As I wrap up my “month” of posts pertaining to the Romance genre (with a capital R, yes, absolutely) I think it’s time to take a quick look back. In my first post, we took a look at who the genre is for. In my second post, we spent some time examining the data on who writes books within the genre. And in my third and penultimate post, we dug into the process of writing within the genre by taking a closer look at the expectations of the genre. Having done so, our conclusions were multiple: the only critical expectations of any Romance novel are the ones you and your readers bring to it, and once you know what the rules are, you can do whatever you want with them. The basic formula may indeed be two or more individuals + a misunderstanding or obstacle to overcome + a bit of steam = the typical romance, but the data suggests that the Romance genre is less tied to its formula than most other genres are to theirs, making it a great genre to experiment within.
This week, to wrap up the series, I want to answer the simple question: Knowing all these things, where do we go from here? Determining one’s direction moving forward is critical to make the most of the writing process and to delivering on our goals to produce a completed Romance novel. So, how can a writer ever narrow the options down to pick just the ones they want to focus on right now?
What I’m about to suggest now seems almost too simple to be real and substantial advice, but it’s also the only piece of writerly advice I’ve ever been given that has turned out to be true in every single thing I’ve ever written. So, here it is.
Let the story itself lead you.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t plan out your approach, even including those of you who lean heavily on outlines. It simply means that you shouldn’t hesitate to update your outlines and well-laid plans when the story feels like its pushing itself into a different direction. If you find yourself facing writer’s block and struggling to figure out a way forward, it’s time to loosen rather than tighten your grip on controlling the action. Sit back, maybe get some extra eyes on the material you’ve written, and ponder alternative storylines. Not every Romance novel ends with a happily married couple. Not every Romance is all that steamy. Not every Romance involves exclusively white characters. Putting your finger on what elements of your ideal plan are actually holding you back is a guaranteed way to figure out what should come next.
But what about getting started in the first place? If you’re struggling to figure out where to start, go back to the genre expectations we’ve talked about in both this post and in past posts. Which of these appeal to you? Which of these do you want to push back against? Start with the core elements of every (or most) Romance novels, and work outward from there. Who do you want your characters to be? what do they look like? What unusual scenario can you imagine putting them in so that they run across each other and perhaps even misunderstand each other? Do you want to write within a sub-genre like historical romance? After you sketch out some of the world and the character elements, you can start playing with Romance-adjacent plot points. Do you want to add a love triangle? A forbidden love affair? A rags-to-riches or secret billionaire subplot? (There’s a great Book Riot article on this, by the way.) Just like genre expectations, these tropes can be something you want to subvert rather than embrace. Sometimes, knowing what you don’t like is as useful as what you do when it comes to starting out and breaking out of writer’s block.
So these are some of my many, many thoughts on getting started in the Romance genre. Are there any other genres or subgenres you’d like to hear more about? Let me know in the comments.
You are not alone. ♣︎