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  • Writer's pictureGrace A. Johnson

my top tips to authentic romance



If you haven’t noticed, I am a major advocate for authentic fiction. It’s what I love to read, and it’s become my value proposition, my brand promise: authentic, edifying content, whether that’s in the form of my blog posts and podcast episodes or my devotions and stories.

So how does that translate into romance, one of the trickiest genres to write, mostly because it can so easily feel inauthentic and cheesy?

I’m glad you asked! Providing, that is, you did ask, if only in your mind, and if you didn’t, well, let’s just pretend you did.

If you’ve been wondering how to make those love stories of yours feel real and raw and genuine, welcome to the crash course, my top thirteen tips to writing authentic romance! None of these tips are in any particular order, but they’re all equally important. However, if you feel overwhelmed by the end of this post…join the club. 😅 Mull these tips over and apply them to your writing, but also keep in mind that this takes practice. And effort. Some things require conscious and meticulous work to get them right, so it’s okay if you don’t get it on your first (or fifteenth) try. You’re not the only one. And some of these tips don’t really need to be considered or worked on a lot at all; in fact, sometimes overthinking things is what creates that sense of inauthenticity or contrivance. Sometimes, all you need to do is just be immersed in your story and your characters and just write, without getting worried or stressed about all the little details.

Which brings me to my first tip…


1 | Consider Your Characters

I know I said that all of these tips are equally important…but if I had to pick one for you to really focus on, it’d be this one. Ultimately, when you’re writing a romance (viz., a story in which the main or one of the main focuses in on the development of a romantic relationship between the main character and their love interest or two main characters), even if the story itself is more plot-driven, the relationship comes from the characters. And everything said relationship entails is therefore dictated by the characters. If you don’t fully understand the characters…if you’re not connected with them…if you don’t know them…if their personalities and dynamics don’t translate onto the page…if they don’t have chemistry…you ain’t got a story. You ain’t got a romance.

So before you do anything else, get to know your characters. You can do the whole character profile template thing and write down every random detail about your characters (like how often they wash their hair, what kind of underwear they wear, how many second cousins they have, etc.), if that’s what works for you. Or you can just take the time to figure out who your characters are. Write a few scenes in their POV to get a feel for how they think and see the world. Interview them like you would a person. Take quizzes from their perspective. Just plain think about them. Me, I like to talk to myself about them and consider them and their role in the story from every angle. I like to just fully immerse myself in them, until I know them better than I know myself.

Something to really know and keep in mind about your characters is how they express their attraction or love for another person. Start with figuring out their love language, then dig a little deeper. What’s the difference between how they give love and how they receive it? What every day gestures mean something to them? How do they communicate their attraction to someone?

The love language of your characters becomes the language of the entire relationship. Think about it like a trope. Friends-to-lovers or grumpy x sunshine or marriage of convenience—those kind of tropes determine what kind of relationship your characters have and how it unfolds throughout the course of the story. The love languages and dynamics and personalities and inner conflicts and spiritual struggles of your characters—those determine what that specific relationship ends up looking like. And it can be a make-it-or-break-it if you try to write the relationship a certain way without knowing your characters and how it should be based on who they are and how they operate!


2 | Language Is Key

Speaking of language…there’s another side to this coin! Just like personalities and expressions of love communicate something about your characters to your readers, so do the words you use and how you describe things, or even what you choose to write about or describe.

For example, instead of skimming over your hero with a “brown hair and blue eyes” description, you’re going to take the time to describe him in depth. When the hero and heroine kiss, you won’t describe it as sloppy and wet or cold and dry—but as gentle or warm or passionate. Rather than just telling us how the hero places his hand on the heroine’s shoulder or how the heroine looks when they go out for the first time, you’re going to show us what the hero sees and how the heroine feels. You’re going to weave emotion into the most mundane of actions to make them spark with life. You’ll dive deeper into actions, reactions, thoughts, and feelings than you would in any other character interaction.

If you’re not sure how to describe things or what words to use to communicate ✨romance✨ to your readers, start by reading romance novels! Take note of words they use in unique ways or that are totally new to begin with. Pay attention to what and how and when they describe things. Consider how you, as the reader, perceive the characters and their relationship because of the language. Then start applying it to your own writing!

3 | Treat It Like A Regular Relationship

So many writers get all tangled up in knots when writing romance, afraid that it’s cheesy or unrealistic. Unsure what they’re doing. Doubtful they can write it if they have no experience of their own.

Those problems and more typically stem from having the wrong mindset about romance. When you see romance as a category with requirements or just a genre, you completely miss the point! Romance is a relationship, for crying out loud! And when you really understand that and write accordingly, your story won’t be cheesy or boring or unrealistic or cliched or icky. It’ll be real.

Instead of trying to write the romance like a script for a Hallmark movie, keep things natural and authentic, and focus on developing their relationship just like you would a friendship or siblings. Then, add those romance sparks you’re looking for through language!

4 | Don’t Preach Your Themes

When working with romance, it can become all too easy to get on your soapbox and address all the pressing issues on your heart. To shape the story to the message you want to communicate to your readers. To include situations that reinforce your point. Trust me, I’ve been there. 😅

Especially in romance, we have this desire to bring up topics like purity, waiting until marriage, establishing boundaries, communicating, and more—and that’s so, so good! There are few, if any, other genres that are specifically focused on the dynamics of one of the most difficult relationships. But if we get too focused on the themes and fashioning the plot and characters to fit it, our book will read more like a piece of persuasive nonfiction than an entertaining fictional story.

