What makes a good romance novel?

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Jan74

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I get that this question is wide open to personal opinions....which is exactly what I want :) I'm curious what makes it "good". I know what I hate and what drives me nuts and makes me close the book, but I also know what I love and I'm curious what others love.

Is it the HEA component, a strong female, a strong male, overcoming a difficult past you can relate too? There is no wrong answer here, everyone is entitled to love what they love, I'm just wondering what my fellow romance writers/readers are drawn to and what keeps them coming back...what never gets old?

Oh...and do feel free to share some of your fave books.
 

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I love the way the main characters "grow" within themselves because of their love interest. A lot of reactions and thoughts are always with the other in mind. I love the old" bodice rippers" with Fabio on the cover but my number one romance I read every year is from Kathleen Woodiwiss called A Rose In Winter
 

cool pop

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For me a good romance ends and begins with the heroine. I HAVE to relate with her in some way and like something about her. She can be a major bitch as long as I like something about her. I'm not saying she has to be Goody Two Shoes. No. I think the goody-goody characters are boring. I like a heroine who is three dimensional with faults and issues.

I can't stand a weak heroine who needs a man to do everything for her or needs to be rescued every moment. A weak heroine will make me put the book down before the first chapter ends. I love a heroine who can stand on her own and be independent. She can of course still lean on her man but not one of those "I can't live without a man or do anything for myself" heroines. No. It's also insulting to read about these type of heroines when many women are not like this and capable of doing things for themselves. Women can be strong and need love as well. She doesn't have to be weak, clingy or whiny.

I also like realistic heroines in terms of looks and everything. Every heroine should not be the same size, skin color, shape, etc. Variety please.

Other than that, I am pretty open. I also prefer a realistic ending, which means if the story calls for an HFN ending rather than an HEA, I'd rather see that. I don't like forced HEAs that don't make sense.

My favorite love story (it's not considered a romance because of the tragic ending) is Wuthering Heights. Romance or not, this is my favorite romantic story. It was touching and brilliant.
 
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blackcat777

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I had to think about this before replying.

I love stories where the entire world is pitted against both characters, their personal conflicts threaten to tear them apart, they're not "supposed" to be together, and they end up overcoming the conflict by virtue of working together. So, something along the lines of forbidden love - but the consequences have to be real, the stakes have to be high, and nothing can be resolved cheaply. I love when people give the middle finger to the external forces pressuring them apart and decide to be together Because Love.
 

Jan74

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I love the way the main characters "grow" within themselves because of their love interest. A lot of reactions and thoughts are always with the other in mind. I love the old" bodice rippers" with Fabio on the cover but my number one romance I read every year is from Kathleen Woodiwiss called A Rose In Winter
Fabio, yep that is classic bodice ripper romance :) Stuff I haven't read, I should pick up a few of those oldies and try them out. I did read one that was called the Wicked Duke or something, and actually I liked it.

For me a good romance ends and begins with the heroine. I HAVE to relate with her in some way and like something about her. She can be a major bitch as long as I like something about her. I'm not saying she has to be Goody Two Shoes. No. I think the goody-goody characters are boring. I like a heroine who is three dimensional with faults and issues.

I can't stand a weak heroine who needs a man to do everything for her or needs to be rescued every moment. A weak heroine will make me put the book down before the first chapter ends. I love a heroine who can stand on her own and be independent. She can of course still lean on her man but not one of those "I can't live without a man or do anything for myself" heroines. No. It's also insulting to read about these type of heroines when many women are not like this and capable of doing things for themselves. Women can be strong and need love as well. She doesn't have to be weak, clingy or whiny.

I also like realistic heroines in terms of looks and everything. Every heroine should not be the same size, skin color, shape, etc. Variety please.

Other than that, I am pretty open. I also prefer a realistic ending, which means if the story calls for an HFN ending rather than an HEA, I'd rather see that. I don't like forced HEAs that don't make sense.

