What makes a good romance?

Ah but instant love that backfires is also a gem. “You’ve been in love with someone else after all this time” kind of gem. :heart:

Oh, to be sure! But I don’t think I’d categorize that as insta-love. I think what you’re describing could be the opposite of insta-love, because it would take one or both of the leads time to come to the realization they’re actually in love with someone else.

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Personally I am writing a romance right now. I am aiming for the realism of not only romance but of first achieving friendship. Having bumps in the road. If you could go read it and tell me what you think, that would be great!

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Perhaps. I was thinking of falling in love at first sight and then realizing much later that it isn’t real kind of thing, but yeah that could be something else.

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some sage advice given to me over the past few years:


  • A three act structure
  • A Happily-Ever-After, or at least a Happy-For-Now
  • A main conflict that prevents the HEA or HFN, that can be clearly defined by the apex of the second act, beginning of the third and resolved within the third act.
  • Obstacles for the two main characters that are believable within the story context.
  • Emotional connection between the two main characters that serves the narrative of the romance. ie: love scenes, exciting/difficult situations, or intimate conversation that drives plot and is not just gratuitous.

More esoteric:

  • I think love at first sight CAN be a great romance trope, if it is done correctly. One night stands, meeting the perfect stranger and being spontaneous, that kind of thing can be really fun if you play it out properly, develop intimacy from the initial attraction! Love at first sight can be heady and exciting, and not necessarily a bad thing if it takes time for them to be able to realize that love and be together.

  • Enemies to friends is a fun trope to explore, or reconnecting old flames. Try something completely different! It can be something you’ve never seen before, or exploring a tried-and-true meetcute.

  • Romance can have sadness and trauma in it, it doesn’t all have to be fluffy frickin’ wonderfulness. A good romance novel takes into account the character’s misgivings and worries as well as their desires and needs. Make your characters real. Show their baggage. When they bare themselves to their lover, it pushes character development for both main characters. This drives emotional connection!

My opinion here: Diana Gabaldon does the romance in her historical fiction books really frickin’ well. There is complexity, and messiness, and craziness all folded into epic love stories that have layers upon layers of nuance. You end up rooting for them long before that love is solidified because of how she structures it. she also proves that a love story doesn’t end when people decide they love one another, Jamie and Claire are married for years and still it is a beautiful romance with them.

  • Be creative in how your characters express their love for one another, or hesitate to, or mistakenly say it. There is always the L word-phrase spoken at some point and if you can find an original way for them to confess that, it can be so much more fun!

  • Read romance. Then read some more! Some wonderful romance writers that I think are great examples to read: Nora Roberts (Yes really! Read Montana Sky), Lis Kleypas, Jill Shalvis, Lori Foster, Lori Wilde, Johanna Lindsey. For that matter, Jane Austen is an aspirational book structure to read and understand too. Jude Deveraux and Erich Segal are always well-referenced, Loretta Chase, Janet Dailey are old-school authors who structure their books really well. Laura Kinsale… Hmm who else… Of course, Nicholas Sparks if you want to study the formulaic nature of romance. John Green if you want to buck the trend of no HEA. If you want alpha, aggressive heroes (not my fave) there is Sylvia Day, EL James (yes, I say her, her books sold millions, so something worked, right?), K. Bromberg.

OK, now that I have written a tome (apologies) All this to say… The book is what you want it to be. Write YOUR fantasy. Write the truth you know about love. Give it your own unique voice. BEst of luck and have fun!


The thing that makes me enjoy a romance is, oddly, the same thing that makes me love a horror story: time.

I love how a character’s love will last over time, unrequited, separated by war, parents keep them apart - whatever it is. I read “The Bridges of Madison County” on a plane and it f’ing made me cry.

(with horror, it’s stuff like “It” - evil existing over time, coming back to feed)

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Relatable characters, strong heroes and heroines, strong emotions, and a good plot. I even base them on how steamy the are (when the sex scenes are and how many/often/long).


5 Things A Good Romance Should Have (in my opinion)

  1. A Happy Ending
  2. Some sort of conflict between the two main characters that keeps them either apart or prevents them from getting together (and it has to be something more than distance or time)
  3. A female protagonist who has everything in her life but love
  4. A male protagonist who wants everything in life but love
  5. Someone who helps the two protagonists come together (examples include a pet, a child, heck Hallmark once used a goat and a barista at a cafe to do it)

I have never been one for the falling in love at first glance. There has to be growth between both characters.
If it is true love than make it so they realize it over time.

