Romantic conclusions

Judging from your comments here and those over at Cassie Clare’s lj the following are what you look for in a romance:

  • tension
  • conflict
  • verisimilitude
  • external obstacles
  • geek love
  • banter
  • painful misunderstandings
  • Gender-bending mistaken identity
  • super competence
  • baggage
  • equal partners
  • witty banter
  • wish fulfillment
  • restraint
  • chemistry
  • little things
  • vulnerability
  • choosing happiness
  • Character development
  • lots of witty banter
  • no internal thoughts
  • verbal sex
  • brooding
  • unrequited love
  • undying love
  • enemies in love
  • slow, lengthy build ups
  • humour
  • context
  • best friends falling for each other
  • lots and lots of witty banter

i just love this list! Makes me so happy. I agree with almost everything on it (especially gender-bending mistaken identity These Old Shades I go weak!). Thanks, everyone. Your comments were witty, thought provoking and wonderful.

So why was I asking?

Because I’ve never written a romance.

I’ve never started a book and known that one of the major plot arcs was going to be about people falling in love. But since so many of my favourite books are that way (Pride and Prejudice, too many Heyers and Kinsales to name, The Mountain is Young, Whalen Turner’s Attolia trilogy etc etc) I thought it might be fun to try my hand at it. But I soon realised that I’m really not sure how to do it on purpose. It also rapidly became clear that it’s much much much harder than it looks.

Also of that list above there are two that don’t work for me:

  • Brooding


  • wish fulfillment

Don’t get me wrong I was once very much into them. I loved Heathcliff! Bad boy love of any kind! But the Angel/’Buffy romance wound up just annoying me. Angel’s broodingness caused my eyes to roll. He was a WW. A whingeing wanker. Blerk.

I also used to adore heaps of books that were basically that ultimate wish fulfillment: the Mary Sue. But they don’t work for me anymore. Could be that I’m too grizzled and cynical to believe it now. The world is way more complicated than that and often when people get what they want it doesn’t make them happy.

Yet I know wish fulfillment books and brooding heroes work very powerfully for any number of readers.

So I’m struggling with the whole writing about people falling in love thing and was looking for some advice. And what you’ve given me is lots of ideas and a long list of books to check out as well as to reread (like The Master and Margarita which strangely I never thought of as a romance. When I think of that book I think of cats walking upright smoking cigars and demons floating in and out of windows. How dumb am I?) It was wonderful to see how many of your favourites are also my favourites.

It’s obvious, isn’t it? The way to learn how to do any new kind of writing is to figure out how other folks do it. Der!

So, Julia Quinn, you reckon? Or Jennifer Weiner? Or Jo Leigh? Which is the best of their books?

And again thank you so much, everyone, for all your responses. Vastly entertaining and useful. And extra thanks to Diana and Cassie (who are both pretty bloody good at the romance thing) for sending so many smart folk my way. I owe youse all one.


  1. Rebecca on #

    so you don’t consider the romance(s) in the morm trilogy to be major? i suppose you could have had the same basic story without most of them, but still. whaddya mean by it wasn’t on purpose? it wasn’t planned? but the various romantic elements and relationships still became a big part of the story, and characters might’ve reacted to stuff differently if they weren’t falling for each other. obviously there’s one pretty central relationship that had to be there no matter what, but i thought the others were pretty significant to the main plot as well.

  2. alisa on #

    thank you thank you thank you for compiling that! i love when research benefits us all – and is about romance. *g*

  3. Stephanie on #

    Jennifer Crusie writes often about how to make romances work, but it’s all scattered in her articles and her blog and her mailing list archives.

  4. rachel brown on #

    didn’t Jennifer weiner write “good in bed?” i HATED that. I think you would too.

    Try Jennifer Crusie’s “Fast Women,” “Faking It,” “Bet Me,” or “Getting Rid of Bradley.”

  5. lili on #

    i struggled with the romance in scatterheart (as you well know). i basically tried to be jane austen and make us fall in love with a wickhamish character, only to be angry and heartbroken along with the protag when he turns out to be a tool.

    but it didn’t work.

    because jane austen is a much, much better writer than i am.

    le sigh.

  6. Penni on #

    The romance in my books very much grew organically with the story. I don’t know that I could have planned the romantic arc, seeing that romance in itself is so whimsical, so unplanned – with every encounter there always had to be the potential in my head of this could be the One for this character…just as in real life. Even if they were obviously all wrong.

