Characterization, Romance, Uncategorized

Romance 202

A few years ago, my romance-writing author-sister wrote a couple of amazing spoofs on bad romance writing. She filled them with in-your-face clichés, cheesy wording, and melodrama. Let’s talk about a few ways to avoid turning your tender romance into a ridiculous comedy.  Read Annette’s post here for a good laugh or to see what to avoid.


In the spirit of not hitting readers over the head with romance, please try to avoid the following phrases and any variations thereof:

  • the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen
  • an instant connection
  • an undeniably strong pull
  • they didn’t have to fill every moment with conversation
  • gazed lovingly
  • his voice full of love
  • awakened every nerve
  • perfect for each other (or perfect in every way)
  • never wanted this night to end
  • would do anything for her/him

In their place, may I suggest that you take a moment to close your eyes and feel what it’s really like to fall in love? Try to experience the physical and emotional sensations of looking at that person and feeling that pull, and describe what it’s like rather than just saying it. Showing instead of telling. What would it look like in a movie? If you weren’t allowed to tell us how they’re feeling, how would you show us?

Love Languages

Have you read about the five love languages? If you haven’t look it up. Gary Chapman. It’s so interesting and could give you a lot to think about in terms of romance. Basically, we all demonstrate love and receive love in different ways. When we’re falling in love, we often speak all these love languages or focus in on the one that your partner responds most to (sometimes once we’ve been together a long time we fall into our pattern of showing love using our own love language instead of our partner’s, which doesn’t translate well and causes problems. Kind of a tangent, sorry).

These languages are: Gifts; Acts of Service; Physical Touch; Quality Time; and Words of Affirmation. You might decide what languages your characters are going to speak. You might want to balance several of them. You might consider what your language is and be sure you don’t rely too heavily on just that. Different readers will enjoy reading about different expressions of love.

For example, physical touch and gifts are my two lowest love languages. So when I read too much touching early on in a relationship or if they’re always kissing, I don’t feel like it’s a deep connection. There’s not much emotion involved for me when I read about physical affection unless they’ve already spent time building their connection in other ways, like spending time together and sharing confidences and building trust.

I recently read a manuscript in which two characters who were getting to know each other started exchanging gifts. While I don’t know that I would feel especially drawn to a guy who sent me a bunch of stuff, I found it to be original and refreshing, a different way of expressing interest than I’ve often read about.

May I also take a moment to say that Being Hot is not a love language. Please don’t spend too much time describing just how breathtakingly handsome, hot, beautiful, gorgeous, or sexy someone is. Sure, mention it in context or as a first impression, but I beg you to be realistic and not to put too much emphasis on it. Avoid clichés like “flawless porcelain skin, narrow waist, and long flowing” for women or “a rugged face, strong jaw, and broad shoulders tapered to a narrow waist” for men. Personally, I’d love authors to also steer clear of ogling in general—admiring fabric clinging to muscles or curves, appreciating the way someone’s hips move, etc., but that might be too much to ask.


One of the deepest expressions of love, if not the deepest, is sacrifice. I can’t say for sure if I would call this a requirement for romance, but almost any sacrifice, big or small, for the one you love will add a noble and compelling aspect to a romance. (I say “almost” because we don’t want to venture into that unhealthy realm of “I’d catch a grenade for ya…but you won’t do the same for me” à la Bruno Mars {unless you’re portraying an abusive, neglectful, or otherwise unhealthy relationship, in which case this post isn’t for you anyway}.)

And when I talk about sacrifice, I’m talking about anything that a character gives up to put their love first. A job or a raise, a lesser relationship, comfort, approval, time. Consider asking yourself what each will give up for the other, but again, don’t draw unnecessary attention to it. It’s one thing for the benefited character to show appreciation or awe in action, dialogue, or internal thoughts (“Are you sure? After all this work you’ve put into it?”), but another to point it out to the reader. (“He wanted to make this sacrifice for her, and he knew it would be worth it, even though it meant so much to him.”) One of those respects the reader; the other patronizes them.

As always, in the world of writing, once you know the rules, sometimes it works to break them. Knowing when that’s the right thing to do is a matter of style, intuition, and experience rather than a matter of hard-and-fast rules. But maybe start with the rules (and these opinions of mine which I have so brazenly set forth as rules) and see where they take you.

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