A Few of My Very Own Golden Rules for Romance Books

Published on March 4 2014

As a writer, I have a big responsibility: I can’t bore my readers; I can’t underestimate them; and I have to share information. And when it comes to writing romances, not only do my readers want a good tale, they also expect to (vicariously) fall in love. So here are some of my rules:

  1. My hero and heroine need to be intelligent. Why? Because I have to love them both to in order write about them convincingly. They also have to exchange ideas, stimulate each other intellectually or their love won’t last.
  2. Both hero and heroine must always be real people with real interests. I don’t want to write about multi-millionaires, top-notch executives, flashy cars, diamonds, private planes and all the other trappings. They just don’t interest me. But the folks next door do, and if one of my heroes or heroines just happens to be successful, it’s because they love what they’re doing, not because of all the consumer goods money will buy.
  3. No one has to be perfectly beautiful. When people fall madly in love, they always think the person they’re in love with is just gorgeous anyway!
  4. The setting has to be wonderful. Reading a book should be like traveling to an unknown country, or opening a window onto a wonderful view. It has to be “transporting”!
  5. No silly misunderstandings that are as irritating as sandpaper because they take up so much time. Silly misunderstandings have you wishing people would just sit down for five minutes and talk things over so the real story can begin.
  6. The grammar has to be as perfect as I can make it and sentences have to sing. There also has to be a definite style — even if it’s a quirky one. And, of course, the story has to keep moving, have no boring moments, no dullness and certainly no tedious conversations.
  7. We have to get knowledge from a book: we can learn about ourselves, about a new way to solve a problem, a new way of thinking, or we can glean totally new information and find new vocabulary. Learning is what makes life exciting.
  8. There have to be other interesting or very strange secondary characters. Sure, the main story revolves around the hero and heroine, but they’re not on a desert island: other folks are there too, and sometimes they’re nosy, or nasty, or disruptive, or amusing or even ridiculous. They’re what makes a book fun.
  9. Most definitely, my heroes and heroines have to have a sense of humor — and that means they can laugh at themselves and their own absurdities.

In my romance, All About Charming Alice, I share a few tales about the settling of the west and give some information about reptiles (don’t scream). My heroine is Alice, an ex-actress who has found refuge in the Nevada desert, protects rattlers and rescues dogs; my hero, Jace is a determined bachelor, an art-loving city man, a writer and an historian who can hardly wait to get out of Nevada and head back to Chicago.

The story takes place in a small, crumbling community in the Nevada desert peopled by… well… the sort of cranks you’d expect to find way out in the back of nowhere: Pa and Ma Handy, collectors of odds and ends as well as gossip; Brad, the rather dull rancher; Rose, the inveterate flirt who chews up most of the males in the west; Mick, a beer-swilling eccentric; and a whole scramble of rescue dogs.

And since this is a romance, you can read all about how Jace and Alice tumble into that heady, dizzying world of new love.

(Originally written for the blog: Because Reading Is Better Than Real Life)

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Joanna Lloyd 03/05/2014 00:12

Great list! You know, that list, more than any other blurb has made me want to read your books. Because if your story has followed all those rules then it is a story I want to read! Thanks for sharing those with us.

J. Arlene 03/05/2014 05:57

Thanks for the nice words, Joanna.

Sheila Clapkin 03/04/2014 23:42

YOu have told us all how to write a great romance novel. Bye, I shall start mine. My heart is all a fluter. I have such fears of negative comments. oh well.My heart is beating so fast, I think I will leave the writing to you!! Whew. Love your writings. and loved ALL ABOUT CHARMING ALICE! and love you!

J. Arlene 03/05/2014 05:58

Don't fret about those negative comments Sheila (and anyway, we all have the same fears). Just go for it.

Sheila Clapkin 03/04/2014 23:44

correct fluter to flutter for me. See heart flutters make for bad spellers:

Lynn Crandall 03/04/2014 22:05

Great list! Some very good points. Thanks for sharing.

Deborah O'Neill Cordes 03/04/2014 19:51

What a wonderful list! Every writer should copy this and keep it handy. Thanks so much, J-Arlene. May you have much success with All About Finding Alice.

J. Arlene 03/04/2014 19:58

Finding and charming, not much difference, Deborah. Thanks for the visit. And I wish you much success too.

Deborah O'Neill Cordes 03/04/2014 19:52

All About Charming Alice. Sheesh... Forgive me. <3

Laila Blake 03/04/2014 19:50

I couldn't agree more on all of this - I also love to write/read about intelligent people and leave out the luxury status symbol nonsense ;).

J. Arlene 03/04/2014 21:33

(Just as long as we can run faster...)

Laila Blake 03/04/2014 20:56

Heheh long live the radicals! :D

J. Arlene 03/04/2014 19:57

I'm always so disappointed when I open a book and have to wade through the lists of designer clothing, names of fast cars, perfume brands. Come on. That isn't what love or beauty is all about. Perhaps I'm a bit radical though...