Toronto Public Library Homepage

This page has been archived and is no longer updated.

« Previous | Main | Next »

A Great Romance Novel - Guest Nancy Warren

October 16, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (9)

Nancy Warren is one of those charming and energetic people who is impossible to dislike. She's both prolific and bestselling, so is perfect candidate to tell us the elements of a great romance novel. Please welcome guest blogger, Nancy Warren.


Nancy Warren is the USA Today bestselling author of more than 40 novels and novellas for Harlequin and Kensington publishers. Her next novel will be out in November from Harlequin and is called POWER PLAY. 51gHNvF7a8L._SS500_

What Makes a Great Romance Novel?

As a romance author, I've been asked many, many times some version of the formula question. The variations are something like: So, does Harlequin send you the formula when you become a writer? Or: I guess it's pretty easy to bang out a romance novel when you write with a formula. As insulting as it
is to a novelist to have a reader or aspiring writer assume there is some magical blueprint that makes writing a romance similar to constructing a model car from a kit, the truth is that of course there's a formula.

Here it is.

1. A man and woman meet (or boy and girl, vampire and high school student, some version of hero and heroine).

2. Sparks fly (some emotion is elicited, there is initial attraction, or they hate each other on sight, but they are never neutral).

3. Conflict keeps them apart (whatever prevents them from falling in love and getting married is conflict. This can be war, they are from different times, they are competitors of some sort, they are on the run from danger, a romantic rival exists, etc).

4. By trusting each other and growing as individuals they earn each other's love and end up happily ever after.

Think of your favourite romance novel and you'll see this formula at work. Pride and Prejudice is my favourite novel, so let's try that one. Elizabeth and Darcy meet, he's too proud to dance with her and slights her in her hearing, naturally, after this she detests him and is all too willing to believe any slander she hears about him. Meanwhile, he falls deeply in love with her and is rebuffed. Now he must swallow his pride to earn her love, while she must see beyond her blind prejudice to the man he truly is. The result? Happily ever after and a perennial best seller.

But what sets a truly great romance novel from a forgettable one? That's the heart of this topic and a subject many aspiring authors would love to understand. There are novels that take the world by storm, others that are forgotten as soon as they are read. Yet, both follow the above formula. The late screenwriting teacher, Blake Snyder, talked a lot about primal emotion in his books and lectures. Love is of course primal. We need love. We crave it. We will die for love, kill for it, pluck our eyebrows and wax our legs in hope of it.

As many times as I've read Pride and Prejudice I can never put it down. Apart from the brilliant writing, I am caught up in the suspense. Will they end up together? The story world Jane Austen creates would be a sorrier, darker place if they didn't.

What makes a great romance novel? I, the reader, have to care, deeply and passionately what happens to these lovers. That's what keeps me turning the pages and coming back to a well-loved book again and again. Character is important. I want to identify with the heroine and fall in love with the hero. An interesting plot definitely helps, but in the end, what I think makes a truly great romance is that the author has made me believe that these two are meant to be together and their love will make them stronger and the world a better place.

That's what keeps me reading, and writing, romance.


Toronto Public Library's Romance Writer-In-Residence Deborah Cooke discusses writing and getting published in the romance genre.

Comments on this blog are now closed. Visit Deborah's website and her regular blog for more information about Deborah and her books. About