    Good luck with writing a romance, Justine. I’ll be extemely interested to hear about the planning stage after you’ve written it, so keep good notes!!

  7. ariel cooke on #

    aside from all the great english marriage novels and georgette heyer, my favorite recent romances are by margaret mahey: the changeover and also catalogue of the universe. i also confess to a great weakness for meg cabot.

  8. jessiegirl on #

    i have read a few romance novels, because i wanted to see what happens to a book when that story line is pulled into the foreground. I learned a bit, but since then i’ve been searching for YA authors who do this. Stephenie Meyer does this fantastically in her books, and i’m loving Meg Cabot, but who else is there?

  9. liliya on #

    you forgot to add ‘lots of swearing’ to the list

  10. jenny davidson on #

    i think i mentioned these already in my last–i’m not a genre romance-reader, unless something exceptional falls into my hands–but eva ibbotson really is wonderful, both her young-adult and adult books are essentially romances (“the star of kazan” and “the river sea” are two recent ya, my favorite of her adult ones are probably “the morning gift” and “magic flutes” but really you can’t go wrong, they’re all very magical). do read marisa de los santos’s “love walked in,” it’s wonderfully good.

    (i agree about the excellence of the megan whalen turner attolia books in this respect, they’re great in every other respect as well!)

  11. Justine on #

    Rebecca: Hmmmm. I guess I don’t consider either of those “relationships” to be romantic.









    What Reason and Danny have is a one-night stand. He never shows any signs of being into her except for that one (magic influenced) night. I definitely don’t consider that a romance.

    Tom & Jay-Tee’s relationship changed as i wrote—them getting together surprised me. I don’t see it as being particularly romantic—more circumstantial. They got together on account of hormones and proximity. I don’t see them lasting as an item, but I do hope they’ll be friends for the long haul.

    Alisa: Tis what blogs are for!

    Stephanie: Thanks for the tip!

    Rachel: Jennifer Crusie, eh? I’m on it! I confess to having a tendency to mix up my Jennifers. There are so many of them!

    Lili: Scatterheart is not at all Austen-like. Sadly only Jane Austen can manage that. But it is wonderful in its own way. I can not wait to read the final version!

    Penni: I doubt that what I’m writing is a romance in the genre sense but the love story is front and centre in a way I’ve never done before. It’s largely why right now it sucks.

    Ariel: Liking Meg Cabot isn’t a weakness it’s a sign of good taste!

    Jessiegirl: There are lots and lots of really good YA that does romance brilliantly. Read Megan Whalen Turner’s Atttolia trilogy: The Thief, Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia. Ariel above also recs Margaret Mahey. I strongly agree. The Changeover and Catalogue of the Universe are two of my fave books ever.

    Catherine Murdoch’s The Dairy Queen is very touching. And the romance in Valiant by Holly Black is one of my favourites in ages and ages. You must also read Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones.

    Truly, there are lots of wonderful books waiting for you!

    Liliya: Tee hee!

    Jenny: You have the world’s worst memory! We’ve talked (or, okay, emailed) about how much we love Eva Ibbotson and Love Walked In. I still love them! Honest.

  12. Rebecca on #

    *morm spoilers*









    as far as romance goes, i was thinking of tom and jay-tee. long term….well, i don’t think of teen relationships as being long term the vast majority of the time anyway. hmmm. but i did think they were more than a heat of the moment thing. like, that’s what got them headed in that direction, but i felt like they had potential for a few months at least. 😛 with the other relationships, i guess it depended on when and who you asked, and none of them did turn into something more in the end.

    then again, my own definition of what constitutes a romance is kinda skewed. i still think within the short term confines. long term is not something that has (or probably will) come up any time soon.

  13. jenny davidson on #

    you’re right, how could i forget?!? we totally did… sorry…

    i liked “good in bed” btw, the voice was very appealing. but it is true there are too many authors called jennifer, it was the bane of my existence as a child that i had the most common name in the world!!! justine is much more sensible…

  14. Gwenda on #

    Thanks, J, for doing these posts right now, btw. My next book is going to be a sort of love story, so I’ve been thinking about this too. I wanted to do something smaller scale and more personal. But it’ll still have gods and stuff.

  15. Carbonel on #

    I don’t suppose you could try the old addage “write what you know” and see what happens–?

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