Six Tips for Writing a Bestselling Romance Novel with Melanie Milburne and Giveaway!

We have USA Today Bestselling author Melanie Milburne and there's a giveaway of kindle copy of HIS FINAL BARGAIN.

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Over to Melanie now...


Six Tips for Writing a Bestselling Romance Novel

I think a lot of people assume romance novels are easy to write because there are such a lot of them out there. It used to be just the bookshelves that were spilling over with masses of titles in all the subgenres of romance, but now in this digital age there is a proliferation of books just waiting to be read.

But how do you make your novel stand out from the rest of the crowd? A catchy title, a cute cover and a well-written blurb are all important, but there is much more to writing a heart-warming and memorable story than that.

 

I have six tips for making sure your romance novel is a standout.

 

1.    Make it character driven.

 

Your novel is about two people - the hero and the heroine. It is not about the heroine’s best friend or the hero’s sister or brother or pet dog or cat. Complicated plots are fine in a thriller or crime fiction or family saga, but in series romance they can get in the way of a good story.

In His Final Bargain I will have to admit the plot is a little more complex than some of my other stories, but it works because the main focus is always on Leo and Eliza.

 

‘I have another proposal for you,’ he said.

Eliza swallowed tightly and hoped he hadn’t seen it. ‘Not marriage, I hope.’

He laughed but it wasn’t a nice sound. ‘Not marriage, no,’ he said. ‘A business proposal-a very lucrative one.’

Eliza tried to read his expression. There was something in his dark brown eyes that was slightly menacing. Her heart beat a little faster as fear climbed up her spine with icy-cold fingertips. ‘I don’t want or need your money,’ she said with a flash of stubborn pride.

His top lip gave a sardonic curl. ‘Perhaps not, but your cash-strapped community school does.’

 

2. Sexual tension

The hero and heroine can hate each other on sight, or as in Leo and Eliza’s case have a bitter past history, but even so they must feel sexually attracted to each other and it must be obvious to the reader right from the start.

 

He closed the distance between them in one stride. He towered over her, making her breath stall again in her chest. She saw his nostrils flare as if he was taking in her scent. She could smell his: a complex mix of wood and citrus and spice that tantalized her senses and stirred up a host of memories she had tried for so long to suppress.

 

3. Get rid of back-story

 

The thing about backstory is it’s terribly important for you as the writer to know it, but not to dump it on the reader in the first few pages. You can trickle it in later on or use dialogue or subtext to hint at what has gone on in the past. You would be surprised at how little information the reader needs. Don’t forget that part of the enjoyment of reading is the discovery of the different facets of characters as the story unfolds.

 

I have told the reader nothing about Eliza’s engagement to another man or why she ended her affair with Leo four years ago, but on page 13 the reader reads:

 

She waited for him to speak. The silence seemed endless as he sat there quietly surveying her with that dark inscrutable gaze.

‘You’re not wearing a wedding ring,’ he said.

Eliza sought the awkward bump of the solitaire diamond with her fingers. ‘Yes… yes, I am…’

His eyes burned as they held hers, with resentment, with hatred. ‘Rather a long betrothal, is it not?’ he said. ‘I’m surprised your fiancĂ© is so patient.’

Eliza thought of poor broken Ewan, strapped in that chair with his vacant stare, day after day, year after year, dependent on others for everything. Yes, patient was exactly what Ewan was now…

 

4. Tension on every page

 

 I’ve read quite a lot of manuscripts and even published books where not much is going on for page after page. Each scene must have a purpose- it must drive the story forward or there is no point it being there. Long passages of description are fine if you’re writing a travel article but they slow a romance down and reduce tension. Keep the thread of tension running through the story; keep your characters focused on each other and their goals.

 

‘You’re lying.’

Eliza gave him a flinty glare. ‘That’s what really irks you, isn’t it, Leo? It still rankles even after all this time. I was the first woman to ever say no to you. You could have anyone you wanted but you couldn’t have me.’

‘I could have you.’ His eyes burned with primal intent. ‘I could have you right now and we both know it.’

 

5. Make it emotional

 

I spend a lot of time thinking about my characters and how they would be feeling about what is going on in their lives. I see them as real people, as people I could meet or interact with, so it’s important for me to have them behaving and thinking and speaking in a way that is believable.

Ask yourself: If I were this person with these issues going on in my life what would I be feeling? Dig deeply, trawl your memory to see if you have felt a similar emotion or speak to someone who has.

I thought deeply about the scene where Eliza sees Leo’s little daughter for the first time. I mentally walked with her into that nursery where Alessandra was sleeping…

 

Eliza looked down at the sleeping child, a dark-haired angel with alabaster skin; her tiny starfish hands splayed either side of her head as she slept. Sooty black eyelashes framed her little cheeks, her rosebud mouth slightly open as her breath came in and then out. She looked small for her age, petite, almost fragile. Eliza reached over the side of the cot and gently brushed a dark curl back off the tiny forehead, a tight fist of maternal longing clutching at her insides.

This could have been our child...


6. Build the stakes.

 
There is a danger when writing a romance novel that the tension can fall flat once the couple makes love. It is important to raise the emotional stakes even after or because they have made that physical commitment.

 

Eliza is not free to have anything but a temporary affair with Leo while she stands in for his absent nanny, although she hasn’t told him the full truth about her circumstances.

 

‘Look, I don’t want to spend the only time we have alone together arguing,’ Leo said. ‘That wasn’t the point of going out to dinner this evening.’

‘What is the point?’ Was it to make her fall in love with him again and then drop her cold? Was it to make her feel even more wretched about her other life once this was over?

He took one of her tightly clenched hands and began to massage her stiff fingers until they softened and relaxed. ‘The point is to get to know one another better,’ he said. ‘I’ve noticed we either have made passionate sex or argue like fiends. I want to try something different for a change.’

Eliza looked at her hand in his, the way his olive skin was so much of a contrast to her creamy one. She felt the stirring of her body the longer he held her. Those fingers had touched every part of her body. They could make her sizzle with excitement just by looking at them. It was becoming harder and harder to keep her emotions hidden away. She wasn’t supposed to be falling in love with him again. She wasn’t supposed to be dreaming of a life with him.

That was not an option for her…

 

 

The character with the most to lose is the one with the highest at stake. Sometimes it is the hero, sometimes it is the heroine and sometimes it is both. Whatever you decide in your story make sure the stakes are high and believable and worth fighting for.

 

Happy reading and writing!

Melanie Milburne
 
HIS FINAL BARGAIN


A beautiful love affair and a burning betrayal...Eliza Lincoln is stunned to find Leo Valente at her door; four years ago his passionate embrace was a brief taste of freedom from her suffocating engagement. Until Leo discovered her secret...

Yet he hasn't come to rekindle their affair. He has a proposition he knows Eliza can't refuse: she's the only person who can help his small, motherless daughter. Torn, Eliza can't ignore a vulnerable child, but the last time she was near Leo her desire nearly consumed her. Is she willing to take that risk again now that the stakes are even higher?


Buy Links:


Amazon

Mills & Boon UK

Mills & Boon Aust

Harlequin

There's a kindle copy of HIS FINAL BARGAIN to one commenter. Tell us some of your tips for writing.

54 comments:

  1. Excellent points! They're important for many kinds of stories, not just romance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Lydia,
      Yes, they are pretty standard points but in my early days I ignored every one of them. I cringe when I think about it now!
      Thanks for posting.

      Delete
  2. Oh those little tasters. I love reunions and this one looks like an absolute doozy.

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    Replies
    1. Hello Princess Fiona 01,
      I love reunions too. I think I've written more of that story trope that any other.
      I hope you enjoy this one.
      Thanks for commenting.

      Delete
  3. Replies
    1. Hi Donna,
      Thanks so much. I hope you enjoy the book!

      Delete
  4. Thanks for posting this, Melanie. Very timely as I'm heading towards revision on the first romance manuscript I'll have actually completed - starting them is easy, but finishing them is another thing entirely!

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    Replies
    1. Good luck, Leigh, on finishing your manuscript. That is a huge achievement!
      I'm a bit like you. I love the start of a novel but there's always a new idea about 30,000 words in that I would suddenly much rather write. I have taught myself never to abandon the one I am working on. I figure I started it with a good strong idea so it deserves my full attention until it is done. Otherwise I would end up with heaps of unfinished projects on my hard drive!

      Delete
  5. Wow Melanie, this sounds like such a powerful book. I can't wait to read it. Thanks for all those tips - fantastic!!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks for your comments. It's funny but once each book is in print I've moved further along my writer's journey and I can see where I could have done better. So frustrating that I can't sneak it back for an hour or two and tweak it. Ha ha!
      Hope you enjoy it.

      Delete
  6. I was always told not to flesh your characters to much right away. Concentrate on the plot. Concentrating on the characters to much means you might loose the plot you want to get down on paper and besides you can flesh them out when you re read it. Ideas for the plotline flow in and out of you head as you think of them and not getting them down straight the way could make them lost to you. Good character will always stick in your head.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, the old plot verses character debate. I think each writer has their own way of doing things. I like to start with the characters, but then sometimes I start with a story idea and then hunt around for a character to fit. Whatever works for you is the best advice.
      Thanks for posting!

      Delete
  7. Replies
    1. Thanks Charmaine,
      I'm glad you found it helpful. There's a lot of advice out there these days. Wish I read it earlier, but then I think you learn as you write, or so Dwight Swain says in Techniques of the Selling Writer which I am currently reading.

      Delete
  8. Thanks for the great tips. Loved you examples.

    My romances tend to be complex too, but that's partly because I write NA and there's more going on than just romance.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Stina,
      I think some writers tend towards more complex plots while others enjoy the lighter flirty touch. I do a balance of both just to give myself a break. Writing deep and dark all the time can be exhausting!
      Thanks for commenting.

