While I largely work as a content writer, and self publish in my spare time, I cut my teeth as a ghostwriter, and it taught me many things. Most notably it taught me that the two (arguably) least appreciated and 'prestigious' fiction genres of comedy and romance are the hardest to get right. Now, I could wax lyrical for hours about why these genres are underappreciated (something Eric Selinger touches on if you're interested to read it), but the fact remains that comedy writing is often seen as childish and romance tends to be written off as 'chick-lit'.
Setting aside the pretentious and psuedo-superior nature of those judgements, it's actually very hard to get these genres right. This is partly down to the subjective and personal nature of what we deem to be romantic (or funny) in my opinion. You see, while we can all agree loosely on what is scary or repulsive, one persons sweeping romantic gesture is anothers terrifying stalker story. There is no blueprint for this - so with that in mind, how can inexperienced writers start gettinig romance right? Practice, of course, is invaluable as there's nothing quite like experience - and learning to write better sex scenes can't hurt if you intend to aim for contemporary adult romance, but building an effective romance between characters is alot different.
6 Ways to Create an Effective Romance
Creating an effective, and by this I mean believable, romance requires a few elements which are simple, but not always straightforward to create. These simple tips will make it easier to craft a romantic plot or subplot that your readers are truly invested in!
Don't Neglect Characterization
The cardinal sin of romance writing is, without a doubt, neglecting the characterization of the parties involved. Characters are, of course, the main building blocks of any romance and so they must appeal to the reader as individuals and fit together convincingly if readers are to become invested.
Characters should be well-rounded, having strengths and flaws, and have motivations and desires which extend beyond the romance. In short, they should seem like complete people, not cardboard cutouts being smashed together in an unconvincing drama. In a story where the romance is not the main plot this is fairly easy - they already have whatever motivations are driving them through the plotline. In a story where the romance is the plot, however, this can be a little tougher.
Try rounding your characters out with sideplots and motivations. For example, one of your main characters may be a dancer seeking to secure a role on the stage, or a business owner looking to save their enterprise from encroaching franchises. Whatever you do, make sure your characters have goals outside the romance. In fact, you could even have their goals conflict with the romance plotline and aid in creating tension.
When the main plotline of your story is the romance, it is imperative to build tension in order to catch and maintain reader interest. While romance can be fairly straightforward and quick to come to fruition in real life, you need to throw some challenges in the mix in order to have a story substantial enough for readers to get their teeth into.
In fact, tension or conflict are crucial to any goodstory. Some widely spread writing advice is this - get your character up a tree, throw rocks at them, and then get them back down. In short, make your characters life difficult because of their choices and then provide a resolution.
In romance this commonly comes in the form of an argument, a fundamental difference, a serious miscommunication, or, more likely, a mix of all of these things. Consider Gaskells North and South - Margaret Hale and John Thornton have very little in common, despite the fact that they are both basically good, decent people. They disagree about Johns harsh attitude to his workers, about Margarets superior attitude, but John is, in fact, very smitten with her because she strikes him as a 'Lady'. The climax of tension, however, is a misunderstanding which leads him to believe Margaret already has a lover (a man who is in fact her fugitive brother) and so they break apart totally, only to have the matter set straight by a third party, thereby providing the means for the release of tension.
While some people will tell you that tropes are to be avoided at all costs, the truth is that tropes are tropes because they work. These plot devices are overused because they are effective, but they can also be tiresome because of their familiarity.
Therefore, I would advise you to reinvent tropes where you can rather than avoiding them altogether. Think about what makes these tropes work, for example the bodyguard and their charge falling in love is a common trope - why? Because people who are famous or important often feel isolated and their bodyguards are a point of friendly, close contact. On a gendered level, the bodyguards in these scenario are mostly male whereas their charges tend to be female - why? Because women often feel at risk in society - a friendly, protective male presence, someone who is capable and duty-bound to take care of you is something that appeals to many straight women for a number of reasons.
Of course, this is not always the case - these tropes were set decades ago - society is changing, some tropes are now so outdated that they are no longer effective. Updating, reinventing, and tailoring them to fit new societal expectations can be very interesting. This can go beyond simply switching the gender norm, however. Think about the movie The Hitman's Bodyguard - while not a romance, it clearly shows how subverting the normal manner of a trope can provide interesting results. In a romance setting, this could mean having the charge provide emotional support to their bodyguard, or even having them provide physical protection for their bodyguard, thereby upsetting the expected relationship dynamic.
Take it Slow
Pacing is important in all stories, but is absolutely paramount when writing romance. Bringing the romance to a head too quickly will leave you with nowhere else to go, so to speak, while moving to slowly may lead to your readers losing interest.
Creating tension and conflict is a good way to slow down the romantic progression in a way that makes sense. Of course, you have to balance the tension and conflict with the good relationship that the characters share. If the conflict becomes too great, of course, then it will no longer be believable that the couple would come together. This is a fine line to walk.
One small piece of advice for the modern age would be to avoid the 'end with a kiss' style often seen in period dramas and older romance stories. While this does perform the function of providing resolution, it often fails to provide a satisfying resolution for readers today - likewise the concept of marriage as the natural end of a romance story is also being challenged. Be honest with yourself about what would be an appropriate resolution for your characters romance; readers will be more likely to accept and invest in an ending that they believe in.
Play Both Sides
There are two sides to every story, and at least two people in the average romance. If only one of these people seems to be actively invested or participating in the romance the reader may lose interest. Worse still, a one-sided romance can seem to be quite creepy if you go about it the wrong way.
There is alot of focus, now, on making sure that the romance genre does not glamourize or romanticise behavious which are abusive in nature. Scenes in stories like Twilight, for example, where Edward breaks into Bellas room to watch her sleep may have been intended to show the level of his infatuationg, but they are widely considered creepy and invasive now - a sign of someone who does not understand personal boundaries.
So, if you want to avoid repelling your reader-base, it's best to have a romantic plotline where both parties are at least aware that they are involved in a romance. Have their interest grow and wane unevenly, for example as a result of events which change their opinions of each other in a non-uniform way - like Lizzie and Darcies back and forth in Pride and Prejudice. More than this, give them reasons to change their minds.
Remember There's No Secret Formula
Just as there's no format for love in real life, there's no real formula for making a romance novel convicing. Certainly many of the great novels follow a similar story structure, but many of these are considered dated now. So, while you can take inspiration from these classics, we highly recommend that you also read contemporary romance.
More than this, you should consider what you would deem to be romantic, and talk to those you know. Talk, think, write, read, and discuss - ask othersthat you trust to read your romance stories and listen to their feedback. You can also use platforms like Vocal+ to practice and publish your stories in a minimally time intensive way to create a foothold and even make a little money. As trite as it sounds, practice really does make perfect.