Valentine's Day may have come and gone, leaving behind only the sweet taste of 50% off chocolate, still, love and romance exist all year long for the writer. How do you write compelling, believable romance that will draw in your reader?
1) Write What You Know (I'm aware I sound like a broken record)
The rule still applies. If you're a teen writing your first romance story your awareness of how relationships work and what is believable will be limited to your life experiences. Does this mean teens can't write romance? Of course not. It simply means you have to a) do your research and b) not fall prey to cliches. Avoid using Disney films or TV show as your benchmark for reality. Instead, look around you and study everyday people living real lives and expressing real love.
Film, television and print all alter our perception of what is normal. Film and television especially present unrealistic images of what romance is and what it should be. They specialize in fictional wish fulfillment and so, of course the female protagonist will meet a rich, handsome, single man who understands her completely and can buy her an island. Generally, things do not play out that way and that's something to celebrate not lament. A romance story with real elements of love is something beautiful, which leads me to my second point.
2) Be Real
Be real about romance and don't shy away from the difficult and less than happy aspects. Humans aren't perfect and thus, any relationship with another human won't be perfect. Write truth. That doesn't mean you must write a depressing story where everyone dies. Write truth with hope. Show a romance that will encourage your reader to seek out the good in the world and to persevere during the hard times. I'm of the opinion that our world has enough hate, problems and pain in it. Thus, I choose to offer hope to my readers and to encourage them with love stories grounded in truth. I don't paint castles in the sky but I do offer tales of relationships that endure and flourish despite all odds. My fictional stories are inspired by and grounded in real stories of love I've observe during my lifetime.
3) Write For Your Level of Familiarity and Comfort.
If you're just starting out in the romance genre take a deep breath. Our genre is proliferated with erotic fiction and bodice rippers. That doesn't mean you have to write the same. If you aren't comfortable with penning strong physical and sexual scenes then don't. Jane Austen is celebrated as the originator of the modern romance. Her blueprint of boy and girl hate each other, both learn a lesson and eventually fall in love, is a staple of the modern romance novel. Yet, her famous romantic leads don't even kiss. Yes, that's right. Mr. Darcy, the Mr sexy of historical fiction and Miss Elizabeth Bennet the queen of witty, romance heroines never kiss. You're thinking of the movie.
If Jane Austen can write a tame romance that is still captivating audiences and Hollywood directors to this day, then you don't need to include romantic elements that aren't your style. Write what you are comfortable with and the story will be better for it. If you force yourself to write what you think the public wants and you're uncomfortable, it will show in your writing and degrade your work.
4) Enjoy The Game
Romance is often a game of cat and mouse, a chase filled with humour and flirting. Enjoy the game and use it to your advantage. Some of the best romance novels I've read played up the humour of the main protagonist and kept readers on the edge of their seat with the question of will they or won't they get together. Nothing will have your reader flipping pages faster than the need to find out what happens next. Use that to your advantage.
5) Remember To Express Love Yourself
Love what you're doing. When writing about love remember to love your work. Recall why you're writing in the first place. (I hope it's the result of a passion for literature and telling stories. Hot tip, no one becomes a writer for the money). If you enjoy being an author it will show in your work. If you're not "feeling the love," take a break or start on a new project. Enjoy what you do, be grateful and as always...