Dear Editor, how funny can my romance be?

Dear Editor

I’m told my hero and heroine can be too light-hearted…but I want them to be fun! Why can’t they be humorous?



Hi Alison,

Everyone loves a hero and heroine who have many sides, and who are able to add a touch of humor to what could be a deeply emotional, tear-jerking story. But think of adding touches of humor like cooking. By adding just too much of one ingredient can turn a masterpiece into a disaster! The most powerful romances will be remembered for how your characters’ journeys to a happy ending touches your reader’s hearts, not by the jokes they cracked along the way!

Of course, readers want your characters to have fun, and display qualities which they find attractive. But the problem arises when the humor takes over and actually interferes with the developing conflict and emotions. For example, tough, wise-cracking characters who never admit they’re hurt can end up seeming emotionally superficial. Its fine for them to put on a front, to want to shake off any semblance of being vulnerable, but your reader needs to know that this display of light-heartedness is to protect themselves. Don’t deprive your reader of an opportunity to show how your character actually deals with the emotion after the humor.

Using humor should never be the easy way out in your book! There is absolutely a place for humor in a romance but not at the expense of your hero and heroine’s connection – don’t let them shy away from the more intense moments with quips and jokes! Ask yourself, will humor advance the relationship? Will it reveal something which will further the development of the story? Or will it actually slow the pace of the book, and alter the tone of the scene, therefore losing your readers on the way? You may find yourself back at square one and having to start all over again!

Target your series. Think seriously about the series you are writing for. For some series, injections of humor can offer much-needed light relief against the darkness of what’s happening on the page – especially where external factors, like the unfolding drama of an ER in a Harlequin Medical Romance, play a large part. Whilst for other series, such as Harlequin Presents, poorly-timed humor can undo all the hard work you have done in building up a sizzling, intense revelation, or black moment!

Always ask yourself, is humor an appropriate trait for the character you have created? When you are thinking about your characters, ask yourself if your character would actually make jokes? Would they use humor and sarcasm as part of their natural dialect? If yes, then use sparingly and think about where it will have the most effectiveness. A well-timed one-liner can kickstart some scorching chemistry! But making a joke at their own feelings’ expense could have the opposite effect and detract from their conflict. It’s all about keeping your characters authentic!

Ultimately, you’ve set your characters challenges to overcome, and the reader will want to feel that both themselves, and the hero and heroine, are emotionally invested in this journey! Having fun with your characters will reflect in the reading experience, but keep an eye on how much humor you add, and always keep asking yourself if it’s purposeful, or actually a little too distracting.

Writing should always be fun, so keep enjoying it! And good luck!

Megan & the Harlequin editors x