I’ve been reading romance novels since I was a teenager and now I get to edit them (along with other yummy genres). There are many qualities that make a romance good but here are a five that I think every good romance novel should have.
1. A hero we can fall in love with: I don’t mean in real life, but in “book” life. If the hero doesn’t have the goods then the romance won’t be a keeper. So what makes a hero great? We have to get into his head. When authors don’t give us enough time in the hero’s head to poke around and hang out, then that makes for a less satisfying read. As readers we want to know what he thinks about the heroine. What he thinks about her quirks or the shenanigans she gets herself mixed up in. We want to know how he feels when she’s standing close to him and he can smell the sweet fragrance of her hair or notice the flecks of gold in her eyes. We want to know what he thinks when he’s kissing her and holding her in his arms. We want to know how he feels when he finally realizes that he’s in love with her. All that good stuff. But we also want to know about him. What happened on that fateful day twenty years ago when his parents died? How did he feel when his father ran off with the French opera singer? What was his first experience with a woman like? Anything and everything that pertains to the story and to his burgeoning relationship with the heroine – we want to do know about it!
2. A heroine we can adore and root for: I’ve read many romance novels where the hero is awesome and the heroine is either a bee-otch or a complete dish-rag. C’mon! The heroine has to have spirit and guts but she also has to be loving. We don’t want her acting completely out of character. Or react like a she-devil when the hero does something she doesn’t like. Unless there is a good reason. There has to be a damn good reason. Otherwise we’re not going to buy it. The heroine is our stand-in so she better be worthy of that fella. We want to see her grow throughout the book. We want to see her learn and figure things out. We want her to realize she was wrong and make it right. In other words, we want her to be active. Not passive. Things shouldn’t just happen to her. She has to make things happen too. If she starts out as a shy wallflower, we want to know why she’s that way and then by the end of the book we have to know that despite being that shy girl, she has guts and would make a great partner for the hero. If she’s a flighty young miss then we want to see her grow in depth and maturity throughout the book. If she loses a child or goes through a divorce before falling in love again, we want to experience her pain and then her healing with her. In short, we want to know she’s a human being, with richness and potential for growth. We want to embrace her as a dear friend or sister.
3. Dialogue so good that we love to quote it or go back and read those delicious bits just for the sheer pleasure of it: I’ve read some great books over the years and the books I keep coming back to have wonderfully rich dialogue. Especially between the hero and heroine. Remember those classic Hollywood romantic comedies with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy? or Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant? Or Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart? (Okay, okay, anything with Katherine Hepburn). If your heroine and hero can relate to each other with that much chemistry then we are going to love your book. We like it when they both have a sense of humour. We like it when they both express emotion. We like it when they say complicated things to each other. We like it when they act silly or say outrageous things. We like it when they communicate. Why? Because communication between the hero and the heroine is at the core of a good romance novel. What they say to each other is important. Their dialogue is what breathes fresh air into the story and what brings the story to life. It’s how you, as the author, can really show your own voice. Describing them or giving them thoughts is important, but you have to give the hero and heroine something to say as well.
4. A sturdy plot: Yeah, yeah, we know that romance novels can get away with a “soft plot”. Since the biggest part of a romance novel is the romance itself, that is the main crux of the story. But stuff needs to happen as well. So pay attention to plot and continuity. If the plot is simply that the hero must find a wife or lose his inheritance then make certain that a series of mishaps and misunderstandings get in the way before he and the heroine can be together. If the plot is about the heroine escaping a ex-boyfriend/stalker, then that boyfriend has to show up in the book and threaten her relationship with the hero – not to mention their lives. The plot is the “bones” of the story so make those bones strong and fortified with calcium. 🙂
5. A Happy Ending: You’re damn straight we want a happy ending! That’s the point of a romance novel after all. You better make it good. We want declarations of love. We want the hero and heroine to finally admit things they were holding back. We don’t necessarily need a proposal (although it would be nice). But we want to know that these two people, whom we have grown to love, are going to be together. No, they can’t break up. No, he or she cannot die. Yes, they absolutely have to express their love for each other. A romance has to give us a satisfying ending. Otherwise it is not a romance. Period.
Well, I could go on forever here – but those are five essential things that I look for in every good romance novel. What do you look for?
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Joanna D’Angelo is Editor in Chief at Lachesis Publishing Inc. She loves Cinnamon Dolce Lattes, a good romance and a happy ending.