In my last post, I talked about How Not to Write a Romance Novel, listing seven of my romance novel pet peeves.
But how should a romance novel be written? What isn’t overused, unrealistic, and stereotypical?
If you’d like to try your hand at writing romance, here’s a few underused elements I’d like to suggest using.
1. Married couple romance
Instead of writing a romance about a girl and the guy she just met, or a guy and the girl he hasn’t seen since second grade, why not craft a romance novel around a married couple? Married couples are underrepresented in this genre – which is unfortunate, since most couples are married and many people spend a much larger percentage of their lives married than unmarried. A story about a couple learning to truly love each other, a tale of how God restores a marriage that is falling apart, a husband and wife learning to love during the stress of daily life or the growth of their family, newlyweds readjusting their rose-colored glasses and finding romance in mundane life – all of these plot concepts could make any number of unique and beautiful romance stories. Married love has so much more potential – there’s a depth and a maturity as well as growth and change that unmarried love can only begin to touch upon.
2. Letting the main character marry the original person they were engaged to or in a relationship with, not the new love interest that appears
I’d love to read a novel where I’m surprised by a plot twist: the handsome young man who waltzes onscreen in chapter one doesn’t get the girl; instead, the story follows the girl’s ups and downs through a relationship with her old high school sweetheart, and ultimately she chooses the old friend instead of the handsome new guy. I would find this sort of plot to be both refreshing and enjoyable. Why should the handsome new guy usurp the old lover every time?
3. Creating ordinary, realistic characters
Let’s not give the male love interest an athletic figure, large muscles, stunning eyes, perfect hair and teeth, full lips, and tan hands in every book. Furthermore, let’s not give every female love interest gorgeous hair, an enchanting figure, beautiful eyes, or toned legs. If your main character is average and their love interest is stunning, you’ve fallen into a stereotypical rut. Let the love interest be just as ordinary and realistic as the main character. Let the main character notice the sweetheart’s flaws and love them for who they are in all their imperfections.
Furthermore, give the love interest some character flaws. If the male is always a perfect gentlemen, kind, caring, gentle, considerate, and otherwise flawless, you’ve created an unrealistic model. Certainly give your gentleman all these qualities if you wish, but show his human side as well. Think of Mr. Darcy: a polished, polite, and passionately caring gentleman who also is standoffish, prideful, and prejudiced. Create a character who is beautifully devoted, yet bring us to love him in spite of his flaws. Real life dictates that no one is perfect; creating perfect love interests only raises unrealistic expectations rather than showing us how to passionately and devotedly give one’s entire being to another flawed human. Make your love interests lovable and endearing by all means, but don’t create angels.
4. Fleshing out characters’ lives beyond their romance
If romance is your main plot, create a subplot for your characters. Show life outside of romance, even if it’s only brief glimpses. Fill out character worksheets; get to know their detailed backstory, and let tidbits shine through the romantic plot. The more complete the character’s world is, the more your readers will connect with the character.
5. Spiritual attraction before physical attraction
Instead of letting your main character be attracted first to a physical feature, try having the character’s interest awaken due to who the person is inside. Perhaps it is one profound spiritual truth the character overhears the love interest say in a casual conversation; perhaps she accidentally glimpses him on his knees; perhaps she posts the very verse on social media that he’s been meditating on for the past week. Or perhaps he notices her selfless service to a home-bound invalid; perhaps she hears about him working to pay off a friend’s debt; perhaps he sees her respond with grace and love to one who has deeply wounded her; perhaps she sees him suffering physically in a spirit of gratefulness instead of complaining.
Do you see how there is a myriad of little things that can attract one person to another? As we are walking with Christ, we should be sensitive to spiritual matters; we should choose our friends based on their walk with God and their character instead of their physical appearance. As your character notices Christ in the love interest, that jumping-off point can spiral into a beautiful love story of the challenges, trials, and joys of pursuing God together in a love relationship.
Even if you feel you must use physical attraction as the catalyst that moves a friendship to a relationship or introduces strangers to each other, look deeper than the surface. Perhaps your male character notices how well a dress suits a female character. In stopping to admire the dress, he notices the joyful face of the wearer, and as he gets to know her better, the graciousness and kindness of her manner to everyone she interacts with wins his heart. Beauty fades. Don’t set your characters’ marriage up for failure by basing it solely on physical attraction.
6. Characters willing to wait
Instead of a rush to get married quickly, why not try a novel where characters aren’t in a hurry? Let them take time to get to know each other in a variety of settings. Perhaps let them be “just friends” for a while first. Show that they are content to progress slowly in the relationship, learning about each other and deliberately choosing each course of action. Such relationships certainly exist in real life, and the slower pace could provide a unique and gripping novel.
7. Approaching romance from a kingdom mindset
Most importantly, as a Christian, the purpose of romance should be to advance the kingdom of God. As we write our stories, our Christian characters should have the same goal. If being together will advance His kingdom, by all means, start a romance! If not, then why is the romance happening in the first place? Two people can be powerfully effective for God together, but only as it is in accordance with His purpose for them. Furthermore, if a couple is seeking God, that will be reflected in their behavior and the choices they make in their relationship. Certainly mistakes happen as characters walk in the flesh, but that shouldn’t be the focus of the story. As an author, seek to leave your readers uplifted, inspired, refreshed, encouraged, or challenged – not simply with a thrill from an exciting story. The sins and mistakes of our characters won’t drive the story or be given in unnecessary detail – yet the entire novel will not only be completely realistic but also God-honoring as we as authors seek Him first in our lives.
Would you use any of these ideas in a romance novel? What lesser-used plot elements would you like to see in romance stories?