My favorite love story (it's not considered a romance because of the tragic ending) is Wuthering Heights. Romance or not, this is my favorite romantic story. It was touching and brilliant.
YEP 100% agree with that, it's why I hated 50 shades, I could not relate to the heroine. It's not that I have to like her, there are some novels where I don't like the MC but there is a sense of hope for her I'll stick with her. Something Borrowed by Emily Griffin I didn't like the MC but I had a sense of hope that she was going to grow and become likeable, plus she was pg with twins...so I could relate to that...but I stuck with her. With 50 shades I never had that feeling of change or growth with Ana and she drove me bonkers so I had to toss the book. Well I didn't toss it I returned it to the library and was thankful I didn't waste my money.

I had to think about this before replying.

I love stories where the entire world is pitted against both characters, their personal conflicts threaten to tear them apart, they're not "supposed" to be together, and they end up overcoming the conflict by virtue of working together. So, something along the lines of forbidden love - but the consequences have to be real, the stakes have to be high, and nothing can be resolved cheaply. I love when people give the middle finger to the external forces pressuring them apart and decide to be together Because Love.
You like the struggle. Forbidden love...love conquers all, me too.

I recently read the book Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks. Before reading the book I watched the movie and loved it, but then I rewatched the movie after reading the book and the movie is such a disappointment. I'm not sure if NS has any say in how they portray his story on the big screen, but man did they butcher his novel and the two aren't alike at all except in names only. The book, Katie is an abused wife who plans and plots on how and when she's going to escape, she's brave and wonderful and puts a lot of effort into fleeing when the time is right and it's terrific....but then the movie changes her to reacting to a situation and fleeing without any thought or plan. The movie is good, but it's not the book and doesn't come close to doing Katie justice. It is a HEA, but is now one of my favorite romance novels...or maybe it's women's lit? I'm not sure, but it's a shame the movie didn't stay true to the book.
 
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CEtchison

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What makes a good romance novel? Chemistry.

I don't care if it's m/f, m/m, f/f or any other combination, but for me the spark has to be on the page. A writer can tell me all they want how much this character is attracted to that character, but if I don't feel it... I'm not buying it. And I've read closed door, no sex books where the characters have great chemistry, so on the page sex isn't a requirement either.
 

Jan74

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What makes a good romance novel? Chemistry.

I don't care if it's m/f, m/m, f/f or any other combination, but for me the spark has to be on the page. A writer can tell me all they want how much this character is attracted to that character, but if I don't feel it... I'm not buying it. And I've read closed door, no sex books where the characters have great chemistry, so on the page sex isn't a requirement either.

I agree, there needs to be chemistry and if I don't feel it I can't finish reading it. And yes, there doesn't need to be sex for great chemistry.

One of my favorite novels was Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer, the chemistry between the two MC was so amazing, it is in my top ten of favorite romance novels. I discovered this old paperback in a free box at the general store close to our camp. I was looking for something to read and I could not put this book down....it was and is one of the best romance stories ever. In my opinion :) Oh and there isn't much sex at all in the book. But boy is it a fantastic read.
 

Zombolly

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What makes a good romance novel? Chemistry.

I agree. Chemistry and tension. The tension can be sexual or otherwise, but you gotta keep winding up the reader until near the end of the book, then unwind for a satisfying ending.
 

MaeZe

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The reader has to care about the characters.

There needs to be more story than just the character's relationship.

I'm not a fan of the 'destiny trope' but it's very popular. The rescue trope is OK but there needs to be some kind of contribution or reciprocity by the woman.

Sex scenes surely vary by individual tastes of the readers.

Definitely do not write one of those 'guy forces gal and suddenly she gives in and enjoys it' scenes. God that trope is disgusting. Too many 'guy rescues gal' is worse than annoying.
 

Rosanna Banana

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I love well-written sexual tension. I just need that electric attraction to come through on the pages and make me stick with the characters until they get together. I dislike when one character deliberately and repeatedly "pushes away" the other, despite there being an obvious connection. I realize there has to be some conflict etc. but I don't like being left feeling frustrated that they're never going to get together page after page. I'm a sucker for a good love triangle too :)
 

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I would agree about chemistry and tension and characters who grow throughout the book. That's probably the difference for me between an adequate romance novel and a great one, for me. The ones that stick with you have characters who are REAL and unique in some way, and falling in love makes them examine themselves. The romance serves a purpose in character development. And the characters seem genuinely attracted and have a reason to want to be with the other person, beyond instant "ooh, hot!" feelings.
 

thereeness

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For me, what makes a good romance is when the heroine and hero don't start out hating each other.

