Monday, February 15, 2016

Men Writing Romance

Jason Evans joins us today at the Blood-Red Pencil:

First off I want to thank Jason (Henry) for giving me this opportunity. I write historical fiction primarily. I do have to say, though, that tackling a romantic subplot was one of the best things I did. Learning how to write romance made me a better writer. How I organize and write a scene, how I approach a plot, and how I create a character arc, have forever changed because of what I learned about romance. So let me explain what I learned working on a romantic subplot for my upcoming historical fiction, The Gallowglass. (pronounced “Gallowglaw”)

1.    Romance does not mean erotica.

(Tweet:) I had never read romance before so in my first attempt I actually wrote erotica: two beautiful people with out of control libidos humping like rabbits. The way I described sex was clinical and boring. This wasn’t romance, it was a bad play-by-play by a sports announcer.

Romance isn’t strictly about hopping into bed. In fact, there are genres of romance where there is no discussion of sex at all, like inspirational romance. Once the two characters have overcome their obstacles and committed themselves, the sex is off screen and implied. Which leads to my next point.

2.    Romance is about two people getting to know about each other.

Leigh Michaels says in her book On Writing Romance that:

A romance novel is a story of a man and a woman who, while  solving a problem that threatens to keep them apart, discover that the  love that they feel for each other is the sort that comes along only once  in a lifetime; this discovery leads to a permanent commitment and a  happy ending.

Like real life, most people don’t just fall into bed with each other and decide to stay that way. They have to get to know one another. Learn to trust and respect each other. Respect is key, for the characters and the readers. Modern readers want to see a relationship built on respect and affection.

The hero can’t be too sensitive, or else he’s just a ninny. He can’t be too gruff, or he can come across as a bully or a monster. The heroine has the same problem. Too passive and demure, and the reader will think her a Pollyanna. Too aggressive and sexually adventurous, and the reader will think “What does she need a man for?” It is a delicate balance. Finding that balance between strength and tenderness is one of the keys to a great story. 

3.    The plot is separate from the romance, and tension drives both.

It took me a while to get this through my head. The plot is the problem the hero and heroine must solve. The romance is what blossoms while they are solving the plot. What makes both plot and romance fun is the tension that occurs. OK. So how do you add tension? You force two people who would rather gnaw their arms off together, and watch the fireworks! 

Here’s an example:

My book takes place during the Irish revolt against Tudor authority in 1597. My hero is an English military captain taking his company, along with 10,000 other men, into Northern Ireland to fight the rebellion. His name is Captain Philip Williams. My heroine is Fionualla, a respectable middle class Irish woman who must get to the north to tend to her sick husband. Because of the war, she has no choice but to accompany an English soldier in the army. Women who did this were called camp followers and didn’t have the best reputation.

He doesn’t want to take her but agrees to when she barters some badly needed supplies for his soldiers, for a ride north. She doesn’t want to go with him, but she desperately wants to get back to her husband. All the roads are closed and the only way north is with the army. Philip thinks she is a liability. Fionualla doesn’t trust the English captain because he’s a soldier and she’s seen how soldiers treat women. See what I did there? I’ve created mistrust and tension between the two characters. As the novel evolves, each will gain a grudging respect, then an abiding affection, for each other. This will evolve into love.

4.    Once you’ve established romantic feelings – and sexual tensions – don’t throw it away!

Now, in the genres of chick lit and erotica, there can be a lot of sex. Some of it can be graphic. But your reader wants these two crazy kids to get together. Don’t give in to their demands until the very end of the novel. Let the plot get resolved – or at least on its way to being resolved – then give the reader what they want. Tease it out a little. OK, a lot.

Oh, and once youre describing the actual sex, stay away from clinical, biological terms. Here’s why. A very good woman I know explained that women hear the clinical terms for body parts all the time from their gynecologist. It’s boring and bland. So euphemism can be more exciting. However be careful. Once you’ve written things like “purple tomahawk of love,” there is a line you’ve crossed.

While writing my romantic subplot I had to really get into why these two characters were going to get together. What did it say about their morality and ethics? What did they really want? In the process, I got to know my characters better and this affected the main plot. It made me a much better writer and my story a better book. 

If you want to tackle romance writing, I would start with Leigh Michaels On Writing Romance.

Happy Writing!

Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer, he just didn't know it. He grew up in Pasadena, California, in the 1980s, living vicariously through movies and television. He earned two Bachelors from the UC Santa Barbara and a Masters from UC Denver. He is an educator, a writer, and a Bon Vivant. Jason currently resides in Denver, CO with the fetching Mrs. Evans, his three dogs, and his cat. You can read Jason's blog by visiting his website or connecting with him on on Facebook or at Twitter.

Follow Jason's Facebook Author Page for more updates


  1. Great job, Jason. Thank you for being with us today!

  2. You obviously have a great understanding about writing romance. Also, it looks like you really apply what you know when you're writing, so that your books have a deeper meaning than gratuitous sex.

    1. Thank you, Morgan. You know the hard part was writing intimacy. Getting that down, making it authentic to the characters was very nerve racking for me.

  3. Like with horror, it is the tension leading up to the "bang" that keeps a reader/viewer hooked.

  4. Congratulations on your efforts at romantic writing, Jason. I tend to approach the topic like a 14 year old at a jr high dance ... with fear, trepidation, and extreme awkwardness.

    1. Me too, Christopher! Feelings are icky and girls have cooties!

  5. This is an awesome post, Jason! Glad you came over and shared your wonderful insight!

    1. Thank you, Shonell. I am grateful for the opportunity! Much thanks to Jason Henry!

  6. Hahaha. My main character blows this right out of the water - it's where I bring in the humor. "Oh, and once you’re describing the actual sex, stay away from clinical, biological terms." Hahaha. Using clinical terms in steamy sex scenes actually made the writing more fun. Which just goes to show you, not all rules apply to every character or story. Welcome to the Blood-Red Pencil, Jason. Good post!

  7. Good for you, Jason. You learned the craft according to the genre, which is more than some writers do.

    As someone whose main genre is suspense/thrillers, I have an alter ego who writes erotica. I had never read one when I wrote the first one, then two more, all accepted by good erotic e-publishers. Then I judged a contest, and boy. What I was writing was tame compared to what I read. I still like a good story, still like intimacy and conflict, but I really didn't write them with the kind of sex I was reading. I'm proud of all three for the type of genre, but I realized that it wasn't a comfortable fit for me. I still have romance in my thrillers, but it takes a back seat to the plot. Oh, and I have a disclaimer on my thrillers that warn of adult language and situations. That prevents a lot of bad reviews from people who get what they don't expect.

  8. Most of my thrillers have had some element of romance, but several have had a romance as a full-blown sub-plot. I particularly like raising the tension and the temperature by throwing together unlikely or controversial pairings, like the Israeli Jew and the Palestinian-American in Flight Track or the teacher and former student in the forthcoming The Millicent Factor. My aim is for the romantic elements to be as thought-provoking as the action/adventure.

  9. Purple tomahawk of love? You should warn a person so she doesn't snort tea!

  10. A reviewer and very-well-read reader described my first novel as a love story rather than a romance. No sexual scenes appeared in the story; however, the antagonist was a violent rapist who ends up getting his comeuppance. The second novel has a couple scenes between a husband and wife that could be described by some readers as implied sex scenes. Neither, however, is detailed. My personal preference as a reader or writer is to limit such scenes to implication rather than peeping-tom details. Different strokes for different folks, as the saying goes. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your writing experiences. I will be visiting your website.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook