Write a Romance Novel with All Five Senses

How to Use All Five Senses When Writing A Romance Novel

A big part of writing a romance novel that sells—and captivates readers—is creating a world that’s immersive, personal, and thoroughly believable. But it’s easy to rely on phrases that tell the reader about the characters’ romantic relationships instead of choosing language that lets them feel every heart-stopping, pulse-pounding, stomach-fluttering moment of falling in love. So how to write a romance that’s unique, and never cliché? Go deep into the character’s sensory experience.

Here’s how to use the five senses to write an unforgettable romance.

Sight
First things, well, first: there’s a reason we talk about “love at first sight.” Humans are hugely visual creatures, and creating a mental picture on the page is a crucial part of writing a believable romance novel. Lazy description can make this sense fall flat. Don’t cheat by saying “he was the hottest guy she’d ever seen” or “he looked like a black-haired Chris Pine.” Instead, show every individual piece of the person as your character takes them in. Use strong verbs to communicate how they move (e.g., swagger, breeze by, saunter) and choose evocative adjectives to describe their hair, skin, and body type. Avoid telegraphing too much about how their appearance makes your character feel, and let the description speak for itself—yes, show don’t tell. Consider, too, how the setting contributes to the visual picture of the love interest: is the air clear, the lighting golden, the haze of the bar obscuring their face, the moonlight sharp?

Sound
When we fall in love, the mere sound of our sweetheart’s voice is enough to make us perk up and turn around. This is true in fiction, too! But sound often ends up neglected compared to the other senses—which is a shame. Let your characters notice how the other one speaks, not just the words that they use, but the quality of their voice. Is it clear and high or low and raspy? Do they whisper, or shout, their sweet nothings? Don’t forget to get nonverbal, too; whether it’s a sigh or a moan, so much in romance is said in sounds that aren’t words, and so much about the character is revealed through what sounds they make and when.

Smell
It’s scientifically proven that the way a person smells affects what kind of partners they attract (and no, that doesn’t just mean that having B.O. makes it harder to date…although that’s certainly part of it). Tap into that powerful chemical reaction by letting your characters notice each others’ scents: sweet, clean, and floral, or musky and earthy? But don’t limit it to just body smells, either: perfume, cologne, even the scent of food can contribute to a complete sensory experience on the page.

Touch
Touch is essential when writing a romance novel, but that doesn’t mean it’s straightforward! One of the most common mistakes when writing a physical scene in a romance novel is to neglect the fact that touch is a two way street: you can’t touch another person without feeling something yourself. Let your characters notice the sensation of each other’s skin, the texture of their hair, the feeling of their lips, but don’t forget to let your point of view character feel sensations on their body as well—not just when being touched, but when initiating, as well. Even little touch details like the feeling of bedsheets or the touch of the night air are crucial to writing a good love scene.

Taste
Kissing is, of course, supremely important in romance, and it’s as much about tasting as it is about touching. Like with the sense of smell, tasting is a powerful way to connect to a partner on a chemical level, and it’s not something to gloss over! Consider both what your love interest tastes like “naturally,” as well as any lingering tastes that may be on their mouth: wine, cigarette smoke, lip gloss. The more grounded in concrete experiences, the better: don’t say a kiss “tastes like heaven” since no one has actually tasted heaven—the reader won’t be able to call anything to mind! Taste can also be combined with other senses to create yet more powerful sensory imagery: your heroine might have a “honey and whiskey voice,” for example.

 

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.

How to Write an Ensemble Cast in Your Novel

How to Write an Ensemble Cast

Some of the most beloved stories start with a ragtag band, a scrappy group of buddies, or a rogue’s gallery setting off on adventures. But that doesn’t mean that writing an ensemble cast is easy. When your book has more than three “main” roles in the cast, it’s tough to know how to distinguish your characters on the page. You don’t want a reader to be lost wondering how to tell your characters apart, and you definitely want to make each character in your novel interesting and unique.

So if you’re writing a book with an ensemble cast, how do you make sure it’s working—and not overloading the reader? Here are some best practices for plotting out a story with lots of characters.

Introduce them slowly.
Knowing how to engage your reader is key for any kind of book, but when writing an ensemble cast, it’s especially clutch. Starting your novel with a busy scene full of seven characters talking quickly is an easy way to scare your reader off. Instead, break your characters into “clumps,” and introduce them in groups of no more than three to keep confusion to a minimum. For added depth, introduce your characters in individual, unique settings—it’s easier to remember three girls who were chatting at a frozen yogurt shop and two who were at track practice than five girls who were all talking in the hallway at school.

