer, ballet, etc.)
  • In the morning before anyone else is up
  • At night after everyone else has gone to bed
  • On weekends
  • In place of a favorite television show

Just as writing can be done any time, it can be done on any subject. There is no law that says you need to start developing your characters right away. Write about your busy day, the way the breeze felt on your face this morning when you picked up the morning newspaper, or what it means to you to finally start pursuing your dream of writing romance. Open the dictionary to a random word and come up with a one-page story on it. It really doesn't matter, as long as you're practicing writing.

As time goes on, you should be able to start feeling a common voice in the way you write.

  • Do you commonly turn to the humorous? ("The breeze felt like a slap in the face -- a cold, angry blow from my subconscious crying out and telling me to get the hell back to bed, already.")

  • Are you very descriptive? ("I could see the breeze before I felt it, its tendril grasp reaching through the gently waving cherry blossoms and coming to a slow, cautious stop as a darkened leaf at my feet.")

  • Are you simple and to the point? ("The breeze came quickly. It was sharp, cruel, and bitterly cold.")

You can use this to not only get started determining who your characters will be and what they will do, but also what genre of romance you might be best suited to write.

It's also a good idea to start carrying around a notebook at this time, so you can jot down any ideas or words that come to you as you go about your daily business. You'll never know when a simple observation on the timeliness of the subway can be used for your next novel.
Writing Is a Learned Skill

Another great way to get in the habit of writing, is to carve out a special part of your week just to write. This can be done by either taking a writing class or by joining a writing critique group.

Creative writing classes are commonly offered at community colleges, universities, or even online. Ranging from around $50 to $5,000, they vary in terms of what you learn, how you learn, and who you learn it from. If you're just starting out, it's probably best to stick to a $50 course from your local community college. This should allow the chance to a) decide if you enjoy working in a class setting; and b) learn if you need the drive of a creative writing class in order to get started. In many cases, the time required to write the class homework ends up taking away from any free time you had in the first place.

Writing critique groups are a more cost-effective way of creating a support network for your writing. In the best ones, you get both valuable feedback on your work, as well as additional motivation to keep writing. By finding someone, either online or in your community, who writes romance novels, you can share your actual story as it develops. Good critique partners will go beyond just offering you praise (although that's always nice, too) to help you find structural flaws or errors in your manuscript. Many of the best romance novelists currently writing today have critique partners who work with them through every step of the process. Of course, you will need to return the favor and help your partner become a successful writer, too.

Set a Schedule

No matter what approach to writing you take, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to set a writing schedule. Many romance writers find that a word count goal is the best way to go. For example, by pledging to write 1,000 words each day (about two-and-half pages of text on a word processor program), you will actually have a full-length first draft of a series title in less than two months, or a single title within three.

Word count goals work well for writers who don't have a solid block of time in which to work. For example, if you plan on snatching 15 minutes here, and 30 minutes there, you can actually just sit down and write 100 to 200 words at a time. This is often just a brief exchange or even a description of a heroine's hair. Do this a few times a day, and you'll easily reach your 1,000 word goal.

Of course, not all of romance writing is writing. There's research, plot development, revisions, and editing to take into account, as well. That's why many writers find it easier to set time goals. For example, you can commit an hour in the morning and an hour at night. This way, you have room for flexibility in your writing schedule, as well as enough time to put the words down.

The Best Romance Writing Advice

Above all else, make sure your romance writing moves in a forward direction. It's very easy for beginning writers to agonize over the quality of their writing, rather than the quantity.

Try to avoid this trap. No author EVER writes a perfect novel on the first draft. Revisions, as you will learn later in this course, often take longer than the actual writing process (and they are usually not nearly as much fun). As long as you continue to develop your characters and plot, you're doing great. You can always go back and make changes later. In fact, you can count on it.

Romance Writing: Style

The romance novel crowd is a pretty tight group. While something new or innovative might be just the thing you need to break into the crowd and get published, writing style is one of the places where you may not have as much flexibility as you think. The romance genre is successful because readers know what to expect when they pick up a book, and when it comes to writing style, you simply have to work hard to meet those expectations.

This doesn't have to be a bad thing – in fact, for those just getting started, these strict guidelines mean that you can focus on other things. And once you get the basics of point-of-view and word usage under control, you can start to explore other ways in which to set yourself apart.

Objectives

In this section, you will learn what the expectations for style and quality are in romance novels.

ü What point-of-view can I use for romance writing?

ü How much flexibility do I have in my writing?

ü How do I make my personal writing style conform to the industry standards?

ü What are the common mistakes of beginning writers?

Point of View

Point of view is also commonly known as the narrative of your story. It determines "who" will be telling your story. Is it you, the author who knows all? The heroine, speaking in her own voice? Is it the hero, told as though a little bird is sitting on his shoulder watching the scenes unfold?

Point-of-View Key

First Person

The narrator tells the story from his or her perspective. The story is told using "I" or "we."