I’ve read many books that addressed purity and boundaries by having the hero and heroine struggle with temptation. Some of those, like Julie Lessman’s works, are extremely well-done. The issues feel authentic and the struggles the characters have actually fit them. But some of those just make me roll my eyes. The hero and heroine randomly get hot and heavy so that a point can be made about boundaries, taking over the entire storyline without actively affecting the characters or the readers. It felt out of place and contrived. Not to say that people don’t face unexpected temptations in real life, of course, but the way we weave those themes and topics into our stories can feel unexpected without feeling forced.

How?

Provide temptation and challenges for your characters…but be focused on them, not the point you’re trying to make. Let their struggles flow naturally from them, not your plot, and have them make conscious efforts to choose God above all else.

The moment you take your eyes off your characters and put them on literally any other aspect of your story, you disregard the very heart of your story.


5 | Cut Out Repeat Scenes & Elements

If there’s one thing people complain about in regards to romance, it’s cheesiness. Writers ask me all the time how to write romance without it seeming cheesy, cliché, or unrealistic. Obviously, the solution to unrealistic romance is, well, realism, but we’ll get to that a sec.

The usual culprit is quite unexpected: repetition. Repeating certain elements, tropes, scenes, actions, conversations, etc., in any kind of book—but especially romance—will quickly make it seem boring, lifeless, and cheesy. Instead of checking off a list of 3 kiss scenes, a love confession at the very end, 5 classic dates, and one romcom-style meet cute, just let the story flow how it will! Don’t feel pressured to meet the unspoken requirements for a romance or else your story will begin to feel like a carbon copy of every other story. Or, at the worst, your characters will start saying and doing things that don’t fit who they are.

You don’t need a bunch of dates or kisses or accidental hand touches to make a romance. You don’t need a dozen mushy-gushy scenes for your story to be emotionally gripping. You just need to write from the heart and listen to your characters.


6 | Take Cues From Real Life

Speaking of unrealistic romance…don’t rely on Hallmark to teach you about romance. (PLEASE. I BEG OF YOU. coughs) Instead, read classics, talk to people you know who are in relationships, observe those in your life, and learn from trustworthy sources. Now, don’t try to make your romance an exact replica of anyone else’s (even someone in real life), because your characters are totally unique…but using reality as a reference will always enhance the authenticity of your romance! You may even find the most unbelievable or outrageous situations are the real life ones!


7 | Be Intentional

Another way to avoid or eliminate that cheesy repetitiveness is by being intentional. Consider what exactly you include in your story and how you write it. Is it because some other book did it or it’s just “what you do” in romance, or is it because it enhances the story, fits the characters, and has purpose? If it’s not the latter, chunk it.

When you give each scene or element or subplot in your story purpose, you’ll end up with a romance that flows naturally and smoothly and doesn’t drag or feel convoluted. You can do this in the plotting/outlining stage, the first draft, or when you edit–whatever works best for you, as long as you’re focused on making sure each scene/chapter contributes something to the story.


 

Now, as it turns out, I have at least six more tips to share, but if I do so today, this post will end up being, like, 5,000 words long, and no one wants to read through something that long. 😅 SO, stay tuned, my lovelies! Part II will be coming soon!


Which tip resonated with you the most? What are your favorite authentic romance novels? What does authenticity look like for you?









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7 Comments


Iona Barton
5 days ago

Ok, thanks SO much for this, Grace! Totally taking it all on board; you have got me thinking in my own current project. Tips 3, 4, and 7 stood out to me.

Hm, what authentic romance novels are my favourite? Well, Jane Austen goes without saying, but I'm saying them anyway becasue they are that good hehe: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, S & S, Persuasion...

I'm also currently reading the novella The Best Laid Plans by Sarah M Eden, and it is SO much fun, with just enough 'ship hints and freshness so far. Very much enjoying it, after so long away from the genre and style : )


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Grace A. Johnson
Grace A. Johnson
4 days ago
Replying to

Aw, you're so welcome, Iona! Ooh, I'm glad you can apply these to your own story!!

YES! Austen is the queen of authentic romance! Oooh, I'm so glad to hear you're enjoying The Best Laid Plans! I've been wanting to read something by Sarah M. Eden for years but haven't yet gotten around to it! 😅

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Saraina Whitney
Mar 26

"The moment you take your eyes off your characters and put them on literally any other aspect of your story, you disregard the very heart of your story." SO TRUE! And I've definitely fallen into the trap of including certain romantic scenes just because you're "supposed" to in a stereotypical romance. *groans* That just goes back to following the characters' lead and staying true to who they are! 😅


So excited for Part 2!!! (Though I would read a 5000 word post by you, ya know. :P)

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Iona Barton
5 days ago
Replying to

I was going to point out that exact quote, Saraina! It's a goodie, and the whole tip there for sure. xxx

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Esther C.
Mar 25

*proceeds to apply all these tips to my own writing*

This is so good, Grace!! I’m already seeing areas that I’ll need to tweak in my writing and I’m so excited for part two!! 😊

(Oh, and I have to let you know, I just recently subscribed to your blog and newsletter and I’ve been listening to your podcast and I love it all!! I love your content so much. I’m also a young (but unpublished!) writer. And it’s amazing to see how you have God as your number one focus with everything. <33 Keep it up girl!!)

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Grace A. Johnson
Grace A. Johnson
Mar 26
Replying to

Hehe, I hope they help, Esther!!

Aww, thank you!!

(EEE! I'm SO glad you've been enjoying everything!! Thank you so much!! 💕 You too, girl!)

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