How to Write the Romance Novel You Want to Read

May 22, 2014 | By | 9 Replies More

Bestselling Author Travis Neighbor Ward Shares the Top 7 Things Every Romance Writer Should Do

Travis Ward-book cover photo copyWriting romances can be one of the most empowering forms of fiction writing for women—as long as we make it an expression of ourselves. When I set out to write my novel COME FIND ME, my top priority was creating a story that I would love to read. I decided that as long as I loved it, there had to be readers out there that would feel the same way.

Since I self-published COME FIND ME last month, I can tell from the reviews that my approach was right on target. The people that gave it four or five stars did so because they love what I love about it. The two three-star reviews I got were from people that said it’s a great story, but not their style.

In the end, success really isn’t about pleasing agents, publishers, publicists, or newspaper critics. It’s about finding our peeps in the vast world of readers—and producing what we, and they, are hungering for.

Here are some specific tips for crafting a story that will make you feel this way about it, too.

1. Study the Competition to Identify What You Love Reading.

Read every romance and love story you can get your hands on. Read the books with five-star reviews and one-star reviews. Read the bodice rippers and the literary romances. As you read, decide what you like and don’t like. Is something making your skin crawl with disgust or tingle with delight? Make a note of it. After you finish a book, read the reviews and see if you agree with them. This will help you understand better how you want your romance to be similar or different.

2. Figure Out What Makes A Female Lead Likeable and Heroic to You.

I’m not talking about what makes you, me, or our women friends likeable; I’m talking about fictional women that reach even higher, and fall even harder, than we do. What melts your heart for a woman in the first ten pages of a book? What makes you fall in love with her to the point that you’re rooting for her happiness and crying when she’s sad?

How far can her self-destructive tendencies go before she becomes despicable to you? How close to perfection can she move before you get bored? You—and your female readers—will live the story through her, so you’d better make her someone that you think is incredible.

3. Ask Yourself What You Think Is Truly Sexy In A Romantic Male Hero.

This is your time to create the perfect partner, so let your imagination rip! The more creative you get, the more original and charming he will be. Remember, this isn’t a real guy you date, or even your husband. I’m in love with my husband and think he’s fantastic, but he still keeps a ton of things in his head. Your hero has to be a guy that will say even those things that men never say, and do the things they rarely do. Also, remember that sexy isn’t contained in six-pack abs. Those may be a nice add-on, but sexy comes from personality, above all else.

So, ask yourself: “What would make my heart melt?” Once you determine the traits that your hero must have, you can apply them in different ways to different characters, increasing some aspects of it for one hero, while decreasing others. No matter what, it will keep you writing from your heart.

0412 ComeFindMe_eBook Lowest Res4. Decide How Much Sex You Want To Include, and In How Much Detail. This is really important when it comes to the readers you’re targeting, as well as how your book will be categorized in bookstores. If there’s basically no sex, it may be placed in the “inspirational” category. At the opposite end of the spectrum is “erotic fiction,” which will include R-rated warnings. In between there are lots of shades of sexy. Mostly, though, it comes down to your comfort level, and the way you need to tell the story that’s in your mind.

5. Closely Study Human Gestures and Behaviors Related to Love.

In real life it’s easy to identify when people are attracted to each other or are in love. When you write a romance, you need not only to convey it, but to make readers feel it. There’s a fine line between having it sound authentic versus cheesy and laughable.

6. Choose Settings That Put You in the Mood.

I don’t just mean in the mood for sex; I mean for romance. Your characters, and your readers, have to fall in love somewhere, and the “where” can largely determine how they fall in love. So… does snow turn you on? Beaches? Mountains? Desert heat? Offices? Swanky hotels? Don’t by shy when you brainstorm! If you pick a place that excites you, you will write more convincingly.

7. Learn to Read Your Own Physical Reactions to What You Write.

I think we women are often trained to downplay how we react to situations in real life. We’re told that we’re too emotional, too sensitive, too needy, and so we learn to hide many of our genuine feelings. That training is like murder to the romance writer! When you write a romance novel, it is precisely the depth and breadth of your emotions that are going to make the story sing.

The best way to avoid overthinking this point is simply to listen to your body as you write. If you feel your gut twisting in anger or sadness, I bet that story will make me feel angry or sad. And if your hero’s kiss is sending shivers down your spine, it will probably send them down my spine, too.