This is a huge, HUGE problem in YA romance. If they don't hate each other outright, they're snarky as all get out. Or in adult romance where "something" happens and all of a sudden, the heroine doesn't trust the hero, or both of them are suspicious with each other. I like a romance that starts off with friendship, with actually wanting to be with and get to know your partner, because that's how the best romances work. Chemistry has to be there, naturally, to take it from friendship to romance, but I love it when characters start off actually liking each other. I'm not one for the sex scenes that seem to be a part of all romance novels, but the chemistry and romance is a necessity.

My favorite romance book of all time is UNTAMED by Elizabeth Lowell. A heroine who accepts and is willing to get to know her husband in her arranged marriage, while not being a pushover. A hero, scarred both inward and outward, but desires peace and values family. I bought a used copy of that book in 2007, and its pages are almost orange, they've yellowed so badly, but I still read it at least once a month.
 

Lex181

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I love well-written sexual tension. I just need that electric attraction to come through on the pages and make me stick with the characters until they get together. I dislike when one character deliberately and repeatedly "pushes away" the other, despite there being an obvious connection. I realize there has to be some conflict etc. but I don't like being left feeling frustrated that they're never going to get together page after page. I'm a sucker for a good love triangle too :)

Absolutely agree with this! "pushing away" is fine as long as there is a legitimate reason for it but if it's just to create drama then it gets old really fast! I also love a strong heroine. I read so many romance novels where she starts out independent and ambitious and by the end she's traded it all in for his money and a baby. I prefer a heroine who sticks to her guns and is feisty as hell!
 

louisecooksey

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I'm of the two people who don't abuse/control one another who work together to overcome something - the something can be anything and they can be tog. They also need to be honest and communicate with one another. Those stories with a simple misunderstanding driving two people apart make me crazy! That's not how I imagine a healthy, romantic relationship - but that's just me!
 

DanielSTJ

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Originality-- both in plot and in characters, make romance grow wings for me.

Just my two cents!
 

Marian Perera

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Some of my favorite romances, and nearly everything I've written, are enemies-to-lovers. There's something intensely compelling about the struggle where you tell yourself no and yet you can't seem to stay away.

The catch is that "enemies" doesn't (or shouldn't) mean they're fighting all the time, they hate and despise each other, and then suddenly OMG SEX. When done well, it means they're pitted in conflict against each other, but that conflict is what ultimately brings out the best in them. It means the longing and uncertainty and tension build high, even though I know the story will end happily. It means Beatrice and Benedick, it means Elizabeth and Darcy, it means Scarlett and Rhett.

What's not to love?
 

George Trigiris

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I agree with everyone who's mentioned chemistry. Some people are just a great fit for one another.

What turns me off? The same old story repeated by almost every author in the genre. I can understand the "writing to market" concept, but isn't writing about creativity and imagination?
 

DarbyC

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Wow! OK, so now I have to get the Lowell book!

For me, it's not about the heroine as much as it is about the hero. The stories that stick with me are ones where I have fallen in love with the MMC.

DarbyC
 

BonafideDreamer

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My favorite type of romances are ones where I can feel the chemistry sizzling off the page. I love when the tension between the characters is so thick I hold my breath every time they're in a room together. I don't want the hero and heroine to fight and argue, but I definitely don't want them to be lovey-dovey. I want the tension, the angst, and the cute moments that makes me roll my eyes and wonder why they can't see that they belong together. I want a journey. I love to be frustrated and pulling my hair out, but I also want moments that make me melt and say Awww.
 

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My favorite romance novels are definitely those with heroines I can relate to and there is some kind of chase. I love the courting period! I also love if the characters have a large development within themselves. And of course, the sex scenes need to be steamy with both parties satisfied. I have read some where the heroine did not orgasm and I threw the book across the room immediately. That's too realistic and who needs that? Not I.
 