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This makes me want to read Asian romances… But I have to agree, those happy endings really aren’t realistic. Especially if you’ve put your characters through cheating or even abuse, you can’t just say “I love you” at the end and expect it to be all good.

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That’s interesting reasoning…

But I like where you’re going with this! Every bad boy / good girl story would probably fall in this category then. Not just personality matters, but context does too – even more, maybe.

Whoa, that actually summarizes most of this topic… Time, that’s a good one. Would that also mean that love at first sight is a bad idea?

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I’m behind you almost completely, but there’s still one question I wanted to ask: what makes a good plot? Relatable, strong characters is a good description, and so are strong emotions, but about the plot… I can still wonder about that, because sometimes people say all romances are alike, and I think it’s the plot that could set one apart from the others.

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Wouldn’t that make all romances alike, in a way? If all females in all stories have everything but love, and if all males in romances don’t want love, and there’s a happy ending at the end, how would you make your story stand out?

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Oh yes, the Instalove. Never been a fan of that either. I want it to be realistic, and I want some time myself to fall in love with the characters before they do with each other.


Oh, not at all - I have a similar love-at-first-sight beginning to my romance (I call it “disaster romance” - the story begins with their breakup (they never get back together, spoiler-not-spoiler : ) ) and the woman of the couple gives us a look back at how they met, and it is totally an immediate, on-sight chemical reaction.

I haven’t wrapped the tale up, but as they find their separate ways forward, there are some levels of affection and loyalty that endure.

I love romances, I’ll watch “Lifetime” movies all day, even if I can guess how they’ll turn out. I’m trying to think of a good example of love over time, and the book “Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle-stop Cafe” by Fannie Flagg is one of my complete, all-time favorites - not only for how a few love stories play out (one of which is a man carrying a torch that is never revealed, only exposed to the reader in narration) but for the clever way the story moves seamlessly over a space of decades, closer to 100 years than not!

The author also does a great job of using tibits from the local newspaper (written by a fantastic journalist, Dot Weems, whose writing has its own small-town gossipy voice) - I highly recommend it!

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Unfortunately they’re rarely translated. I grew up with romance where love grew in the face of war, and the guy dies just as the girl realizes she actually loves him and it’s too late. Another is between a princess and a prince from distant lands where they spent years writing to each other and we read the entire story in the form of letters so discreet and yet you know there’s love between them, and just when he was about to ask for her hand in marriage, a riot broke out and he died. That book ended with a letter from her that began with, “where do I address this letter to now?” I mean $&@€, I nearly died crying with that ending.

Another is between princess trying to be queen and her loyal advisor below her ranks, in the end he committed a crime to make her queen and she was forced to pass the sentence that executed him. You can imagine the angst in that last chapter when she stood watching him die by her own decree. And it makes sense. She is queen, and there are laws she must follow for the greater good.

Stories like Me Before You is the norm for us as much as fluff and romantic happy endings. You will never know how a book is going to end.

So you can imagine my face when I read the 200th romance novel and half way through I know the couple will get away with anything no matter how impossible the situation is, all because “romance must end with a positive note.”

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Right! If the plot calls for instalove, make it so they hate the idea first, but grow on each other in time.

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That’s quite an interesting standpoint, actually – I’d expected you to be against love at first sight, based on your opinion on time.

Although I do kind of get it, because having a breakup like in your story doesn’t necessarily mean that the characters stop feeling anything for each other at all – a breakup is painful because they still have feelings. So it would actually be more realistic to the story. But being attracted can also happen at first sight… That’s a good thing to think about.

And I have to shamefully admit I don’t recognize any of the titles you referenced :grimacing: My to-read list is growing with the second.

All of those are so heartbreaking! Definitely not anything like Western romances, that almost all have a happy ending. You can already see by reading this thread that many people are a fan of that – although it takes out the surprise. I don’t want to know the ending at the beginning, why would I read it then? It’s also why I’ve stopped watching all romcoms and YA movies: they’re all the same.

So, kind of sad that those Asian stories aren’t translated – they’d bring some variety into the genre. I believe that a big reason why many people have stopped reading romances is because all stories are so similar.

I’m already having fun imagining what that story must have been like if written by a Western author… She’d have found a way to save the guy and they would have run off together; she’d have given up her kingdom to save his life and they’d live happily ever after.

Ohh :sweat_smile: I was already afraid that every story would be heartbreaking. I can’t handle that much crying :joy: