It’s time for the second installment in our writing romance series — drafting and editing! You’ve laid the foundation for a successful novel by determining your genre, reading widely, getting involved in writing groups, signing up for resource sites, and hammering out some words on your keyboard.
Or, maybe not.
That last one, the actual drafting and consequent editing, can be daunting. If you’ve attempted to put pen to paper only to draw numerous blanks, or perhaps you’re past the writing but don’t know how to start polishing your words, then I’m here to help.
Drafting tips for writing romance novels
Writing romance is complex. In addition to focusing on external, plot-moving events, there’s also a need to focus on the internal development of the relationship between the two main characters and how that relationship drives the external progression.
When drafting, there are a lot of factors to consider. One of the best things you can do is use a beat sheet. Jami Gold, a paranormal romance author and all-around genius when it comes to planning, definitely has the best beat sheet around, but we’ll hit some of the key points here.
Internal relationship arc
Characters are the key to romance novels. Readers want to feel their connection to each other, to believe that, against all odds, they are meant to be. In order to do that, it’s imperative to create deep connections that go beyond superficial interactions.
You must test your characters by:
- Demonstrating their attraction to each other.
- Outlining their unique circumstances that result in conflict (i.e., Mary is a career-focused woman with a fear of forming lasting relationships; Tom is a prolific musician, moving from town to town, with a trail of missed connections and a secret desire to find something permanent).
- Bringing them together as they dabble in the possibility of a future.
- Creating a crisis moment that reminds them of their differences so they are forced to decide: be together or walk away (hint: if it’s a romance novel, happily ever afters (HEAs) or at least happy for nows (HFNs) are required).
Once your main characters have progressed through these steps, you can write a resolution (or an epilogue) where they’re happy and successful together, often tying pleasing external circumstances into the conclusion, too (i.e., Mary was able to get a promotion, allowing her to work remotely so she could be with Tom on tours and still honor her desire to work).
External relationship arc
Hellllooooo plot. What events place your main characters together? Push them further apart? Perhaps Mary’s company hires Tom’s band to play at their holiday party, giving them more face time and allowing Tom to see Mary in a different light. Once you’ve given them enough interaction, it’s time to up the ante.
Internal recognition of feelings is great, but don’t forget to put actions on the page that confirm their feelings (after all, readers aren’t devouring romance for nothin’).
You don’t have to go crazy with the heat level (unless that’s your thing), but there has to be some physical interaction that affirms your main characters’ thoughts.
Then, just when they’re feeling great about their new relationship, you need to introduce something that reminds them of their fears. Maybe Tom leaves town for a gig during a monumental moment for Mary, reminding her she can only rely on herself. Maybe an ex of his rears her head.
Typically, this happens a couple times until the resolution affirms they are, in fact, meant for each other.
Other key moments
When writing romance, you’ll need to consider the following key moments in your story:
Opening/hook — Within a few paragraphs or pages, show who your characters are, the kind of situation they’re in or challenges they’re facing, and establish why the readers should care.
Inciting event — The first time the characters meet or interact, demonstrating the possible tension and action to come.
Pinch points — Pinch points happen during the second act and are reminders of the antagonistic force in the story.
Midpoint — K.M. Weiland, author and mentor, describes a midpoint as “what keeps your second act from dragging. It’s what caps the reactions in the first half of the book and sets up the chain of actions that will lead the characters into the climax.”
Crisis point — This occurs at the tail-end of the second act, and often involves a temporary split between the main characters (though it doesn’t have to).
Climax — The characters’ goals are on the horizon, but not yet attained, and they must make a choice that alters their course/outcome.
Resolution — Your chance to write an HEA! The characters, against all odds, have come together and made an emotional commitment to one another.
Now that you’ve got the highlights down, don’t forget to check out Jami Gold’s downloadable beat sheet so you can line up the key events with typical word count locations. And if you’re still fuzzy on the finer points of each moment, Writer’s Digest breaks down the plot points for writing romance.
Editing and revision tips
Woohoo! You’ve finished your first draft. Celebrate! You’ve accomplished something most people only dream of. You might be eager to release that book baby into the wild, but it’s imperative that you spend some serious time editing first.
In fact, depending on your needs, it’s possible you might go through a series of revisions:
Developmental edits — These type of edits address big picture, storytelling issues. Does the plot make sense? Did your character’s middle name accidentally change, along with their eye color? Are your character goals clear? Depending on your editor or critique partner, this feedback could come in the form of an editorial letter hitting on major points and/or comments within the manuscript itself highlighting examples.
Scene edits — Chapter by chapter, evaluate each moment, each action, and determine if it drives the plot forward. What did this section accomplish? What did it do for your characters? Did it drive the story forward? Is the flow from one scene to the next natural?
Line edits — The nitty-gritty, hair-pulling, sometimes nausea-inducing part of editing. This involves moving through the story line by line, looking for consistency in diction, word choice, voice and tone. Not to mention looking for (and removing) instances of passive voice, repeated words, grammar/mechanical errors (sometimes considered a separate edit) and filter words (saw, felt, heard, etc.).
Once you’ve done a round (or six) of self-editing, it’s time to talk beta readers, critique partners (CPs) and editors.
