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Choosing a Story Idea: 4 Questions Every Romance Writer Should Ask Themselves

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how to write a romance novel | story ideas

Today's tip on writing comes from On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels. In this excerpt, she discusses how to go about selecting your story and whether or not your story idea is strong enough to sustain an entire novel.

Is your book going to be historical or contemporary? Short or long? Category or single title? Paranormal, futuristic, or straight romance? Sensual or sweet?

Having trouble deciding? The first and most basic truth about writing is that a writer should write the story he wants to write. That usually means you should be writing the kind of book you most like to read. The act of writing, for most people, is not fun. At best, it’s not consistently enjoyable. Good writing— writing a story readers will want to read—is hard work. It is difficult enough to construct a readable story without adding the burden of spending time with characters you dislike, a plot you ind dull, a sensuality level you feel is bland (or shockingly explicit), or a time period you think is boring.

Yet people frequently try to write romances of a type they don’t personally enjoy because statistically those types of books enjoy the best sales. The problem is that, even if they finish the story, their lack of enthusiasm will show, and their first reader—the editor—is likely to be the last reader as well. You will have far more success on a personal level, and when you submit your work for publication, if you’re writing a story you love, even if that story doesn’t follow all the rules or fall into a distinct genre or subgenre.

You will have far more success on a personal level, and when you submit your work for publication, if you’re writing a story you love, even if that story doesn’t follow all the rules or fall into a distinct genre or subgenre.

There are hundreds of books that everybody knew would never sell, because everybody knew readers simply weren’t interested in that kind of story. Except nobody told the readers they weren’t interested, and when publishers took risks, they discovered there were indeed readers—sometimes hundreds of thousands of them—who loved those impossible books. (Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear—a
romantic story set in prehistoric times—is perhaps the best example.)

Questions to Consider When Choosing Your Story Idea

Not every book will be a bestseller, of course. But books written with love stand a much better chance of being shared with readers. As you consider the kernel of your story idea, here are some questions to consider:

1. Is this a story you can write? Do you have the experience, insight, understanding, and voice necessary to address this story to this audience? If not, can you acquire those skills?
2. What are your qualifications? Do you possess the skills to write authoritatively about the subject, background, or time period you’ve chosen?
3. What drawbacks will you face in writing this story? Where can you find the additional resources and information you need to make your story believable?

If you want to write a medical thriller with two doctors as your hero and heroine, but you’ve never worked in the medical field, the challenge will be enormous. You can do it—but only if you are willing to check every word your medical characters say to each other, and even every thought they have, in order to be sure they’re accurate and realistic. Are you willing to put in that much time and effort?

At the same time, don’t choose what seems easiest if you don’t like that type of story. Writing for young adults isn’t easier than writing for mature readers, so unless you spend enough time with young people to understand how they think, writing a young adult romance is probably a waste of time. If your heart lies in historicals, you shouldn’t choose to write a contemporary just because it sounds less difficult. It won’t be easier if you’d rather be in Regency England or the Old West.

4. How can you shape your story to make the drawbacks and challenges more manageable? For instance, if you really want to write that medical thriller but you don’t feel confident evoking the doctor’s point of view, consider whether you can make your most important character a layperson instead. That way you can still use the medical setting, but you’ll have a somewhat easier job creating dialogue and story because not every character has to think and act like a trained physician.

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