Play to types.
Many guides to writing an ensemble cast will warn you against creating a “one of each type” cast, where each character has a different archetype. But writers do this for a reason: it helps. Creating unique characters often, counterintuitively, requires playing to familiar tropes that give the reader a foothold in your world, and using character archetypes is a solid way to do so. Consider The Breakfast Club or Ocean’s Eleven; these stories need their characters to have “types” so that the story feels well-rounded. But even characters that are more demographically similar can each take up a “role”: for example, in Mean Girls, you have the three Plastics: Regina the Queen Bee, Gretchen the second-hand man, and Karen the airhead, but also Cady, the straight-man main character, and Janis, the rebel. They’re all teenage girls, but even just picturing them, you can tell them apart—that’s the power of archetypes! The archetypes don’t stop the film from being hilarious and non-generic; they merely give the viewer a point of access.

Vary the speech patterns.
Just like when writing a book in dual point of view, you want to make sure that each character sounds different from all the other characters. Ideally, the reader will know who’s speaking just by the words on the page, without any need for dialogue tags. This can work especially well in SF/F novels, when you’re creating your own fantasy language, because you have that much more flexibility to experiment and play around with registers of formality, slang, and so on.

Watch them move.
No two characters should move the same—especially when in an ensemble cast. Use strong, individualized verbs to make their movements come alive, not just when they’re walking from place to place, but when they’re sitting (or slumping, sleeping in, slipping out of) their chair. Likewise, give them physical tics: maybe one character plays with her hair, or maybe one has a nervous habit of polishing his glasses. Don’t overdo it—too much repetition will drive your readers crazy—but use it as a way to ground the reader and bring back their focus to each character.

Don’t be afraid to signpost.
The classic writing advice “show, don’t tell” can get lead very quickly to very muddy writing when writing a novel with an ensemble cast. There may be times where you simply have to specify explicitly who each person is. Don’t shy away from stating things like family relationships, age, jobs, or other “un-showable” character attributes—a few of these plainly-stated facts now and again are like signposts for the reader. They help the reader know which way to go and keep her from getting lost in the weeds.

Make their names stand out.
If you have a John, James, and Jake, your reader is not going to know how to tell your characters apart. Similarly, a Lexie, Katie, Angie, and Molly can throw off the reader’s mental register because all the names end in the same “ee” sound. Vary length of syllables, first letter, and vowel sounds to keep things identifiable, and make sure your beta readers aren’t getting tripped up.

Consider your POV.
If you’re writing from multiple characters’ first-person POV, you’re not really writing an ensemble cast; you’re writing a novel in alternating POV. Which is okay! That’s a different practice but still an acceptable stylistic choice. Generally speaking, in novels, an ensemble cast is written in third person limited (i.e., restricted to one character’s emotions and insights), or third person omniscient (i.e., able to hop between character’s heads within a single scene). If you’re having trouble figuring out which POV to use for an ensemble cast, start simply and work up: third person limited will give you a static point to shape your story around as you get to know the cast, rather than forcing you to juggle the challenges of omniscience while also building up three-plus unique characters.

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.

When NOT to Listen to Your Beta Reader

Unless you’re just going to keep all your stuff locked in a journal, outside readers are essential to your writing process. A beta reader (or critique partner) is a fellow writer who reads your work and gives you feedback, whether that’s in-line notes, copy edits, an edit letter, or just a chat session about the strengths and weaknesses.

But even good writers aren’t born knowing how to critique a novel. When you find a beta reader, you’ll need to make sure that the comments and critiques you’re getting are not only worth your time but are things you want to change in your novel. Here are a few situations where you should—maybe—ignore your beta reader…or find a new one entirely.

They change their mind.
A good beta reader does a lot, and is flexible and open to discussion if there’s a point you want clarification on. But if you press them for more depth on one comment, only to have them shrink away and take it back, they clearly don’t have a very strong conviction about their assessment of your novel…which is not good news. Your novel needs critique that’s solid and unshakeable—even if it’s not what you want to hear!—and a beta reader who cowers and flip-flops isn’t giving you opinions that are firm enough to be actionable.