Beta readers, critique partners and editors
Writing romance doesn’t have to be a solo journey. In fact, leaning on beta readers and CPs is a great way to get a new set of eyes on your work while building new relationships with other writers. And if you’d rather hire an editor, that’s an option, too. Let’s take a look at each role.
Beta readers. Beta readers are great for reading your novel and giving overall thoughts/general feedback. Did it drag during one section? Were the characters believable? Was the plot gripping? While you’re not going to get a detailed, five-page edit letter, beta readers will be able to point out key issues that you might have missed during your hundreds of read-throughs.
Critique partners. CPs are the bread and butter of the writing community. Just about every writer has one (myself included, and she’s freakin’ rad), and they are invaluable. They’re the person (or persons, if you have multiple) who will dig into your manuscript several times over, provide actionable feedback with concrete examples in-text, act as a sounding board when you’re trying to noodle through plot holes, listen to you vent, and so much more.
Some share chapters at a time. Some drop first drafts in their entirety at the trusted feet of their CP. The point is, there is no right or wrong answer.
If you’re looking for a CP or beta reader, you’ve got several options for finding your peeps:
- Absolute Write Water Cooler, a forum-based site where you can post on and search through threads for potential matches.
- Maggie Stiefvater’s Critique Partner Matchup.
- Romance Writers of America Critique Partner Matchup (though you must be a member).
- Facebook Groups, such as All The Kissing, where other romance writers gather to connect with one another.
- Hashtags on Twitter, such as #CPMatch.
Just know that you don’t have to work with everyone who offers. Swap chapters, make sure you trust their feedback, and don’t short yourself by going with someone who pulls their punches.
You want unflinching feedback that might make you squirm, but will ultimately elevate your work.
Editors. While the above two options don’t require monetary compensation (usually it’s a mutual relationship where you are also the beta reader/CP for the other writer), editors offer their expert services in exchange for a fee. The good ones have been editing novels for a while, and offer a variety of services. You can even track down one who specifically reads in your genre so you know the feedback will be tailored to unique expectations within your story.
Finding the right editor is usually a little bit trickier than finding the right CP or beta reader. The last thing you want to do is hand over your hard-earned cash only to receive lackluster feedback. The best advice I can offer? Talk to people in your community. Ask around. Most people have an editor they’d happily refer.
You likely won’t get the results you want, and then you’ll be out cash you could’ve forked over to a reputable editor.
Contests for editing and revising
Now, let’s say you want to up the ante a tad. Maybe you have a CP, maybe you don’t. Maybe you’ve gone through a few rounds of self-editing, but you’re still on the hunt for a set of unbiased eyes before you pull the trigger and start querying. There are contests for that.
Pitch Wars is an amazing contest, hosted by Brenda Drake, “where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions on how to make the manuscript shine for the agent showcase. The mentor also helps edit his or her writer’s pitch for the contest and his or her query letter for submitting to agents.”
In other words, holy freakin’ cow you get your manuscript FULLY edited, with the attention to detail that you’d expect from a superb critique partner and/or editor, and you’re entered into a showcase where agents can preview your pitch? Folks, that’s the biggest foot in the door you can get.
Naturally, competition is stiff. Each mentor is typically only allowed to take on one mentee (and it makes sense, since they dedicate two months of their time to you, working with you to finesse your work). This contest only happens once a year in August, so make it your 2018 resolution to enter an MS this season. And be sure to check out the rules ahead of time.
While it isn’t required, a lot of these contests have daily activities on Twitter to pass the time while mentors are reading submitted works. One such event is #PimpMyBio, where entrentrants post a casual bio about themselves and their interests so other contestants and mentors can read it in their spare time.
Many rely on WordPress and post their bios to their blog. So if you’ve got the time — and you’re not still furiously editing your novel prior to the submission deadline — then make sure your online presence is up to snuff! It’s always fun to read about other writers and their hobbies. But don’t pause your editing to create a bio. Make sure your novel is in tip-top shape before you hop on these daily events. No one ever missed a chance to work with a mentor because they didn’t have a #PimpMyBio ready.
Query Kombat (QK) focuses on entrants’ query and the first 250 words of your manuscript. Hosted by Michelle Hauck, Michael Anthony and Laura Heffernan, QK is an annual, single-elimination, bracket-style contest where paired-up queries (and their respective first 250s) face off to move onto the next round. The best part? You’re guaranteed to get a treasure trove of feedback.
Judges vote for winners to move onto the next round while offering feedback for both entries, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to elevate their work — even if they don’t move on.
Bonus: There’s a secret agent round that occurs during the contest. Agents peruse the entries early on, leaving comments on materials they’d like to see, and once you’ve been eliminated, you’re free to send your materials their way.
There are a plethora of online contests, some specific to certain genres and age groups, others open to all. Even more that are specifically geared to writers who are ready to query (but we’ll touch on that in the next installment of this series). Do your research ahead of time, and make sure you know what you’re getting into when you enter a writing contest.
Writing romance takes work. Now that you’ve got a good grip on your drafting and editing, querying is just on the horizon. In our next installment, we’ll talk about creating a solid query letter, contests for those in the query trenches, and tips for staying sane while waiting for your inbox to light up with agent responses.
Full disclosure: The author of this article is a co-founder of All The Kissing and a member of Romance Writers of America.