[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Elizabeth Chatsworth to the site today. If you’re looking to write your first romance, she has some advice! Take it away, Elizabeth!]
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that we all need a little more romance in our lives. If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of writing a love story, fear not, dear reader, for I am here to guide you on your journey.
First, examine your own heart. What makes it beat faster in books, movies, television shows, and (gasp) even real life? Do you idly dream of a tall, dark, almost handsome rogue saving you from certain death with a twinkle in his eye and pectorals a Greek god would envy? Or is there a shy academic in a well-worn tweed jacket sitting in a café, waiting for you to “accidentally” knock over his (or her) coffee?
The magical moment when two potential lovers connect is what romance writers call the “meet-cute.” Be it amusing, charming, or dramatic, this chance encounter between souls destined to be together is the spark that drives your story. Play the scene over in your mind to discover what makes this meeting special to you. Are your protagonists on a dude ranch, a space station, or a New York subway? In which time period does your story take place? How old are your characters? What are they wearing?
Did you notice that I didn’t mention writing “to market?” Romance fiction is a billion-dollar industry, with products to suit all tastes. But this is YOUR story. You’re writing it for YOU. No one else need ever see it. And the knowledge that you only have yourself to please will set you free. Let your imagination run wild as your couple dances around each other, too nervous to ask each other out because of an insurmountable obstacle. She’s leaving for Mars the day after tomorrow. He’s nursing a broken heart, devastated by a femme fatale who stole his life savings and beloved dog, Spot.
Your couple cannot possibly be together. And yet, somehow, you know they will be. It is the promise of the “Happy Ever After” (HEA) or the “Happy For Now” (HFN) ending that keeps us invested in a love story. We live in the hope that these two crazy kids (or septuagenarians) will stop their nonsense and will finally confess that they cannot live without each other.
Enter the villain of the piece. Yes, you already have a reason why your two lovebirds can’t let loose their passions. But now, bring in someone to embody the problem they face. The overbearing family who won’t allow our landed gentry hero to marry a suffragette. Or the gorgeous but dastardly boss who will do anything to drive a wedge between our heroine and her beloved.
Imagine the delight of your characters when love eventually does conquer all. This is the stage where you can sit down at your desk and start to write. You know your character’s innermost desires, their history, their world, their strengths and weaknesses, because you have seen their story play out a dozen times or more. You don’t yet have a handle on every plot twist, or what color the heroine’s cousin’s eyes are, but those details aren’t important at this stage. What you have managed to do is to sidestep the dreadful moment of sitting down to write your first page cold turkey. You have lived this tale many times, and now you have only to write it down.
Do you remember all those wonderful, perfectly crafted first lines from your favorite romance novels? This is not the time to try to write one. Start with the meet-cute – specifically, the exact moment when your characters set eyes upon one another for the first time. What do they feel upon seeing their future soulmate? Write down the clumsy, awkward, stuttering words that they might say. How embarrassed are they that rushed out of their house on laundry day wearing clean but far-too-tight hot pants?
Can you just write, “he says something witty” as a placeholder until you think of the perfect phrase? Of course you can! At this stage, not one line has to be perfect. Let your words tumble down onto the page and then move on to the next scene, and the next.
The key is to keep writing, no matter what. Every day, daydream about your characters. Write a page or two if you can. Perhaps your meet-cute turns into a short story. Or a novelette. Or a novella. In time, it may grow to the length of a novel. But remember, this story is just for you. If you start to worry about what readers might think, or agents, or (horror of horrors) publishers, you could find that your creativity shuts down. Remember, this story is where you go to have fun. Spend time with your characters and explore the universe that you, alone, have created.
Eventually, you’ll write THE END on your first draft. Now, you can begin editing your story. Go back to your meet-cute and hone the sentences to reflect your characters’ emotional states. Study the details in your setting and remove whatever is unnecessary to the action. This is the stage where you will need to develop the technical skills of a writer. Re-read your favorite romances with an editorial eye, noticing what works for you as a reader, and even more importantly, what doesn’t. You may want to read craft books or join an online group of writers who work in your genre.
Perhaps you are asking, why would I wait until this stage to do these things?
Well, in short, you don’t have to. There are many different ways to stroll along your creative path. But here’s why you might want to consider this route. Creativity and editing are two sides to the same coin. Of the two, creativity must bloom first. You can’t edit a blank page. You will find writing easier if you have allowed yourself the luxury of imagining your story from start to finish. You won’t face the dreaded writer’s block because your story is already complete. You’re merely taking it to a higher level.
And one day, you may feel that you are ready to share this tale that you wrote for your eyes only. You might find a kind, helpful writer who will look over your pages, and will gently help you to see it through their eyes. Perhaps you will share your manuscript with more writers, improving it as you listen to their input. Maybe, ultimately, you will travel down the path to publication.
Or perhaps you will keep this romance a secret that will never be shared. The perfect happy ending is yours to write!
About the Author:
Elizabeth Chatsworth is a British author and actor based in Connecticut. She loves to write of rogues, rebels, and renegades across time and space. Elizabeth is a Writers Of The Future winner, a Golden Heart® finalist, a Pitch Wars alumna, and a member of the SFWA. She’s the author of THE BRASS QUEEN (January 2021), an award-winning fantasy set in an alternate Victorian age. When she’s not writing, Elizabeth works as a voice-over actor. There’s a rumor she possesses the world’s best scone recipe. Contact her at www.elizabethchatsworth.com to see if it’s true.
The Brass Queen by Elizabeth Chatsworth, out now!
She knows a liar when she sees one.
He knows a fraud when he meets one.
In a steam-powered world, Miss Constance Haltwhistle is the last in a line of blue-blooded rogues. Selling firearms under her alias, the “Brass Queen,” she has kept her baronial estate’s coffers full. But when US spy J. F. Trusdale saves her from assassins, she’s pulled into a search for a scientist with an invisibility serum. As royal foes create an invisible army to start a global war, Constance and Trusdale must learn to trust each other. If they don’t, the world as they know it will disappear before their eyes.