Skip to main content

5 Characteristics of Compatible Mates

As you immerse yourself in the romance genre, take note of these driving characteristics. by Brenda Novak

If you haven’t read much recent romance and you’re thinking about trying to break in, you’ve got some homework to do. An aspiring writer in any genre should pore over the sort of books she’d like to write. It’s important to have both a knowledge of and a respect for your genre of choice. If you don’t honestly love romance, you’ll be doing an injustice to yourself and your work if you try to write it anyway (and you won’t have much chance of selling it, either).

As you immerse yourself in the romance genre, take note of these driving characteristics:

1. HEA. In the romance industry, this is shorthand for “happily ever after.” The one hard and fast convention of the genre is that every novel must conclude with a hopeful outcome. This doesn’t necessarily mean the protagonist has to marry her true love by story’s end, but it does mean there should be some indication they’ll continue happily as a couple. Because of these optimistic endings, romances have, on occasion, been criticized as unrealistic. Those who disagree would say they promote happiness and hope and act as a testament to the age-old theme that love conquers all.

2. MORALITY REFLECTIVE OF THE MAJORITY. Almost all romance novels portray a monogamous relationship and feature protagonists who are good citizens and very supportive of home and family values. Whether the romance is between a human and a vampire, two aliens or a couple of regular humans, these books depict strong, healthy relationships.

3. VARIETY. According to The New York Times bestselling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who received the Romance Writers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, the public’s biggest misconception about romance novels is that they’re all the same. “A sure sign the person doesn’t read romance!” Phillips says. While the genre may once have been thought of in terms of two categories, contemporary and historical, today’s romance has a number of popular subgenres, including paranormal; romantic suspense, comedy and thriller; erotica; inspirational; and—the most recent addition—urban fantasy. The most successful modern romance writers aren’t afraid to mix elements, keeping the genre fresh and ever changing. (For more on subgenres, see Page 36.)

4. SEXUAL TENSION. If there’s a magic ingredient, this is it. It’s the writer’s job to create a desire in the reader to see the hero and heroine’s relationship culminate in a successful romance.

But sexual tension doesn’t necessarily mean explicit sex. While a high level of sensuality may be a draw for some readers, particularly in erotic romance, it also appears to varying degrees in books outside the genre (and is notably absent in inspirational romance—a subgenre that has become very popular in recent years).

There are a lot of misconceptions, by the way, about sex in romance. One is that sex is added gratuitously for marketing purposes. The truth is, unless a sex scene reveals character or furthers plot, it has no reason for being in the story, and both a good writer and her editor know this. Another long-standing myth is that romance novels primarily appeal to sexually repressed, voyeuristic women who lack healthy sex lives. In reality, an InfoTrends study commissioned by RWA revealed the heart of the genre’s readership is women aged 31–49 who are currently in a romantic relationship.

5. CHARACTER GROWTH. Romance is all about people falling in love, true, but the characters also have to reach a place in their emotional maturation where they can love unselfishly and sustain that love, which usually involves overcoming other obstacles that are standing in their way.

These defining traits aren’t meant to imply that romance writing is formulaic. I’ve written 35 novels, the latest 12 of which have been romantic suspense, and I’ve never heard of a publisher stipulating how many love scenes must be included, how explicit they must be, where they should be placed in the manuscript, or any other “formula” of the sort. Rather, writing successfully for any genre is about understanding the reader’s expectations—and being sure to deliver.

Want to write better romance scenes and develop stronger characters? Consider:
On Writing Romance

Image placeholder title

Become a WD VIP and Save 10%:
Get a 1-year pass to WritersMarket.com, a 1-year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine and 10% off all WritersDigestShop.com orders! Click here to join.


Also check out these items from the Writer's Digest's collection:
Writer's Digest You Can Write A 5characteristics
Writer's Digest No More Rejections
Writer's Digest The Wealthy Writer
Writer's Digest The Craft & Business Of Writing
Writer's Digest Weekly Planner

Writer's Digest How to Land a Literary Agent (On-Demand Webinar)
Writer's Digest Magazine One-Year Subscription
Writer's Digest 10 Years of Writer's Digest on CD: 2000-2009

Chanel Cleeton: On Reader Enthusiasm Conjuring Novel Ideas

Chanel Cleeton: On Reader Enthusiasm Conjuring Novel Ideas

Author Chanel Cleeton discusses how reader curiosity led her to write her new historical fiction novel, Our Last Days in Barcelona.

Writer's Digest Interview | Marlon James Quote

The Writer's Digest Interview: Marlon James

Booker Prize–winning author Marlon James talks about mythology and world-building in his character-driven epic Moon Witch, Spider King, the second book in his Dark Star Trilogy in this interview from the March/April 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: New Podcast Episode, a Chance at Publication, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our newest podcast episode, your chance to be published, and more!

David Adams Cleveland: On Truth Revealing Itself in Historical Fiction

David Adams Cleveland: On Truth Revealing Itself in Historical Fiction

Award-winning novelist David Adams Cleveland discusses the timeliness of his new novel, Gods of Deception.

Lisa Jewell | Writer's Digest Interview Quote

The WD Interview: Lisa Jewell

The New York Times-bestselling British author discusses creating thrilling plot twists and developing characters in her 19th novel, The Night She Disappeared, in this interview from the Jan/Feb 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

5 Tips for Successfully Pitching Literary Agents in Person (That Worked for Me at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference)

5 Tips for Successfully Pitching Literary Agents in Person (That Worked for Me at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference)

Author Anat Deracine found her agent at Writer’s Digest Annual Conference. Now she’s sharing what she’s learned to help other writers become authors. Here are her 5 tips for successfully pitching literary agents in person.

Tips for Reading Poetry in Front of an Audience

8 Tips for Reading Your Poetry in Front of an Audience

Poet's Market editor and published poet Robert Lee Brewer shares eight tips for reading your poetry in front of an audience.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Strength Lost

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Strength Lost

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let a character lose their powers.

Sharon Short | Point of View Quote 1

Managing Point of View: Mythbusting

In the first of this three-part series, novelist and WD columnist Sharon Short breaks down 7 of the most common myths about choosing which POV is right for your story.