Example: I went to the store, forgetting that it was always mayhem on Sundays.

Second Person

The narrator is directing the story specifically for you. This is rarely done in any type of literature, since it relies on the pronoun "you" or "your."

Example: You went to the store, even though you knew it was always mayhem on Sundays.

Third Person

This is the most common type of point-of-view. It involves telling the story from afar, discussing the characters from outside their perspective. It uses "he" and "she."

Example: He went to the store with his wife, even though they both knew it was mayhem on Sundays.

With very few exceptions, romance novels occur in the third person. It is the standard format for series titles, and few single title publishers are willing to go out on a limb to sign on a first person story from a first-time author. Although some popular fiction novels have been in the first person (think Bridget Jones' Diary), it is considered too much of a risk for the romance genre, where readers know what they want – and how they want it.

However, third person narration isn't all cut-and-dry. When you tell a story from an outside point of view, you have to decide how much information your reader gets access to, as well as who is providing the angle.

Most romance novels are told from a dual point of view: that of the hero, and that of the heroine. In the past, almost all romances were either omniscient (inside anyone's head at any point in time) or limited to the heroine (everything was told from what she saw and felt). This was based primarily on the belief that the readers of romances were women; therefore, it was best to tell things from her point of view. Writers and publishers wanted their readers to be able to identify with the main character, and that was considered more important than anything else.

Over time, however, it was discovered that readers really liked the he said/she said parallel. They liked knowing how the heroine felt during one scene and how the hero felt in another. It added tension and conflict, and opened up new doors for steamy sex scenes. It was also determined that the omniscient point of view was too archaic and stuffy for the emotional drama that makes romance writing great.

Point of View "Rules"

ü Be consistent. Choose one narration type and stick to it.

ü Avoid the omniscient point of view. Although it can be easier to write in omniscient – especially as a beginner – it doesn't make for popular reading.

ü Make the switch carefully. If you're going with the popular hero/heroine dual point of view, make sure they each get their own scene or chapter. Switching back and forth indiscriminately can be confusing for the reader.

ü Weave in and out of the mind. When you write from the viewpoint of the hero or heroine, allow yourself to go inside their heads to display emotions, thoughts, or internal conflicts. When combined with the dialogue and action the rest of your story should have, it offers greater potential for an emotional connection with the reader.

ü Don't be afraid to add more angles. While you don't want to go overboard, it can add a bit of tension if you add the point of view of the villain or a secondary character.

In the end, point of view is really all up to you. If you want to play with the first person or omniscient narratives, do it – but be prepared for agents and publishers to have some opinions on it.

At the same time, if you want to stick to industry standards, play with the hero/heroine dual approach before you really sit down and start writing. For beginners, it's often best to switch between the hero and heroine for each chapter, until you get a better handle on weaving in and out of the text with ease.
Want to learn more? Take an online course in Romance Writing.

Common Writing Mistakes

Unless you've been writing short stories or novels for years before trying romance writing, it's likely that an agent or publisher will be able to spot you as a first-time novelist. Almost all new writers (especially of romance) struggle with the technical side of writing, and it can be difficult to know that you're doing anything wrong unless you really sit down with your manuscript and go through it, line by line, to find your errors.

1. Grammar

No one expects you to be perfect. The reason writers have editors and copy editors is because things like grammar and spelling trip up even the best of them.

However, few editors will bother with reading a manuscript that is so filled with errors that it is difficult to get through. Many editors and agents are bombarded with hundreds of submissions each week, and the first to go in the rejection pile are the ones with obvious mistakes.

This doesn't mean you can't play with language. Putting a preposition at the end of a sentence, starting a sentence with "and" or "but," and writing incomplete sentences are what great fiction is all about. These types of things make your voice unique and really engage the reader. What you want to watch out for are the big mistakes that indicate a lack of familiarity with writing as a craft.

The Top Five Grammar Mistakes

Your vs. You're

Your is possessive. (his car; your car)

You're is a contraction for "you are." (You are a writer; you're a writer.)

Its vs. It's

Its is possessive (His peak; its peak.)

It's is a contraction for "it is." (It is a fine day; it's a fine day.)

Their vs. There

Their is possessive. (his home; their home)

There denotes location. (Look over there for the answer.)

Affect vs. Effect

Affect is the verb. (You can affect your writing for the better.)

Effect is the noun. (The effect on her writing was incredible.)

Subject-Verb Agreement

If you have a plural subject, the verb must be plural (They feel terrible about it.)

If you have a singular subject, the verb must be singular. (He feels terrible about it.)


Don't forget – a good spell check on your word processor and the helpful edits of a critique partner can also go a long way in polishing your manuscript. If you need help with writing, in general, you may want to take a refresher grammar course.

2. Adverbs

One of the primary things that sets a new romance writer apart from a veteran one is the overuse of adverbs. Adverbs are usually identified as those wonderful -ly words that modify verbs, adding a bit of a flowery effect to the way you write. Because romance writing often includes plenty of descriptions and other emotional-wrought scenes, it can be easy to start slipping the adverbs in left and right. Consider the following example:

He ran quickly to her side, his pulse hammering loudly in his chest. It was delightfully stimulating, and he thought it might be enough to keep her firmly by his side for the rest of their lives.