They only praise you.
Everyone loves praise! And one of the things a good critique partner does is point out the strong sides of your novel. But if she’s pointing out the highlights and only the highlights, you’re not getting the critique out of her beta read…which is the whole point. You don’t want a yes-man (or -woman); you want a personable but honest assessment. Writer friends can be a double-edged sword here—they want you to succeed, and may not be able to tell it like it is (or couch it when they do—see above). Hiring a novel editor is an easy way to make sure you’re getting an impartial opinion.

They’re too prescriptive.
Move this line of dialogue to chapter three, cut six sentences here, make your protagonist’s hair red and change her first name to Sylvia, never use the word ‘said’ without an adverb (hint: don’t do that)…sound familiar? A good critique partner shows you problems, but doesn’t solve them FOR you. Just because they’re very specific about how they want you to fix these issues doesn’t mean you have to kick them to the curb: you can choose to ignore their solutions and just work on the problems the solutions are for. Or you can find another CP or beta reader to counterbalance. If they’re getting really nitty-gritty in their line edits, remember, you’re probably better off finding copy-editing mistakes yourself (or, of course, hiring an editor).

They’re your only beta.
Unless you’re writing a book for one person, you need more than one beta reader. Ideally, you can find two readers who like your genre and category of book, but have little else in common, so that you get the widest range of takes possible. If you hack and polish and tailor your book to one person’s specifications, it may still fall flat for the next reader…who might be an agent or editor. You don’t have to go crazy—you don’t want to be waiting on sixteen different readers—but at least two is a good start.

They’re getting personal.
Is the critique more about YOU than your novel? Are they make cutting, passive-aggressive comments about your publishing track record, career choices, or anything else that’s just not on the page? Even the critique they do give you probably isn’t going to be great. Don’t waste your time.

The canary is dead.
When it comes to accepting critiques of your writing, there are some things that are dead giveaways that the critique might not be up to par. If you’re getting comments with bad grammar, misspelled words (or character names), or sentences that don’t make logical sense…chances are that your beta reader didn’t give you a truly thorough read. Those little mistakes are like the canary in the coal mine: if your crit partner can’t spell on her own, why would you trust her to check the spelling in your book?

They’re writing checks their experience can’t cash.
If your critique partner is telling you with authority that your book won’t sell because the market is too crowded for YA fantasy, or that you can’t write romance from two POVs because editors are tired of reading it, odds are they don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s great to be up on trends in the publishing industry, but unless your critique partner has recent, relevant industry experience, those are just opinions—not facts. Don’t take career advice from someone who hasn’t worked on that side of the desk! Only a professional editor can accurately assess the conceptual potential of your book.

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.

Seven Subtle Copy-Editing Mistakes You Might Be Making

Copy editing your novel is meticulous, time-consuming, and far from easy. Some writers love getting into the nitty-gritty of their language use, others…not so much. But even if you’re planning to work with a professional editor, and especially if you’re about to start querying your novel, it’s an essential step in preparing your manuscript for a reader. Small, obvious mistakes will yank the reader out of the story and torch your credibility as a reliable, polished writer. In short, every writer should have a basic idea of how to copy edit a novel—and most do! Nevertheless, there are some basic copy editing mistakes that are far from evident at first blush—or even third or fourth blush. Make sure you’re copy editing thoroughly and keep an eye out for these subtle errors.re

Mixed metaphors
Metaphors make writing sing; they give it depth, color, and panache. But using a metaphor correctly means more than just picking something that sounds good—an attentive writer will make sure that her metaphors are logical, especially when combined with the rest of the sentence or paragraph. This means going deep on what a metaphor truly means, and not just what we’re accustomed to using it to mean. If your novel includes phrases like “weave together an ocean of options” or “weeding out the bad seeds” take a second look (you obviously can’t weave together an ocean, and how can you weed out a seed that hasn’t even bloomed? Think about it!) If you’re really unsure of whether you’re abusing metaphor, hire a professional editor to give your book an expert eye.

Illogical word order
Similarly, drafting a novel doesn’t necessarily mean you’re thinking all the way through the way you lay down information in a series. Elements in a list need to proceed in a logical order to make sense. For example, the sentence “we’ll give your book our insight, hard work, and attention” isn’t correct—you have to give the book attention before you work hard on it and provide insight. This is a truly common error (made even by some freelance editors) and can be hard to spot, but it’s worth fixing every time.

Confusing description
Writing character description or writing setting description is like filming a movie: the camera has to move logically from point A to point B. Too many jump cuts and you’re making it impossible for your reader to follow. Describing a character with “blue-streaked hair, red combat boots, a pink plaid skirt, and deep red lipstick” is confusing: you’re darting from her head to her feet to her hips to her head again. Work top down or bottom up; scan over the scene like a camera.

Commonly misused phrases
“A hare’s breath.” “For all intensive purposes.” “I should of known better.” “Sneak peak.” “Deep-seeded.” If any of these look familiar, your book could no doubt use another go-over. Even smart writers slip up on these—but that doesn’t mean these commonly misused phrases should make it into your final draft!

The Department of Redundancy Department
Phrases like “very unique,” “collaborate together,” “true fact,” “end result,” “final outcome,” “free gift,” and so on are needlessly wordy—the kiss of death for clear writing. Strike out any adjectives that don’t truly modify; only keep them if they change the original intended meaning of the word.

Stealth cliché
It’s easy to think of phrases like “pitch-black,” “blood-red,” “dead as a doornail,” and “thick as thieves” as almost entire words in themselves: we use them together so frequently that they’ve practically inseparable. But they should be separated: clichés like this cause the reader to speed up, glossing over rather than truly reading, and absorbing less of your story. Whenever possible, break up clichés with more unexpected descriptions to force your reader to pay attention. Good writing doesn’t have to be needlessly complicated, but it should be complex (and non-generic) enough to provide texture in the reading experience. Eliminating these tired phrases will go a long way.

Bad dialogue tags
It’s a truism of editing that the word “said” is far and away the best choice for 99% of dialogue. That said (hah), there are times when you may wish to opt for a slightly more descriptive dialogue tag. But besides making sure it isn’t distracting, you also need to ensure that it makes sense. A character can’t “hiss” a phrase with no S sound—think about it—and it’s impossible to “laugh” a line of dialogue. Be on the lookout for tags that don’t make sense—and again, when in doubt, swap in “said.”

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.

The Right and Wrong Ways to Write Dual Point of View

Writing a book in alternating point of view is becoming more and more common. While books in the third person have often switched between several narrators (lookin’ at you, Harry Potter), “alternating POV” or “dual POV” refers to two (or occasionally more) first person narrators who trade off chapters or scenes to tell a story. For authors writing a YA love story, this can be a popular choice, because it allows the reader to get into the mind of two characters at once on an intimate, personal, sensory level.

But just because writing in alternating POV has advantages doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. Like all stylistic choices, an author has to make it for a reason, and then follow through with the best execution possible. In short, there are good dual point of view books, and then there are…less good ones. Here’s how to know the different.

Right: There’s a reason to use two viewpoints.
Simple fact: writing craft matters. Stylistic decisions can’t be arbitrary. If one character is a relatively flat character, who won’t grow much over the course of the story and doesn’t have a lot of bearing on the action, is it really necessary for them to get a lion’s share of the narration? The best dual POV stories use the two narrators to tell two sides of a story (especially a crime or mystery—think Gone Girl), get inside the head of each character in a couple as they fall in love (like in Perfect Chemistry, Pushing the Limits, or He Said, She Said) or two characters who start in different geographical places and eventually come together (like Will Grayson, Will Grayson).

Wrong: Both viewpoints convey the same character growth, plot information, or thematic material.
Again, if the dual POV is just hitting the same notes again and again, it’s just dragging the pacing and taking twice as long to tell one story. Unless you’re going full-on Rashomon with your storytelling (which is a valid option!) you need to make sure your alternating POV doesn’t merely retell the same scene twice in a different voice.

Right: The voices sound—and look—distinct from one another.
Developing character voice is crucial in any book. Developing character voice in dual POV books is, well, twice as crucial. Good dual POV books have two narrators that sound entirely like themselves—and not like each other. They should use opposite (or contrasting) registers of speech, formality, slang, and so on. But consider, too, the amount of psychic distance in each: does one narrator wear her heart on her sleeve, while the other one keeps a tight lock on his emotions? Is one character up close and personal with sensory details, while the other is very much locked in intellectualizing and philosophy? Finally, consider the white space on the page. A very powerful way to distinguish between narrators is to utilize the psychological phenomena of white space on the page—a page with lots of line breaks and short paragraphs will subconsciously register as a very different voice than one with dense, wordy paragraphs.

Wrong: The voices are indistinguishable.
Once again, dual POV has to count! And if the experience of reading the two characters is the same for each, then there’s no reward for the reader. Give your book to an editor without the chapters named with narrators: can she tell which is which? If so, you’re doing great. If not…time to revise.

