Skip to main content

Brenda Novak on 5 ways to make your romance story stand out to editors and agents

Thanks again to novelist Brenda Novak for stopping by last week—and to you all for reading and commenting. Per that post, Martha W. and Kristan will each claim an autographed copy of one of Brenda’s books. (Martha and Kristan, can you shoot your addresses to me at writersdigest [at] fwmedia [dot] com so I can pass them along to Brenda?)

And while we’re on the topic of Brenda, we received an e-mail last week wondering about the key ingredients of solid romance stories. (Since I'm spectacularly unprepared to write romance how-tos based on my personal writing experience), here, from Brenda’s article in the new issue of WD about the current state of the genre and how to break in, are five of her insights about what can make your story stand out to agents and editors.

Happy Wednesday!

*

A strong hook or concept. Anything that helps a publisher promote you and your novel is a plus. If you have what’s called a “high concept” (like Dan Brown’s shocking secrets about the Catholic church, or Jodi Picoult’s issue-related stories) and can communicate it simply and clearly in your pitch, you’ll have a better shot at getting noticed. Popular “hooks” in romance novels currently include secret babies, amnesia, marriages of convenience and mistaken identities.

Sympathetic, motivated characters.
Be sure your protagonist always has something important and personal at stake. When choosing your point of view, tell the story from the viewpoint of the character (or characters) with the most to lose. In romance, readers typically prefer a strong heroine whose sole purpose isn’t to find a man. She is most often successful in her own right, at least on some level (even if she’s facing a difficult time), and this makes her the perfect complement to a strong hero. Paula Eykelhof of MIRA Books, who edits my work as well as Debbie Macomber’s, says, “Readers will care about what happens next only if they can care about your characters, connect with them in some way and feel interested in their personalities and their fates.”

High-stakes conflict. Any Happily Ever After is more enjoyable if it’s hard-won. Although many of the conflicts in romantic fiction may be internal (depending on the subgenre), plot needs to grow out of character. The greater the challenge keeping your characters apart, the more compelling the story will be. Make those challenges difficult but not impossible to overcome.

Unique voice.
To Jayne Ann Krentz, who also writes as Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick and has penned many New York Times bestsellers, voice is what sets one author’s books apart from all the rest. “Voice contains an author’s core values and worldviews and cannot be duplicated. Give one plot to 10 different authors and you’ll get 10 very different stories.”

Tight pacing. Today’s busy reader prefers a story that moves quickly and doesn’t rely too much on interior monologues. Avoid letting your story become static. Keep the reader in the action. Use non-cliché metaphors and similes, and evoke the five senses wherever possible. As in most good writing, avoid passive verbs.

(For more tips on the subject, including the core characteristics of the genre, check out the May/June WD.)

* * *

WRITING PROMPT: View Askew
Feel

free to take the following prompt home or post your
response in the Comments section below.
If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail it to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

As Brenda quotes above, “Give one plot to 10 different authors and you’ll get 10 very different stories.” Choose a story from the news, and imagine two different writers witnessed the event—and then went home to write about it. Write their two unique takes on the subject—in a journal entry, a fiction piece inspired by the event, a poem, or any other form your characters desire.

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Here are the top live streams, podcasts, and YouTube channels as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

You might have heard the term, especially if you’re in online fandoms, but what exactly is fan fiction? Managing Editor Moriah Richard explains.

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

Short story writing can be a gateway to writing your novel—but they’re also fun and worthy stories in their own right. Here, author Dallas Woodburn shares 5 ways to use short stories to grow as a writer.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not having an online presence.

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Physician, cartoonist, and author Shirlene Obuobi discusses the writerly advice that led to writing her new coming-of-age novel, On Rotation.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Kimo Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the kimo.

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

Tattoos and their artists can reveal interesting details about your characters and offer historical context. Here, author June Gervais shares 8 things writers should know about tattoos.

Tyler Moss | Reporting Through Lens of Social Justice

Writing Through the Lens of Social Justice

WD Editor-at-Large Tyler Moss makes the case for reporting on issues of social justice in freelance writing—no matter the topic in this article from the July/August 2021 issue of Writer's Digest.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave clues for people to find them.