Writing Romance

What is Romance?
Guest Post
by Paty Jager

When I tell people I write romance, most of the looks and comments I get are condescending. As if they feel a romance book isn’t worthy of the time and effort that goes into the making of an emotion story between two characters.

Two years ago I attended a weekend writers conference with suspense writer Larry Brooks. While going through his information, he’d ask us—all romance writers—questions. He brought up the need for a character arc for the main character. We would then pipe up and say, “No, there has to be two character arcs, one for the hero and one for the heroine. And a third if you have a villain.” After the third time we said this, sparking discussion about making sure the character arcs, the plot and subplot all mesh, that he said, “I stand in awe of romance writers. You have to do twice the work I do and come up with a satisfying ending that makes the reader feel your characters have completed their journey.” (I paraphrased Larry’s second sentence)

Writing romance is not easy. You have to make sure your hero and heroine have clear and defined growth throughout the story. This growth comes from their growing interest in one another and the obstacles they encounter through the plot and subplots.

Romance conflict isn’t bickering. It is solid believable obstacles and occurrences that keep the two apart for emotional or physical reasons.

Sexual tension isn’t a love scene. Sexual tension is what keeps the reader turning the pages whether the story is a hot read or a sweet read. It’s the chemistry between the hero and heroine that tugs at the reader’s emotions and takes them on an adventure. Readers want to root for the characters and feel satisfied at the end when the hero and heroine overcome their obstacles and find a Happily Ever After.

When writing a romance, a good way to slowly up the “sexual tension” is to use the twelve stages of intimacy as listed by Desmond Morris.

1) Eye to Body
2) Eye to Eye
3) Voice to Voice
4) Hand to Hand
5) Arm to Shoulder
6) Arm to Waist
7) Mouth to Mouth
8) Hand to Head
9) Hand to Body
10) Mouth to Breast
11) Hand to Genital
12) Genital to Genital

Depending on the heat rating of the story, you may only show to step 9. But by using the steps in order and showing the growing attraction and using the obstacles you’ve set out in the beginning of the story, you can keep the reader wanting more and wishing the couple would go farther. As a writer, you can hold out on the kiss until the reader is mentally begging for it to happen. Or you can bring the characters together early on and have them, and the reader, deal with the reasons behind their intimacy.

The main thing to remember when writing romance: it isn’t easy. You can’t write a romance over a weekend and have a complete and fulfilling story. There is emotion, detail, and imagery that has to not only show the characters and setting, but the journey their hearts travel.


Award winning author Paty Jager not only writes the western lifestyle she lives it. With sixteen novels and three novellas published, she continues to have characters cavorting in her head. Her contemporary Western, Perfectly Good Nanny won the 2008 Eppie for Best Contemporary Romance; Spirit of the Mountain, a historical paranormal set among the Nez Perce, won the paranormal category of the Lories Best Published Book Contest; and Secrets of a Mayan Moon won the romantic suspense category of the Reader’s Crown. You can learn more about Paty at her blog; her website; and her Amazon Author Central page.

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43 thoughts on “Writing Romance”

  1. Absolutely, Paty. My books only use romance as a sub-plot but when I read this I realised that my characters went through all those steps. Thank you for laying it out so clearly. Now I can do it with more awareness.

  2. Great post, Paty. You’re right — every major character in the book needs a development arc. And no matter what Larry Brooks said in that workshop, it’s true not just for romance, but for all genres.

    1. Hi Lynne, Larry said it was needed in all genres, but admitted we(romance writers) have to do double duty when figuring out character arcs. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

  3. Wonderful post, Paty. I don’t know why, but I rarely get snide comments about writing romance. I would say, it’s where I live, but that isn’t true. When I was at the Annapolis boat show, I gave away all my business cards.

    I’m glad he realized that we do work harder than other writers. Tweeted and shared.

    1. HI Ella,

      Thanks! It took me years to even tell people I wrote, but once I became published, I started saying what I wrote and that’s when the comments started. I just tell them I stand behind my books. I put in hours of research and write as entertaining a book as I know how.

      Thanks for spreading the word!

  4. You’re so right, Paty! Writing romance is challenging and no one knows just how challenging until you compare it to what it’s like writing in other genres. It’s not just the double-duty on characters, but the double duty on plot because a lot of romances are combined with other genres: romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy romance, historical romance… If done well they can be deeply layered stories that are fun to read.

    1. “If done well they can be deeply layered stories that are fun to read.” I agree with all you said Karen, this is is so true! Thanks for coming by.

  5. Paty, you hit the nail on the head! Thanks for the list of steps. It’s a keeper.

    Like you, it took me years to “come out” and tell people I write romance, and I’ve also encountered snide comments. Nowadays I hold my head up and loudly declare myself a romance author. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go jump!

  6. Hi Paty,

    Thanks for the informative post. With publishing my first books coming up soon, I’m stepping out of the writing shadows more and more and have been pleasantly surprised at the reception. More people than not have been very excited for me! Having you and other authors I know as role models has made it easier.

    1. Hi Judith, Congrats on your soon to be published book. I’m glad you are having a good experience with your writing. Thank you for the kind words.

  7. Great post! I’m going to copy those steps down and hang on to them. Funny to think I started my writing career with military thrillers and have somehow morphed into a romance writer. Having one novella that went to bestseller status, and another that has done exceedingly well on Amazon, I appear to now be categorized for romance. I keep telling folks I write more than that- thrillers, sci-fi, even some horror. But the romance keeps selling…

  8. The list was right on and very helpful. People have always dismissed romance as just women’s fiction or *gasp* mommy porn. I liken it to dancing in high heels backwards. It’s challenging but we make it look easy!

    1. Hi Cindy, Thank you for your kind words. I just write what I see in my head and then clean it up. I’ve been so inundated with company, family, and Christmas, I haven’t had a chance to read the Sweetwater Springs Christmas Anthology yet. Looking forward to some down time soon to get all the stories in it read.

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