How to Write ‘Shippable’ Romance

I love romance in a novel. I love the depth and conflict it gives to a story and the butterflies I feel when the author gets it just right. It has even gotten to the point where I only tend to pick books up if I know they at least have some kind of romantic subplot.


However, not all romance is created equally. Despite its prevalence in books, romance that a reader can really get behind, or ‘ship’, is actually very hard to write. There are so many layers and nuances to creating a fictional relationship that people will love, and there are so many ways you can get it wrong.


In this article I want to first cover all the things you shouldn’t do when writing romance. Then I want to give you a blueprint for writing a successful romantic plot or subplot. By the end of this article, my hope is that you feel confident writing romance that even Maas or Armentrout would be proud of.


DON’Ts


Don’t throw romance in there for the sake of it.


Ok so I know I just said that I only like to read books with some sort of romance thread in there, but I am just one reader. Often a bad romantic thread can be more damaging than one at all (even for me that loves it). Not every story needs romance and sometimes it can actually take away from the story’s impact. So take a long look at your novel and decide whether romance is really necessary and whether it adds to the story overall.


Don’t promote abusive partnerships


I have read a lot of romance books in my time that take harmful and abusive relationship behaviours and romanticise them. We have a duty to readers everywhere, especially our younger and more impressionable ones, to portray healthy and equal relationships. Controlling, possessive behaviour masquerading as ‘love’ just doesn’t cut it, neither does violence nor physical abuse dressed up as ‘passion’ – this goes for women being violent to men as well – domestic abuse against men is a real and important issue.


As a reader, I want to see characters that are kind and respectful to each other and empower their partner – the relationships we would want our daughters and sons to strive for.


Don’t portray just one type of love


In the world around us, love comes in all shapes and sizes. Make sure that your story also reflects this. Readers want more than a portrayal of one type of love. We want to see our own love reflected in the pages of the books we read. In the same way that diversity of character is important, so is the diversity of relationships. Write the entire spectrum of romance and watch your readers fall in love with them all.


Don’t make the love interest just a plot device


Please give your love interest more than just rock hard abs, an intense brooding stare and a tortured past or a heaving bosom, gentle nature and tiny waist, please. Now I know I was really generalising with utterly awful stereotypes there, but you would be surprised by how many times I have read a romance novel and the love interest has nothing more than those three traits. Readers want, no we need, well-rounded love interests that are characters in their own right. They need a full and varied backstory, they need an arc and they need to feel like they can exist off the page without the protagonist. If you miss this, then you take away the depth from the romance and the impact your love story will have on the reader.