Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

What a Romance Novel is… And Is Not

Jun 16 / Jeanne De Vita
I can’t help myself. Every time I meet a happy couple, I need to know how they met. The stories are always so different and so fascinating! You probably have at least one great meet-cute story in your family, circle of friends, or in your community. But why is it a truly terrible idea to take the love story of someone you know and turn that into a romance novel? Can’t I just call my grandma by a different name, change up the facts a little, and write up a romance novel that honors my family’s story?

Well, you shouldn’t. And here’s why.

  • Love stories are not romance novels.
  • A story is a version of events that contains a beginning, middle, and end. A story tells the listener or reader what happens.
  • A novel is a story told according to the conventions of the genre to which it belongs.
  • A romance novel is a specific type of novel, and so if you’re going to successfully write a romance novel, you’ll need to do much more than just tell a love story. What are the conventions of the romance novel? What do you need to include to have a successful, well-structured novel, and not just a love story?

A romance novel is the story of characters who overcome obstacles and resolve those obstacles so they can come together in either a happy ever after ending, or in a happy for now ending.  
Overcoming the obstacles that stand in the way of love is the heart of the romance novel. No romance novel is complete without both the obstacles and the satisfactory resolution of those obstacles.
I’ll tell you a quick story about a love story that sounds a lot like a romance novel…but it would have failed if I’d tried to write it!
The most magical meet-cute I’ve heard about in a long time happened like most magical things do. A girl went to a bar with a group of friends on a Saturday night. Let’s call the girl Andi. Andi at one point walked up to the bar to grab some adult beverages and someone sitting alone at the bar struck up a conversation while Andi waited for the bartender’s attention. The guy alone at the bar happened to be from the same small town Andi was from.
Let’s call the solo man at the bar Robbie. So Robbie chatted Andi up. They knew lots of people in common, shared some history from their small town, and after a few minutes, Robbie invited Andi to a party nearby. Andi told Robbie she was at the bar with friends and she couldn’t leave her group. Robbie said, “Everyone can come!” And so within the hour, Andi and company knocked on the door of a stranger’s apartment, expecting to be welcomed in by Robbie.
When the apartment door opened, the person who answered the door was not Robbie. And Robbie never actually showed up at the party. Andi actually never saw Robbie again!
But, a couple of hours later, Andi was head over heels in love with the guy who lived in that apartment. Let’s call him Jake. But the complication? Andi lived in a different state! Andi happened to be in town visiting for just that weekend…and she also happened to have a mad crush on one of the friends in the group that went out to the bar and the party that night.
But since this is indeed a magical story of romance and meet-cutes, Andi abandoned her crush and moved back to her home state to be closer to Jake. And wouldn’t you know—they got their happy ending!
Now this sounds like fodder for a great romance novel, right? Twists, turns, multiple characters, layers, complications…but, this love story would not in fact make a successful romance novel. Why not?
Because one critical aspect of the romance novel is missing: conflict. Both internal and external…for both Andi and Jake! If you want to learn more about developing conflict in your characters, knowing how to balance too much or not enough, or how to test whether the conflict you think you’ve crafted is strong enough to support your romance novel, consider Romance Writing Academy’s professional services. We offer workshops, manuscript evaluations, online courses, and one-one consultations. Until then, enjoy those love stories…and write them down in a journal or idea board. But before you decide to turn that love story into a romance novel, remember the story of Andi and Jake…because it’s just that: a love story!