Right: The right character narrates the right scene.
Balancing which scenes get told by which characters is one of the trickiest parts of writing dual POV novels. Usually, one character shouldn’t dominate in terms of word count; you want an even split between the two. But well-executed dual POV not only balances the amount of “camera time” each narrator gets, but also makes sure that each scene is giving to the character whose POV will be most affecting in rendering the action. When it doubt, hand the narrative reins to the character who has the most to lose in that scene. That’s a surefire way to make sure that the emotional stakes for the narrator—and therefore the reader—will stay high.

Wrong: Some POV switches are just a “reset.”
If several scenes (or chapters) in a row are in the same character’s POV, it can be tempting to revise by inserting scenes in the other character’s POV in between to “break up” the stretches of the first character’s narration. But switching POVs just for its own sake doesn’t work; it just slows things down and waste the reader’s time. If you find yourself with lots of limp scenes in one character’s POV, you either have to find a way to insert some structure and dynamism to those scenes, or revisit whether dual POV is right for this story.

Right: Each character has their own world.
Setting might seem like the one thing that doesn’t change from character to character, but in fact it’s one of the most important things that does change. First person allows the reader to experience the setting through the eyes and experiences of a particular character…which means that each character who narrates will see the setting differently. A less-well-off character will notice the shabbiness of his bedroom and feel ashamed, while his wealthy co-narrator may only notice that he’s got a lot of basketball posters in there. Dual POV is always subjective, and setting is no exception.

Wrong: The writer gets no outside input.
Writing two first-person narrators in a single novel is essentially writing two entire stories—all the character growth, plot, pacing, and prose has to be there times two. While drafting may come easily, it can be easy to lose steam and hard to stay motivated while revising, since you’re so close to the material that it can be hard to tell whether or not you’ve broken any of these rules. You’ll really need someone who isn’t you—who doesn’t know these characters as intimately as you do—to gauge whether or not you’re pulling it off. An outside editor can really help bring a professional and impartial eye to your work, and make your dual POV shine.

 

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.

Ten Ways to Title Your Novel

Even if you haven’t finished writing a novel yet, it’s never too early to think about how to title the book. The right title can even inform your writing and help you come up with new ideas for your book as you draft. And, as someone famously said, the title may be the only words of your writing than anyone ever reads—so choose wisely!

In short, brainstorming book titles can be a fun and worthwhile exercise, and give you something to call your book beyond “WIP” or “this novel is totally going to be awesome.” Here are ten strategies you can use to start brainstorming.

1. Your protagonist’s name
This approach to titling a novel is straightforward and even a bit old-fashioned: think of Jane Eyre, Tristram Shandy, or Ethan Frome. But you can also find a fresh new spin on your protagonist’s name by adding an object or an action, like Bridget Jones’s Diary or Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. These titles work well if you’re writing a character-driven book, because, well, they put the character front and center. If your book spans several years of the character’s life, or is even an entire fictional biography or family saga, this may be a good approach for you.

2. An important place in the book
Although this method for titling a book is also a bit vintage-sounding (think Wuthering Heights), it’s also cropping up in more contemporary works (think Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children or The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls). A place-name title implies a kind of class and caché, so it’s a good choice for books that are either literary or high-concept. (Writing a fantasy novel? Fantasy language is important, and so are place names, so give this one a try.)

3. A resonant, unusual phrase from your book
This kind of title works well for literary works that have exquisite and precise language use. The phrase you use as the title should grow in meaning and resonance throughout the book—think of Tell the Wolves I’m Home—so don’t necessarily go fishing for it; if your book is suited to this kind of title, you probably already have a phrase leaping out to use.

4. The title of a song that inspires you
Generally speaking, song titles aren’t copyrightable (but song lyrics are, so don’t put those in the book). Kristan Higgins’s book Fools Rush In, for example, is named after a song that is both a romantic classic and suggests the content of the book: it’s funny, but romantic. If a particular song has inspired your book, consider snagging the title and sharing it.

5. A line from Shakespeare, an epic poem, a religious text, etc. that evokes the sense of your book
If you’re writing a literary fiction novel, this title method could lend your book an elevated status by association with one of the greats. All kinds of novels use snippets of well-known texts as titles: Brave New World, The Sound and the Fury, Band of Brothers, The Grapes of Wrath, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises…the list goes on. You can search the internet for phrases that fit with your book—just make sure it isn’t already a book title!