Travis Neighbor Ward was the Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantan magazine and the Home & Garden Editor of Atlanta Magazine. Her first novel COME FIND ME  debuted in April 2014. It has been on the Top 100 Bestseller lists on, in both the Literary Romance and the Military Romance categories, ever since. For more about Travis, or to contact her, please visit or her blog

Follow her on twitter @travisnward


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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, How To and Tips

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  1. How to Write the Romance Novel You Want to Read | June 2, 2014
  1. michelle militi says:

    Spot on article. I’m working on my first book, and all while actively applying the lessons above. I just downloaded your book. Sounds great! ‘

    Michelle Militi

  2. Tai says:

    The how much sex part is where I always seem to get lost. But then I realized that it all depended on my characters actually. Come on, if I have a hunk who is being drooled over by a lot of ladies, his sex shouldn’t be subtle right? And when I have a conservative girl from Georgetown who just wants to meet new friends and start a career in newspaper, I don’t think sex would be on her mind. Anyway, sex in our fiction should depend on our main characters really. I would like to create a cliche for myself in teen novels and I don’t think adding too much sex will make any sense; because really, they just want to make out even when their body feels like they should have sex. Well, that’s my opinion anyway. And Travis, well done and thanks for the post.

  3. Lori Schafer says:

    I know exactly where you’re coming from, Travis. My first novel falls somewhere between romance/women’s fiction/erotica and although there’s been a lot of interest in it, publishers have been reluctant to pick it up because it just doesn’t quite follow all of the conventions of any of those genres. But for me, that’s the only way I can be – if I’d had to write it another way, I wouldn’t have wanted to write it at all. And like you, I’m convinced that there must be a market for this kind of work – because if this is what I would want to read in a romance novel, there must be others who feel the same way.

    • Lori, I know exactly what you mean about writing between genres. I’m rewriting a crime novel right now. One reason I decided to set up my own indie publishing company this year is because I was tired of hearing industry people say it’s best to write in one genre, and that we authors should “brand” ourselves by giving readers a similar type of story each time. I mean, why? Who said? (Of course there are famous crossover writers like Nora Roberts and James Patterson, but people seem to hold them as the exceptions.) My passion is for story telling, and that means whatever story happens to grip my imagination and my heart. Also, we authors change and as we change, we may be captivated by very different emotions and desires. It’s really important to feel free to write what we want — but to work hard at it!

      I also think it’s a risk to an author’s creativity to pay attention to those types of genre-branding industry arguments. It makes it feel like there’s a game, and a way to win it, and if you don’t fit in, you’re going to lose. That feels like a playground mentality to me. Isn’t the game is to be healthy, happy, and artistically fulfilled?

      But, of course by self-publishing it’s easier to put the money aspect aside, simply because you can print on demand. The big publishers have a lot more to worry about when it comes to the bottom line…

  4. I’m always happy to see pro-romance genre articles, because I think our genre is an easy target for people who wish to diminish women’s words.

    But I think it’s important to remember that not all romance readers and writers are interested in the traditional heterosexual romance novel. I write LGBTQ romance fiction — sometimes about men, sometimes about women, and often with a very broad definition of various genders and orientations.

    Readers of LGBTQ (and let’s be frank, mostly m/m romance fiction based on sales — it’s a very fast-growing category), are often, but not exclusively female, and are often, but not exclusively straight (the same is true of the people writing LGBTQ romance).

    I just want women reading this to know that if the romance they want to read isn’t traditional boy meets girl, there’s still a place for them, and for great female characters in their stories.

    • Racheline,
      Thank you for giving those insights! Great female characters are definitely needed in all romances. I agree that there is a place for everyone, and I think that if you switch out the gender in my points number 2 and 3, everything would still apply to an LGBTQ romance. Do you think? It would be interesting to read a similar article tailored to that area of romance writing, to hear what else writers should consider when creating their stories.

  5. Thank you for this post, Travis. Firstly, I’m delighted to see that you’re doing so well as an Indie publisher. It’s a tough way through but from your blog, you’re clearly approaching the marketing side systematically. This, in my opinion, is a key conflict for writers these days, that of having to switch off the emotional and creative side that deepens our writing, and putting on the marketeers hat. Seeking reviews, pitching blog ideas, etc. But it has to be done. For the first time in history, women who want to write can be in charge of where, when and how. Will I take your advice to read every kind of romance? I’m not sure I will make that step in a crowded work-schedule but I get your point absolutely. Without closely examining what makes for a successful romance (and an unsuccessful one) we’re never really seeing our work from other people’s point of view.

    Of course, a one-star review may be a brilliant book. It just didn’t set out to please!

    • Thanks for your comment and the support, Natalie! I couldn’t agree with you more about the challenges of switching from the emotional and creative side of oneself (and one’s writing) to the marketing side. Marketing one’s work–whether you’re self-publishing or have a publishing team behind you–can really take up A LOT of time and energy. But, it’s so worthwhile if it means connecting with new readers. The more we keep the reader front and center in our mind as we do anything related to marketing, the more gratifying and energizing the marketing will be. I also agree with what you said about a 1-star book maybe being brilliant. That’s definitely possible! The ratings are very subjective. The most important thing is that we write the stories we want to write, then put them out there. Good luck with your work and reading schedule. I feel for you. When I worked in an office full-time, it was much harder to fit all the reading in. 🙂

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