On Writing Romance

by Leigh Michaels

On Writing Romance, by Leigh Michaels, is a thorough how to manual for aspiring writers. Beginning with a survey of the various types of romance novels, she encourages writers to read across categories and identify the rules unique to the one for which they wish to write. A list of questions is provided to assist in this process.

New writers often start writing their novel without considering whether the story will have the elements necessary to engage the reader for hundreds of pages. Four chapters of this book are devoted to ensuring you do.

For me, the most useful one in this section addresses conflict. Leigh emphasizes that conflict is not: fighting or disagreeing, or a delay, or failure to communicate, or interference of another person, or a main character’s unwillingness to admit that the other is attractive. Since my first novel relied on three of the five situations listed, she’d captured my attention. Although I understood how to create conflict, in principle, she explains why many of the problems, new writers choose to focus on, are too weak to carry the story. Detailed questions throughout the book help you apply the lessons to your work in progress.

Part Three of the book deals with the process of writing your novel. Excellent examples from a variety of romance categories solidify the concepts she teaches in how to handle: openings, point of view, secondary characters, dialogue and introspection, building a believable plot, and creating sexual tension and love scenes.

Don’t allow the hero and heroine to admit their feelings too early in the story, she warns, since it extinguishes sexual tension—a common pitfall to new writers. She defines sexual tension as “the unsatisfied attraction of the hero and heroine for each other” – an essential element of any romance novel. To avoid connotations incompatible with the Christian romance market, I will call it ‘emotional tension’. A clear distinction is stressed between emotional tension and sexual touching. The tension is essential, not the touching. To illustrate how to create emotional tension, I was pleased to see examples from inspirational and sweet romances, a market in which explicit sex scenes and sometimes even kissing are not allowed. Her explicit examples from other romance categories are unacceptable in the CBA and may be skimmed over.

A chapter is devoted to revising your manuscript, specifically diagnosing problems that will keep it from selling. Don’t wait until you’ve finished writing your book to read this chapter. It contains a checklist that will keep you on target as you write.

Finally the book ends where it began—marketing your novel. Useful appendices include models for query and cover letters, the synopsis and the cover page.

I highly recommend this book to aspiring romance writers, although I eagerly await Gail Martin’s book on writing Christian romance, due out in December.