Roxxsmom

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This is as hard a question to answer as for any other genre. For me, a good novel has characters I care about, so their problems and goals become important to me. They also have pacing that is varied, so I'm turning pages to see what happens next but also getting enough "down" time with the characters to become invested in their lives and world. I prefer a leaner, tighter style of writing, but what is most important to me is the voice that comes through. Generally, I like to feel the characters' voices in the narrative, though good omniscient narrators can pull me in too.

As for the romance component, I like there to be chemistry between the characters that makes sense to me, as well as a plot that goes beyond just the romance. I guess what I mean here is I need to feel why these people are attracted to one another and I need to see and feel real-life goals that go beyond the relationship. It tends to keep me turning pages when the real-life goals are in conflict with the growing attraction in some way, and I want to find out how these people find a way to satisfy both or to alter their goals so they can be happy together without either one giving up who they are.

I was frankly bored with a romance I read a while back, and it's because I realized about a third of the way through that nothing was happening except for these two characters (a convalescent and her doctor) taking long walks together and becoming attracted to each other. Neither seemed to have any other goals or wishes. They were both rather dull people. Maybe this is a realistic portrayal of how romances often happen irl, but it doesn't make for an exciting read imo. I like the developing romance to be interwoven with stakes of some other kind as well, whether they be secrets, or plots, or intrigue, or scandal, or adventure.

I like a fairly high heat level in romances. I don't like it when the narrative closes the bedroom door in my face at the critical moment or fades to black. That's a personal thing, though, because romance novels fall along an entire spectrum in terms of explicitness.

I don't much care for classic "alpha males" who know what they want and will not take no for an answer (I can't get past how stalkerish those plots feel), and I frankly dislike rape that turns into love. Fortunately, there are more heroic subtypes to choose from these days (and guys really don't fall into the category of either being either classic alphas or milquetoast), and some authors seem to specialize in unconventional dynamics, even in historical romance. I also like historical romance novels that take into account real events and situations from their time. I'm not as much a stickler for the characters being average representations of the prejudices and attitudes of their times (though I dislike people who feel too much like modern people in fancy dress). I like abolitionists, suffragettes, people of color, LGBTQ couples and others who are underdogs dealing with a biased society.

Also, actual historical touches add a dimension of believability. For instance, I recently read a novel set in London in the 1873, and the author interwove the nasty smog event that hit in early December of that year into the plot. So often, romances set in Victorian London ignore the realities of the setting, or make only a passing reference to the discomforts of living in that era.
 
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morngnstar

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I have read some where the heroine did not orgasm and I threw the book across the room immediately. That's too realistic and who needs that? Not I.

She never comes in the whole book, or just some sex scenes? I have some scenes in my WIP where the heroine doesn't come, but not just for realism. I alternate somewhat between good and bad sex to reflect the problems and triumphs of their relationship.
 

Chris P

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Yep, I need chemistry. And I need characters I care about.

But what I really, really need is a conflict I can relate to. Give me a situation where staying (in their situation, with their current partner, whatever the status quo is) put has tangible benefits, as does being with the new person beyond just "he's so hot" or "she'd be my ticket to adventure."
 

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The writing. Make me care about their romance. My neighbours have great chemistry between them but I don't care to hear their story when my other neighbour (a very nosy one!) comes to tell me all about it. She's just not a good storyteller. A lot of people make fun of Twilight because it didn't work for them, others glorify it because it did work for them. It's the same book, with the same chemistry, characters, events etc. But the writing worked for some of the readers and didn't work for others. So if a romance novel works for me, it means the writer managed to to touch my heart strings etc with their words. Their words worked on me and made me care about the romance described. And if my neighbour comes and tells me about that romance from the book, too, it would most probably sound boring, just like her other stories ;). Make sense?
 

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It should be realistic and characters must be likeable. They can have flaws, act like idiots, but there needs to be a reason and they should develop throughout the story. Also, HEA is a must for me, I'm not picking up a romance which is not. I also strongly prefer that the heroine is not TSTL.
 

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