The adverbs, while helpful in setting the scene, do start to get burdensome after awhile – especially since most of them are repetitive and don't add anything to the words.

Let's break it down:

He ran quickly to her side,

Of course he ran quickly. That's usually how one runs. Now, if he was running slowly, that would warrant an adverb.

his pulse hammering loudly in his chest

Again, hammering signifies that there's quite a bit of action going on in his chest, so telling the reader that it is loud is redundant. If you wanted to draw attention to the sound – perhaps that his pulse hammered so loudly he couldn't hear what his companion was saying – it would make more sense to include the adverb.

It was delightfully stimulating,

In this case, delightfully just sounds pretentious. While ornate language has its place in romance writing, you don't want to overdo it and burden a sentence down too much.

and he thought it might be enough to keep her firmly by his side for the rest of their lives.

Firmly might not be too out of place here – in fact, it is kind of a play on words, since "firm" is one of those words that romance novelists love for describing sex scenes. You might be able to keep it, assuming you eliminate the other three adverbs in the sentence.

This sentence would be more effective, then, by getting rid of three of the four adverbs:

He ran to her side, his pulse hammering in his chest. It was so stimulating, he thought it might be enough to keep her firmly by his side for the rest of their lives.

3. Starting Sentences with Dangling Participles

The misuse of dangling participles is a chapter in a grammar book all by itself, but it holds a special place in romance writing, since many first-time writers love these little guys almost as much as they love adverbs.

In its most basic form, a dangling participle is when you use an -ing word in a way that leaves the reader unclear about the meaning of the sentence. Romance writers like them because they add drama: tingling with fear, shivering in anticipation, blushing like a rose. However, when used incorrectly or too often, they can make reading burdensome.

For example, consider the following sentence:

Jumping with excitement, the girl took the candy.

At first glance, it doesn't seem like there's anything wrong with this sentence: it conjures up an image of a young lady getting some candy and feeling excited about it. That's because this sentence all deals with the same general image and idea. However, consider a different (but similar) sentence:

Jumping with excitement, the man watched the girl take the candy.

The confusion here stems from the use of two people in the sentence. Is the girl jumping with excitement, or is the man? Grammatically speaking, the man is the one doing the jumping, but the writer probably meant for the girl to be the active one.

Other problems with dangling participles have to do with timing:

Taking a seat by the door, she eyed the crowd speculatively.

The -ing word at the beginning seems to indicate that the action is continuing for the duration of the sentence. But is the girl still taking her seat when she eyed the crowd? That's an awfully long time to get settled into a seat.

It would be better to say:

She took a seat by the door and eyed the crowd speculatively.

Of course, there are ways to use dangling participles and -ing words correctly – even at the beginning of a sentence. But unless you're really, really comfortable with the craft of writing, leave the participles at home. You don't want others to spot you for the first-timer – even if you are one.

Don't Fear Mistakes

Although you should do your best to match your writing style to the industry standards in romance writing, don't be too afraid to showcase your own voice. If your story really is compelling and filled with all the emotion and characters that make a romance great, you might just find an agent or publisher willing to work with you to correct grammatical errors and point-of-view inconsistencies.

Write your best, be prepared to polish your manuscript once it is done, and consider asking others to edit it for you. While the details are important, sitting down and writing is even more so.
Writing, and Punctuating, Dialogue
When we write dialogue, there is a specific way that we need to punctuate what is said. Many writers have trouble with this; it seems to be one of the first things we forget when we leave school.
This is simply a section that will brush up on those rules. If you'd like a more in-depth review, a great book that can help is Writing Dialogue, by Tom Chiarella
Back to our review:
To set off quoted material, you'll use a comma. This sets the quoted bits off from the main body of the sentence, in sentences that contain quotes. If the main body of work precedes the quote, your comma will appear between the end of the main body and the beginning of the quote. Sound confusing? It's really not. Here's an example:
Michelle said, "Hand me that book."
The boy thought, "Why doesn't anyone understand what I'm trying to say?"
For those two examples, when you are setting the quoted material -- what is said or thought -- off from the speaker, the comma is outside the quotation marks. But if the main body follows the quote, the comma (or other punctuation) goes inside the quotation marks.
For example:
"I am so happy!" she screamed.
"I think you are going to win," Jim told Alexis.
The comma is there (or the other end punctuation) to show that this is still part of the same sentence. If it were not, then you would put a period to end the sentence.
For example:

"I think you are going to win." John then turned to Alexis and shook her hand.
Now, if the spoken words are broken up, here is how you would punctuate the sentence:
"Well," she said, "there goes the ball game."
The main body, above, comes between the first piece of what is said and the second. Note that your punctuation is inside the quotation marks on both sides.
 
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