      Delete
  9. I loved, loved, loved your heroine in ENEMIES AT THE ALTAR, she was so individual, she made me laugh out loud. You are so right about romances being character driven!

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    Replies
    1. HI Maria,
      Thanks so much for those lovely words. I loved Sienna too. She was quite a firecracker, wasn't she? That's the book that's got me a Booksellers Best nomination this year so clearly you're not the only one who loved it. I am so pleased as it was a contrast from the sister book which was a bit darker and deeply emotional.
      Thanks for posting!

      Delete
    2. Melanie, you are right, she was a firecracker for sure. Dark, deeply emotional reads can be satisfying on a certain level, but a book that makes you laugh out loud is something that always wins me over. As well as being emotional, of course.

      Delete
  10. I loved all the excerpts. What can I say? If I don't win a copy of your book, I'm gonna have to buy it. (So many books, so little time...)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Susan,
      I know the feeling about the TBR pile. I have so many on my IPad and heaps by my bedside in all different genres. I'm a fast reader but clearly not fast enough to keep up with all the good stuff that is out there.
      Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  11. Replies
    1. Thanks Kelly. I hope you enjoy the book if you get a chance to read it.

      Delete
  12. Love all the tips! Though when I first read "no back story", I thought huh? But then I read it and totally agree. I mean in romance, you know there's going to be a HEA, so a woven in back story is part of the mystery.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      I had a lot of trouble when I first started out in writing with wanting back story in. The thing I realised over time was I needed it there to write my way into the story but I could then edit it out in my final draft. It works much better that way.
      Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  13. Thanks for sharing these tips!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Michelle,
      My pleasure. I hope you find them helpful.
      Thanks for dropping in.

      Delete
  14. Great tips no matter what genre you write in. Thanks!

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. Hi S.P
      Thanks for posting. I hope you enjoy the book if you win the giveaway or if you come across it in your TBR pile!

      Delete
  15. Nas, thanks so much for having Melanie here today! Spot on post--loved all of these points. It was really fun to read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Morgan,
      Nas is my fairy godmother in the background helping me with all sorts of stuff while I get on with my writing. She is amazing.
      Thanks for posting. I hope you enjoy the book.

      Delete
  16. Those are great tips! They can apply to other genres as well. I enjoyed reading your excerpts, too! You're a talented writer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sherry,
      Thanks for your lovely comments. I am committed to working hard at my craft. I'm glad you found the tips helpful.

      Delete
  17. Very good tips indeed.

    All the best with your novel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Wendy,
      Thanks for your post. I'm glad you enjoyed the blog!

      Delete
  18. Great tips! I still struggle with keeping the tension high at times, but I'm getting better. The snippets from the book make me want to dive right in! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jemi,
      Have you read any of Donald Maass's books? Writing the Breakout Novel is a good start and the WTBN Workbook is particularly helpful in layering in conflict.
      Thanks for posting!

      Delete
  19. Wow, such great tips! Love #5, I think it's great to really try to feel it yourself before you write it out. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rachel,
      I think walking yourself through the emotions is critical. I sometimes write the scene as if it's happening to me. It's amazing the difference it makes as it brings you closer to the feelings.
      Thanks for dropping by!

      Delete
  20. These were great tips. I'm a huge fan of character driven books. Thanks so much for stopping by and saying hello during the blog hop :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Johanna,
      It's been lovely to "meet" everyone. I'm so glad you've found the tips useful.
      It's all about the characters, isn't it? What we feel for them is what makes a story live in our minds for days if not weeks or months, even years.
      Thanks for posting!

      Delete
  21. This is really great advice! Nice post.

    www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

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  22. Hi Gina,
    Thanks for your lovely comments. I hope you enjoy the book if you get a chance to read it.
    Thanks for posting!

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  23. Wonderful advice. I haven't written any romances. To me it seems like a very hard genre to write.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sharon,
      It's not as easy as it looks but lots of fun.
      Thanks for posting!

      Delete
  24. Excellent post and advice. Thanks for sharing.

    Smiles,
    Efthalia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Efthalia,
      Thanks for dropping in. Glad you found it helpful.

      Delete
  25. These tips are awesome- and most of them fit for any type of story. I love the advice about back story. :)
    ~Jess

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jess,
      Glad you found the advice helpful and yes, they do apply to any story really.
      Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  26. Thank you for the tips. I enjoy character-driven stories more than action-driven ones. I'm all for getting rid of back-story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Medeia,
      I used to think back story was important for the reader, but then I realised I hate it when I have to read it as a reader. Bit of a light bulb moment!
      Thanks for commenting.

      Delete
  27. Good tips - especially thinking of characters as real people. It's tempting to only think of them in terms of our plot and end up having them do things out of character because it's convenient.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Hi Patsy,
    I think one of the most important things I've learned is to make the characters real but larger than life. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things, like falling in love with people they never thought they would fall in love with! That's the magic of storytelling.
    Thanks for posting.

    ReplyDelete

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