How to write a romance novel that feels real

For something that is so important in our lives, it’s surprising how often love gets clichéd treatment in songs, books, movies and more. You can avoid these clichés and learn how to write a romance novel that feels real by following these tips:

romance realAvoid clichés
The first step in avoiding clichés is to recognise them, and you need only look around to see how many clichés we have surrounding romance. Some of them are ideas:

  • You’ll never get over your first love.
  • There is one perfect person out there for you.
  • Love conquers all.

Some of them are situations:

  • The man is a wild rake and the woman is a naive virgin who will tame him.
  • The woman is either impossibly beautiful or believes herself to be plain but is described in a way that demonstrates that she is actually beautiful.
  • The two are kept apart due to misunderstandings that could be easily cleared up if only everyone communicated a little bit more effectively.

Language surrounding romance can be clichéd as well. In particular, think about popular songs and how often the same words and sentiments are repeated.

Original vs. imitation

romanceStart out by brainstorming a list of tired, overdone elements in all of these categories. List as many as you can think of. Not every cliché has to be avoided. The old plot of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back has endless variations. As you write down the many overused elements of romance novels, think about which ones are truly tired and need to be retired and which ones simply need to be freshened. The aim is not so much to eliminate everything that may have been done before but to pinpoint some of the potential pitfalls and consider ahead of time how they might be made to seem more original.

Why is originality so important? It isn’t so much for its own sake; it’s that avoiding imitation will lead to a novel that feels more real.

One way to ensure this originality is to focus on specifics instead of generalities. The hero and heroine of the novel don’t just go on a picnic; they go on a picnic where she forgets to bring anything to drink and the meat is spoiled and they get lost trying to find their way back to the car but find out they went to the same elementary school yet somehow never met each other.

Draw on real life inspiration

romanceAnother way to make a romance novel seem real is to base its incidents on real life. This doesn’t mean writing out the story of your own most romantic relationship although you can certainly use your experience to some degree. However, in addition to that, try observing couples around you. Take bits and pieces from what you observe and incorporate them into the story. Jot down tidbits of conversation you overhear. Think about your own romantic life and that of your friends and family. What kind of gestures, language and incidents do you observe that you might include in your novel? Even if you are not writing a contemporary romance, you can adapt those observations to the setting of your novel.

Making sure that your protagonists’ actions and the ways in which they express their feelings for one another is character-driven is important as well. When something is character-driven, it seems to arise naturally from who the characters are. If your characters are well-developed, they will often come to seem like people you know so well that you can predict their actions. Avoid contriving a plot that you force your characters to take part in and let your characters take the lead instead. When your characters are well-developed, the actions they choose will seem almost inevitable, and they will also seem real to your readers.

Get the details right
For historical romances, do your research thoroughly to ensure that readers familiar with your setting will not be thrust out of the story by inaccuracies. If possible, have an expert or two in the time period you are writing about review your novel. For contemporary romances, read your dialogue out loud to ensure your characters are speaking in a way that feels natural.

Convincing your readers that your characters and the relationship that is at stake in your novel are all real is essential for writing a successful romance novel.

If you’re worried your romance writing doesn’t feel real, ask our community for input: Go here to use Now Novel Critiques.

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