5 Tips I’ve Learned from Writing My Romance Novel by Laurel Osterkamp

5 Tips I’ve Learned from Writing My Romance Novel by Laurel Osterkamp Let’s welcome back Laurel Osterkamp as she shares with us “5 Tips I’ve Learned from Writing My Romance Novel.” Enjoy!


I feel like there’s a stigma attached to writing romance novels, and I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps it’s because most romance novels follow a fairly specific formula and use a limited variety of tropes. Maybe it’s because many romance novels are “steamy” with what can be graphic sex scenes. Or, it could be because most romance novelists are female, as are their readers.

Perhaps it’s a combination of all those things?

Personally, I usually prefer both writing and reading stories that focus primarily on self-discovery, with romance as a secondary theme. That puts me squarely in the category of “women’s fiction” (which also occasionally has a stigma attached to it). But I’ve heard it’s easier to attract readers if you can classify your novel as a romance. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m intrigued.

So, my current WIP is a romance novel. I’m writing it by the seat of my pants and am having a great time! Maybe readers will love it and maybe they won’t, but I’m learning a few things as I go, and I thought I’d share them with you today:

1. Complex characterization is more important than ever when writing a romance novel.

No one is going to care about a love story between two flat or cliched characters.

My first step before writing was to understand the motivations of both my romantic leads.

– What do they want that they can’t have?
– What flaws and/or obstacles are they trying to overcome?
– What personal hang ups do they have that might get in the way of them being in a loving relationship?

Of course, I’m getting to know my two protagonists and making discoveries as I go, which means I’ll have some interesting revisions to make once I’m done with my first draft. (I’m about 60,000 words in, and aiming for another 30K.)

My goal is to make my readers feel the way I feel when listening to my favorite love songs.

2. Listen to your favorite love songs as you write, and internalize the lyrics.

My goal is to make my readers feel the way I feel when listening to my favorite love songs.

So, I made a playlist specifically for this current novel.

They’re songs of tortured love, like Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason,” or of yearning, like Matt Nathanson’s “I Saw,” or of desperation, like Lady Gaga’s “Is That Alright?”

These songs tell a complete, layered story of a relationship in a three-minute song.

When I get stuck, I examine the lyrics, paying special attention to the details described, ones that show vs. tell what it’s like to be in love.

My favorites are from Taylor Swift’s Folklore and Evermore albums.

I think she is a master at storytelling through imagery and sensory detail.

Anytime I don’t know what to write next, I tell myself to use details like Taylor does, and soon enough, my fingers are flying across my keyboard.

3. Read (or re-read) classic love stories.

Stigma or not, some of the best novels ever written are about love.

While most of them wouldn’t be classified as romance novels by modern standards, they might offer inspiration if you’re aiming to create not just a love story, but commentary on the nature of love.

Currently, I’m reading Anna Karenina (and I’m blogging about it; check out my posts HERE), and around a year ago I read Wuthering Heights.

No, I’m not planning to have my characters throw themselves in front of a train or to die of heartbreak. And yet, love is timeless, even if some conventions are not.

  • What does it mean to share a soul?
  • What drives someone to sacrifice everything for a relationship?

The words in these classic novels can offer valuable lessons for modern day love stories.

4. Let you characters experience devastation and heartbreak.

This one is my achilles heel.

I always come to care about my characters, so it’s difficult to put them through something painful. But it has to be done.

I’ve heard that in the last fourth of your novel there should be a death–maybe a literal one, or maybe an emotional death instead.

So I ask myself: What could happen, that would give my main characters an emotional death?

Then, I let it happen.

(Or, at least I try. Like I said, this one is tough for me.)

But, since romances require a happy ending, I make sure to leave room for an emotional resurrection. That leads me to…

5. Embrace the genre.

I did some research and found some hard and fast rules that romance authors live by.

One is that at the end, your characters should live happily ever after, or at least be happy for now.

Another is that the love story needs to be the primary plot, and any self-discovery, adventure, or mystery should be secondary.

If your book was a movie, the majority of the screen time should be on interactions between your romantic leads.

And finally, your romantic leads should be equals who challenge each other, but who also are able to make themselves vulnerable to each other.

All the other stuff, like making your heroine fall in love with an enigmatic, misunderstood billionaire, or having your characters be in a pretend relationship only to fall in love, or making your heroine choose between two brothers who are both military men who love kittens and horses…well, that’s all optional.

So are sex scenes. There are plenty of “sweet” romances that readers love.

That means that except for the non-negotiables (like a happy ending), you can pick and choose.

But whatever conventions you use, don’t apologize.

Instead, have fun and take pride in your work!

It’s totally doable to write an original, quality novel that’s also a romance.

That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.


About the Author 

Laurel Osterkamp

Laurel Osterkamp is from Minneapolis, where she teaches and writes like it’s going out of style. Her short fiction has been featured in Tangled Locks Literary Journal, Bright Flash Literary Journal, and Metawoker Lit, among other places. Her latest novel Favorite Daughters was recently released by Black Rose Writing. (Click here to see the novel on Amazon.)

Social Media:

Website – https://laurellit.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/authorlaurelosterkamp
BookBub – https://www.bookbub.com/profile/laurel-osterkamp

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