Get the Hero and Heroine together as soon as possible
The first chapter is the best place to bring your hero and heroine together. The first page is better. The first paragraph is perfect. You can always feed in back story later. Once they are together, keep them together as much as possible. It’s a good idea to have them ‘on the same page’ at least 70% of the time. In Mills and Boon romances, they like the hero and heroine to be together at least 90% of the time. If they’re not together then they are thinking about each other. Keep the story focussed on the romance at all times, and make sure any sub-plots or external conflicts have some bearing on the romance.
Open the novel with a hook
One of the best bits of advice I was given by Kate Walker was to ‘never end a chapter with the heroine turning the light off and going to sleep’ as this is what your reader will do. I’d suggest the same goes for opening a novel. Try to avoid opening your novel with characters getting out of bed, or going to bed, or sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee in the morning. Start from a point of action rather than inaction. Think of the openings to classic novels. Jane Eyre starts with ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day’. Pride and Prejudice opens with ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’ Both openings set up questions for the reader that demand to be answered. Why does it matter so much to Jane Eyre that she cannot take a walk and what is it that matters about ‘that’ day? Will a single man of good fortune turn up?
Make sure your hero is a heroic
For Debbie Viggiano, “A hero has got to be exactly that. A hero. He must have impeccable behaviour throughout, no matter what the situation. I read a book where the hero - sticking up for the heroine - humiliated another woman badly. It just spoilt everything!”
I read a romantic novel where the modern-day hero saw the heroine receive money from a man at a wedding in broad daylight and immediately came to the astounding conclusion that she was a high class prostitute. After that, I found it hard to believe in him as a hero and felt that the story should have ended in the first chapter with her slapping him in the face and refusing to have anything to do with him ever again.
Let the hero and heroine earn their love
Sometimes it seems that the only reason a hero and heroine get together is because it has been decreed by the author that they do. This is known as being ‘strangled by the red string’ and happens when a relationship has not had time to evolve or the external conflict in a novel overtakes the internal and emotional conflicts of the hero and heroine. As well as showing your hero and heroine falling in love, you need to show why they’ve fallen in love. It’s not enough to tell the reader that the hero was the most handsome man the heroine had ever seen or that the heroine has a cute way of biting her lip. It needs to be shown why they are deserving of each other’s love, quite apart from their physical attractions. The reason they get together will come from their personalities.
Don’t throw the first kiss away
Mills and Boon historical novelist, Marguerite Kaye, says that one of her pet hates is “The hero and heroine getting hot and steamy without any reason at all. I just hate those kisses that are put in there because the author thinks, ‘I'm at page x and I haven't had them kiss yet’”
In romantic novels, kisses are milestones on the way to a relationship. Therefore, that first kiss has to mean something. It has to be the first of a million kisses. So make sure it matters and that, a) it’s not just put in for the reasons Marguerite states above and b) it isn’t mentioned as a throwaway line. Make that moment count for the hero and heroine and for the reader.
Make sure the conflict is important and plausible
Most romances will have some conflict keeping the hero and heroine apart. It is important that the conflict means something and keeps the reader wondering how the hero and heroine are going to get over it. One author, who also critiques novels by new writers, told me about one novel she read in which the hero stole the heroine’s parking space. She proceeded to hate him for that sole reason for most of the novel. It suggested that the heroine had severe psychological problems that falling love with the hero was not going to solve.
Marguerite Kaye cautions again conflicts, “… that can be resolved by having the hero and heroine just sit down and talk.” The conflict needs to be seemingly insurmountable. Author and writing tutor Elaine Everest says, “It's strange how many heroes have sworn off women since one evil encounter but then are attracted to our female lead within the first chapter.”
One great tip I received from Kate Walker was to think of the worst person your heroine could fall in love with and then make her fall in love with him.
Beware, however of a slap-slap-kiss type of romance, where the hero and heroine are at each other’s throats for 90% of the story, then finally realise they’re in love in the last 10%. You wouldn’t fall in love with someone who spent their whole time arguing with you and putting you down, so why should your hero/heroine? However, for the sake of balance, when I suggested this as a ‘no-no’ on Facebook, novelist Victoria Lamb disagreed, saying, “I like a slap-slap-kiss romance myself.”
I’d temper that by saying that yes, it can work if your hero and heroine are swapping witty repartee - think of the intelligent exchanges between Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester - but you still need to make it clear they like each other and with good reason. You will need some sort of ‘getting to know you’ time within the novel that proves to the reader that these two people are meant to be together.
Don’t write romance if you don’t like reading it
I know I’ve said this before, and in the very first article of this series, but I thought it was worth passing on the experience of writer, Val Bonney. “Never try to write Romance if you don't love reading it, no matter how good a writer you are.” When Val tried writing romance, her writing skills were praised but she was told that her attempts were formulaic. “(The novels) were rejected because I clearly didn't love the genre. Lesson learned!”