Writing Better Romance

by Miranda Shepard about a year ago in how to

Writing Romance, Sensuality, and Sex

Writing Better Romance

Writing romance and erotica may seem like something that everyone can do, but the truth is that it's a very unique skill. In fact, it's a set of individual unique skill's; both romance and erotica require different approaches and different skillsets.

If you're willing to work at it you can acquire both, however.

For the raw beginner, though, there are some basics that must be covered. Romance, as a genre, can be defined as a story which revolves around a romantic relationship and generally has an optimistic or happy ending. This does not always hold true, but the "Love conquers all" trope is what draws many readers to this genre, so think carefully before deviating too far.

Erotica, by comparison, is a story in which sex and erotic interplay are the main focusses of the story. Erotica can range from serious, discursive literature to titillating fiction designed purely to cause arousal, but in either case, the prose is more explicit than romance novels which favour the "fade to black" method.

Comfortably between these two genres is what I call sensual romance; less explicit and more plot-heavy than erotica, but not shy of giving details this is more common now than it has ever been in the past. This, of course, is a skill set all its own.

Writing Better Romance

The difference between a love story and a romance novel is the happy ending; a love story can end badly, but the romance novel demands a happily ever after (or at least a "happy for now") kind of conclusion.

The trick to romance, though there is no one trick, is to avoid the L-word for as long as you can. Romance is about everything around love and longing in the same way that arousal is about more than just sex.

The mechanics of sex are immensely dull, and the actuality of love is too.

What you're writing about is getting there; the L-word, its realisation, and declaration should be the climax of your novel. If you want to write better romance quickly, however, consider implementing these simple tips.

1) Allow for character development.

You might be tempted to make a character who is, much like Mary Poppins, "Practically Perfect In Every Way" but I urge you not to do this. You see, one of the best ways to write romance is to build tension and nothing builds tension like a conflict between two characters.

Think of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice; they begin with an innate dislike of each other, despite their attraction, and move to mutual, unwanted love. That is tension.

Or John Thornton and Margaret Hale in North and South; Mr Thornton spends much time with Miss Hale on a pedestal, and when she falls from it she falls hard. Her disgrace forces him to see her as human, while his behaviour towards her after this point forces her to reassess his character. They come together after many fluctuations in feeling. That is a satisfying conclusion.

2) Write a hero you respect.

Romance is a fantasy in its own way; it's a fantasy about how love should be, and about how we want our lovers to behave. Some people will tell you.

Write a heroine you can respect, who behaves in ways that are good for them, but also write a hero that you can respect. Write a hero that you would fall for because you cannot please everyone, but you can be certain that there are other people out there who will find the same things attractive that you do.

If you like tall, brooding, serious heroes attractive, write one; if you prefer goofy, sensitive heroes, then write one. Start by writing what you like yourself until you get the knack, then you can move on to other people's tastes.

3) Twist the tropes.

Tropes are unavoidable when you write romance; the "forbidden love," the "bad boy," the "saviour," and even the "wounded soldier" are common themes and characters.

If you remove them all from your writing you might make it dull, but if you choose a few, choose them well, and put a spin on them, you can come up with something that is familiar and yet still exciting. After all, readers come to a book with expectations; if you do not deliver something they recognise as romance they may be disappointed.

Writing Better Erotica

The difference between writing erotic and porn is a fine line, but it does exist. Written pornography has only one purpose; to arouse. Erotica does this as well, of course, but also has a story.

Consider the difference between the old "blue movies" and a modern TV show like Spartacus: Blood and Sand; both have a lot of sex in them, but the latter also has an overarching story. The sex scenes feed the story, not the other way around.

In essence, you should be writing a romance, crime, or adventure story which has a focus on the sexual needs and actions of the main character. A common theme in such stories is that of sexual awakening; a character that has hit a rut, or who is very sheltered, finding sudden stimulation and desire in a person or activity.

If you want to write better erotica, consider these points:

1) Drop purple prose.

If you want to be taken seriously and keep your readers in a place of plausible suspension of belief, please don't compare genitals to flowers, small fluffy animals, or weapons of war.

Keep it simple, not too clinical, and tasteful. Above and beyond all else, though this is a personal point, please avoid the word "throbbing" at all costs.

2) Avoid the "blow by blow."

Forgive the pun and take the advice here; sex, as we discussed earlier, is not just about the mechanics. Arousal and sexuality are as much about the promise, potential, and everything else that surrounds sex.

The key to turning your readers on is in building tension, and if you intend to write erotica turning your readers on should be a key concern. After all, that's what they come to such books for. The trick is to balance a practical "nuts and bolts" style with a more eloquent style of implication and titillation. It's not easy; reading classic romance novels can be of help; the techniques they use to build tension are just as effective in erotica, but the ending, of course, will be embellished.

3) Speed it up.

When writing erotica, sex should take place fairly quickly which often confuses writers; this consummation would usually be a climax (haha) rather than a plot point. As such, your plot must be less about the budding of desire and feelings, though in some cases the rise of feelings could be a plot in this case and more about the obstacles that arise after this interaction.

For example, a one-night stand that turns out to be the main character's boss or even the person they are hired to protect can cause issues. The issues of formality, etiquette, and class are common themes.

Romance is about writing the path to desire and consummation, erotica is about writing what comes next.

Once you have all of this down pat, you will be well on your way to writing better romance!

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Miranda Shepard
Miranda Shepard
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Miranda Shepard

Writer, reader, life-long student. Socialism, witchcraft, and chill.

See all posts by Miranda Shepard