R. Shapiro photo


by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

March 2010

"The first thing you have to do if you want to write romance novels is to read them. . ."

Romance, we all love it. It’s the basis of most great works, but what I’m talking about here are the requirements for writing in the romance genre. Think of Tolstoy’s Anna Karina, the love affair between married Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky that ended when she threw herself in front of an oncoming train. The Russian critics of the time called it, “a trifling romance of high life.” But the critics were wrong. Anna Karenina was a masterpiece and NOT an example of “romance writing” because it doesn’t have a happy ending, which is de rigueur for a novel of this genre. (Also, it’s really well-written which isn’t a criterion for romance writing.)

The first thing you have to do if you want to write romance novels is to read them. If you have to hold your nose to do it, then this isn’t for you.

The main idea is that two people meet, develop a romance, have conflicts that keep it from coming to a resolution. The climax would be the dramatic circumstance that allows each other to see, Hey, I’ve found the love of my life, and then, the denouement: the wedding or the honeymoon or that kiss that tells. There can be subplots: problems at work, with neighbors, parents, etc., but the main story is always about the two lovers.

The characters are not ambiguous. They are either good or evil. The good are rewarded, the evil punished. The characters who dedicate themselves to finding and keeping love will end up with it. The endings aren’t open, that is, they have no ambiguity. The couple lives happily ever after.

Of course there are those romance novels which deviate from these rules, allow tragedy á la Romeo and Juliette, but the RWA (Romance Writers of America) keeps to the dictum of romantic relationships developing toward a happy ending.

Within those rules, there is opportunity for variety. Romance novels can be set in any time period. Caveat: Historical romance novels are sometimes the rage and sometimes out of favor. You have to research what’s currently happening and the RWA is a good place to do that. The romance novel can be in any location: exotic or local. These days, controversial topics can be included such as domestic violence, date rape, addiction, and disability.

"There are two basic formats for romance novels. . ."

There are two basic formats for romance novels. The first is the category romance which is short (c. 200 pp.), with hardly a subplot or extra characters. Each category romance fits into either the same setting, has the same characters, time periods, levels of sentimentality, or types of conflicts. Each book is numbered so the reader knows which was written first. The publishers usually list author guidelines. The categories arise from what the publisher thinks the public wants at that moment.

The second format is the Single Title Romance which is longer (350-400 pages) Usually the single title authors write one of these a year.

There are other subgenres of romance novels:

Contemporary Romance is set after WW ll. Most of the romance novels are set in the present, i.e. at the time the writer is writing it. Historical romance is set before WW ll. The paranormal romance has a psychic bent. One of the characters is psychic and/or the relationship is at the effect of supernatural circumstances such as witches and ghosts, etc. Romantic suspense involves a mystery or intrigue. The heroine is involved in a crime, for example, and the hero is in a field that would help her solve that crime. He might be an FBI agent, a cop, a body guard, a detective, a CIA agent, DNA tester. At the end, the mystery must be solved and the couple in love. Science fiction romance can overlap with Paranormal in that they both might have fantastical elements such as werewolves, ghosts, characters with ESP abilities. The story may weave an alternate universe in an urban fantasy or create an entirely new universe with extraterrestrials. Romantic Fantasy novels are the intersection of fantasy and romance. The plot develops from a romantic relationship, but fantasy elements are present, such as super-heroes, evil, black magic, ESP. In Time Travel Romances, the characters should respond logically to the inconsistencies in their shifting time frames in order for them to be effective. The Time Traveler’s Wife is an example, although it’s mainstream fiction rather than romance. Inspirational Romance has Christian themes along with romance. They don’t have unnecessary violence or erotica. If there is sex, it only occurs after marriage and isn’t graphic. The story usually pivots around the conflict that the heroine had with her beau and her faith. Themes such as honesty, fidelity, and forgiveness reign. Multicultural Romance might be between people of different races. Erotic Romance speaks for itself.

The field of romance writing has been foremost in innovation. The first modern romance novel was published in 1975 by Avon in soft cover first rather than hardcover, making it cheaper to buy for mass markets.

In 1980, Simon & Schuster formed a line of romance novels, Silhouette Books, with strong, independent heroines.

In the 1980’s, the boundaries were stretched for romance characters. Today, they might be overweight or ugly, and it’s constantly expanding to have women characters in male dominated jobs.

Romance writers were the first to show the effectiveness of eBooks as a way to market work.

"Here are some resources helpful for writing the romance novel. . ."

Here are some resources helpful for writing the romance novel:

1. Read RT Booklovers Magazine

2. Join the R.W.A.to get networking info.

3. check online resources for romance writers such as:

eHarlequin’s ‘Write” Section: http.romancewiki.com/Main_Page/ Romance Wiki http:..www.romancewiki.com/Main_Page All About Romance: http://www.likesbooks.com/write.html The Passionate Pen http://www.passionatepen.com Charlotte Dillon’s Resources for Romance Writers: www.charlottedillon.com/WritingRomance.html

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro



Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is author of Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster) and has published essays in NYT (Lives), Newsweek (My Turn), et. al. Her essay, ESS, ESS, is just out in FEED ME: WRITERS DISH ABOUT FOOD, EATING, WEIGHT, AND BODY IMAGE, ed. by Harriet Brown (Random House, 2009). She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. She teaches Writing the Personal Essay at UCLA extension.