Things I’ve learned about writing while writing romance novels

1. Head-hopping. Don’t do it. When I wrote my first novel (appropriately, The First Time is the Sweetest was the very first novel I’d ever written) I had no clue what head-hopping was. I had no idea that I’d read novels suffering from this issue, I just knew that some were easier to read than others. Head-hopping is when you switch point of view among multiple characters with no warning within a single scene (giving your reader mental whiplash). Always, always add spaces to the text, or a new chapter, or dots, or some other clever device to help the reader know that the person thinking/speaking is a different character.

2. Filter words. Don’t do that either. These are words that explain what the character is feeling rather than just saying it. It’s like passive voice on steroids. Try to avoid this as much as possible. For example, don’t say: She felt the wind cut through her clothes. Say: The wind cut through her clothes.

3. Chapters should be 5000 words or less. Preferably much, much less. I’m fond of excessively long chapters. I’ll admit that. However, I’ve learned to cut them in half and sometimes in thirds (with the new book I’m writing I’m shooting for no longer than 3000 words). Why? Because it’s a whole lot easier to put the book down at the end of a chapter than in the middle. Readers are busy and it’s a lot easier to put the book aside and pick it up again if the chapters aren’t the length of the Grand Canyon. Short chapters also add tension and movement and that’s always a good thing.

4. Unresolved sexual tension or UST is key. Yes. Yes. Yes! Do it! The best romance novels string the reader along, creating tension and excitement along the way. I don’t want to climax too soon when I’m reading a book. Foreplay is important. Oh, I’m not saying you can’t consummate things at all, you totally can, but every novel needs to have both an overarching plot with a climax and a sense of conflict and resolution. In romance novels, some of that tension is created within the characters’ relationship development.

5. Too much description is boring. I like to know when my characters are cavorting in a forest or in a bed, but honestly, I don’t give a flying hoot if the tree is an oak or a maple or if the sheets are crimson or jade or whatever. If they’re silk, sure, mention that because it gives the reader some information about the character’s wealth (which may be important) but otherwise? Who cares. Please don’t fill my brain with pages and pages of description that have nothing to do with the characters or the plot or anything, really, except the writer’s desperate lunge to reach a word count quota.

6. Character names should be pronounceable. Because if they’re not I just make up my own names to read for the rest of the book. I don’t want to be straining myself over how to pronounce Mkyllaelel’s name for two-hundred pages, especially in bed. And I’m also going to totally ignore your pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book. I really am.

7. Dialogue tags are often unnecessary. If you’re writing dialogue, you can give the reader so much more information with a body movement than with a she said. For example, if the character is uncertain, write this: “I don’t know what you want me to do.” Martha bit her lip. NOT this: “I don’t know what you want me to do,” Martha said. Which one is more dynamic?

8. I’m still learning. I’ll always still be learning. Just when I think I’ve mastered something in writing I tend to trip over a new piece of advice or technique that I know will improve my craft. I used to cry and moan over my scraped knees (metaphorically speaking), but as the years have passed, I’ve learned to be opened-minded and pragmatic about this. I also carry bandages everywhere I go. And tissues. Can’t hurt, right?

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