Romance Writing Checklist

by Patience Bloom

Before you celebrate with some chocolate cake and chilled wine, you have a romance novel to complete. Have you mastered the basics? Here are ten items for you to check before you submit your manuscript to a publisher:

  1. Are your characters complex and interesting? We editors have seen it all. What we love is when your hero, heroine and secondary characters seem like real people. Everyone is different, right? So make sure your “people” are unique.
  2. Does the conflict/romantic tension carry through the entire story? In real life, you meet someone special and you live happily ever after (maybe not always, but let’s hope) without that gritty conflict one reads in stories. In a romance novel, the tension needs to last, make your readers stay up until 3am. If your hero and heroine have picnics every day, your reader will fall asleep.
  3. Do you appeal to all five senses? The reader wants a tantalizing experience. Close your eyes and envision your scene: how it looks, tastes, smells, etc… Write it all down. Without going overboard, make sure your scenes come alive.
  4. Is your romance emotional and intense? Tepid tea isn’t going to keep you going. Think about a tepid romance where the hero and heroine don’t feel anything or say interesting things. It’s like they’re made of cardboard. Bring on the angst, the emotion, the intensity!
  5. Does your story have a strong sense of setting? Some of us have no sense of direction. We need traffic cops to show us the way. Be sure to show your reader the sights and sounds of your setting, even if it’s Anywhere, The World. Setting adds richness.
  6. Is your manuscript professional? Here’s a pet peeve of most editors: We’re not crazy about typos. One here or there is fine, but a manuscript riddled with errors shows us that the writer doesn’t take his/her work seriously. To be a professional, one must present one’s best work, even if one is a bad speller.
  7. How’s the pacing? Do you keep the reader’s attention from beginning to end? Do you have that dreaded sagging middle? Can you pick up the story in the middle and still love it? That’s another editor’s secret: Sometimes, we’ll skip a few chapters and read in the middle to see if the writing is as zippy as at the beginning.
  8. Do you have exciting chapter beginnings and endings? Each chapter should be a gem. Begin and end with a bang.
  9. How’s the sex? Even if you write sweeter romances, there should be some kind of sensual awareness between the hero and heroine. Make your readers ache for more.
  10. Do you have a happy ending? This should be obvious with romance, though here’s one additional note: Because readers expect the happy ending, can you bring something unexpected to this ending? Is there an element of surprise to wow the reader even more? Go for it!

Once you’ve gone through this checklist and are confident with your work, you are on your way. Okay, now you can splurge on that cake.

5 replies on “Romance Writing Checklist”

“…can you bringing something unexpected to this ending? ” I include this as it’s in your checklist.
I enjoy editing. If you have such an opportunity, I would be interested to explore.

I’d like to submit a romance story based on my experience. Actually, I have written several short stories based on my ventures into the dating game after divorce. My marriage was a life sentence; and I served 25 before finally being released from a miserable existence.
Thank you,
Stella White

Thank you, Stella White! I have fixed this.As for your query, we’re not doing non-fiction but I urge you to continue with your writing. Sounds like a story that needs to be heard! 🙂

So, I submitted a story to two different lines and it was not accepted. I have spent the last couple months tearing it down and rebuilding it, stone by stone. Would you suggest trying again, or should I move along to something else? Your advice is appreciated.

This was very helpful!

I’m a Swedish writer currently writing romance in both Swedish and English.

I’m not really in a financial place where I can afford paying someone professional for editing my texts.

My question is: if I write a story that you love, and my writer’s voice is strong and unique, will you be able to forgive a manuscript that isn’t edited professionally? I don’t mean my work is full of spelling and grammar errors, I do check and double-check to make sure things look alright, but in the end English is not my mother tongue.

Thank you and have a lovely day!

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