For some people, merely hearing the word “romance” has eyes rolling. For others, it sets hearts pounding. For others—namely the writers—it brings memories of much face-palming and head-desking.
Let’s face it: plenty of things go on between couples that other people shouldn’t see, whether it be a private conversation, a passionate kiss, etc. Therefore, they shouldn’t go in books. Readers are smart, and a little imagination can go a long way. There is no need to be explicit about subjects that should be reserved for husbands and wives.
For years, writing romance has caused me countless headaches and ruined stories. The very idea of writing a book with romance had me gagging. Hence, I decided that the best route to take was to write romance-free books.
* cue sarcastic laughter *
Yes, well, to my thirteen-year-old brain, that sounded like the ideal solution. It was a great idea in theory, but my characters revolted. I found myself needing a way to handle their romance rather than ignore it.
But that led me back to my biggest fear—gag-worthy romances. I never read many of those in the first place, but just about everyone in this world, including myself, will admit that they have read an encounter between a couple that made them uncomfortable. Even if the couple is married, the way they show affection to one another—affection that is not “wrong”—can feel very wrong to be reading it.
On the flip side, there are those books where the couples rarely show affection to one another to the point where their lack of affection pulls you out of the story because you are too busy trying to figure out if they “go together” or not.
As a reader, either one of these scenarios can be maddening. As a writer, it can be hard (or IMPOSSIBLE!!!) to know how much romance is appropriate to show.
So how can you know?
Each writer must examine himself or herself individually to find their ideal balance. For me personally, it has taken years of careful thought, prayerful decisions, and a lot of self-examination. Whether I be writing a romantic scene or reading a romantic scene, I ask myself this question:
Would that couple be doing/saying/behaving that way if someone was standing in the room watching them?
Think about it: do you feel uncomfortable when a couple in a book hugs? Or when a husband and wife kiss each other in greeting? Neither of those things bother me in books. Neither of them bother me in the real world.
Let’s look at some examples of well-done romance in books. This first one comes from A Penny Parcel by Avery E. Hitch. The main characters, Luke and his wife, Grace, are lying in bed. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Wrong. Look how Avery Hitch handles this bedroom conversation:
“Luke rolled over….
Grace slid her hand across the sheets and reached for his. “I still love you,” she said in a painful whisper.
He gripped her hand, but said nothing. Even with her hand held tightly in his, Luke felt like everything was slipping through his fingers.”
Did that make you nervous? Uncomfortable? It didn’t bother me. Yet look at what we have—an intimate conversation in an off-limits location (for bystanders), yet nothing about that scene was uncomfortable. Would Luke and Grace have behaved differently had someone been in the room with them?
Now let’s look at a different kind of scene—one that involves kissing. (Stop rolling your eyes it does have to happen sometimes.). This is taken from a story of mine.
“She turned her head slightly to press her lips against his. Eight years of marriage still hadn’t taken away the flutter in her heart.”
Could I have described the kiss in more detail? Sure. Do I want to? Not really. Could I have described it in more detail while still keeping it appropriate (according to my personal guideline)? Probably.
What about integrating physical contact? Same rules apply. This example is taken from my first novel, The Old River Road.
“ “ Don’t worry about that,” he chided, grasping her about the waist and pulling her toward him….
Clara felt soft kisses placed on her head….
William ran his finger down her nose with a tender smile.”
How about that? I cut most of the dialogue to save time, but there you have an example of some playful banter and physical touch without making the reader feel awkward.
Here’s one massive pointer I would give anyone who wants to write romance:
Focus on the relationship, not the passion.
What does that mean? To me, it means that I strive for ways to show my readers how much my characters love each other. That can be done in so many different ways…acts of service, kind words (not necessarily flirtatious, but if you like that kind of thing, it can work), and internal thoughts admiring character qualities. And those are just a few examples. Love can be shown in so many ways. You are a writer—utilize the more subtle ways of showing love between couples, and leave what happens behind closed doors where it belongs. It is entirely possible to write a sweet romance without giving too much information.
In my own writing, I have made the decision to not write any romantic relationship that goes beyond what I would be comfortable seeing/hearing were I in the room with my characters. I have been told that the romance I write is “immature” and should be “more graphic.”
I must admit that I actually laughed when I heard that.
But you know what? I’d rather write “immature” and “un-graphic” romance that I believe is appropriate than worry about overstepping my bounds and making some readers, not to mention myself, uncomfortable.
DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to be right, nor do I claim to be an expert on the subject. I know that not everyone is going to agree with me–and that’s OKAY! These are merely some of my personal convictions when it comes to writing romance. No offense intended whatsoever.
How do you feel about writing romance? Are there any specific guidelines you’ve set up for yourself? I’d love to hear–new ideas are always welcome! :)