6. X & Y titles
Two elements united with a simple “and” can make a lovely title: think Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility. The two words don’t have to start with the same letter or sound, of course, but it does add another level of poetry to the phrase. Don’t pick two words for your title that are similar; go with two that are linked, but different, to create contrast and intrigue in the mind of the reader.

7. Three-Element Title
The next step up from the two-word title is the three-word title. Often called “the rule of threes” in copywriting, this structure uses two ordinary list items, then one unexpected and/or longer list item that breaks the pattern: look at Eat, Pray, Love; Love, Lies, and Lemon Pies; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Sex, Lies, and Videotape; and Guns, Germs, and Steel.

8. The _________’s Daughter
It’s well-documented that “wife” and “daughter” titles are not only cliché, but downright sexist. However! They still trend, and they still create titles for women’s fiction that promise the reader a certain kind of reader experience. You can swap in “apprentice” or “assistant” for “daughter” for a stronger option: think The Beekeeper’s Apprentice or The Magician’s Assistant.

9. A pun about the content of your book
Pun titles work especially well if you’re titling a mystery novel: think High Strung or Knot What You Think. If you’re writing a cozy mystery series, your setting or protagonist will probably lend themselves to great puns that you can use to title a whole host of books.

10. A single word title
Single word titles are evocative and spare in the way that only a single word can be. Because of their relative brevity, they work well if you’re wondering how to title a thriller novel, mystery novel, or literary fiction novel. Try an adjective, a noun, and a verb that all sum up the action, feeling, or character of your book, and play around to find the one that’s most appropriate. One caveat: since it’s just a single word, the odds that someone’s already snagged that title are pretty high (of course, two books can have the same title, but it will hurt your book’s SEO and searchability).

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Writing a romance kissing scene

How to Write A Heart-Stopping Kissing Scene

There comes a time in writing a romance novel (even writing a YA romance!) when it’s time to, well, kiss and tell. Even if you’re writing a romance with no clichés, a first kiss is pretty much a given. Your characters are dying for it, your readers are definitely dying for it, and all the action of the story has built to this one moment. So how do you write a love scene that starts out with a kiss—and delivers everything the reader wants?

Build to the kiss to create romantic tension.
By the time your characters lock lips, they should be desperate to do it—whether they’re conscious of it or not. Each scene that precedes the kissing scene should build on the characters’ budding desire for each other, and the subtler, the better. Ground your character’s reactions in the physical (racing heart, fluttery stomach, hyperawareness of the other person’s presence) so that your reader knows they want to kiss the romantic interest long before they do.

Pick a good scene location.
Maybe your story naturally lends itself to the kiss occurring in a particular place—writing a fantasy romance with a long voyage? They’ll probably just have to kiss on the windswept face of a mountain—but if you can be flexible, try to change it up. Where’s a location that both characters feel comfortable? How about uncomfortable? What about a place they can’t stay in for long—tension! Or a place that’s just plain hilarious.

Throw a curveball.
Similarly, maybe there’s a reason your characters get to—or have to!—kiss that isn’t motivated by their own desires for each other. A school play, a need to create a distraction, a dare, a few too many beers…start with a convoluted premise and let the feelings play out. The suddenness of the kiss will shock the reader…and then delight her.

Don’t get too mushy.
“Is this a kissing book?” Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to get goopy with your language. Keep your prose lean and your adjectives to a minimum; forget all the “limpid pools” and “soft as rose petals” and let your character’s authentic voice shine through. If they’re sarcastic, let them be a little funny and wry. If they’re angsty, let them struggle with the onslaught of emotion. Temper the romance with reality to keep it grounded and authentic.

Try not to name too many feelings.
Kissing is an overwhelming act of physical affection—so much so that people don’t tend to verbalize their emotions while they’re doing it. A character isn’t going to think “I’m so happy!” “This must be love!” when she’s kissing that cutie for the first time, so don’t take that shortcut for the sake of telegraphing to the reader what she’s feeling. Instead…

Use all your senses.
The great part about kissing (ahem) is that it involves so many physical sensations—touch, of course, but also (ahem again) taste. But don’t limit yourself to the obvious: consider what your characters are hearing, what their kissing partner looks and smells like, and generally what’s going on around them. How does the air feel around them? The couch they’re sitting on? THe smell of the sweaty house party? Don’t editorialize the kissing scene with too many labels; just notice every sensation they’re feeling and transcribe it to the page.

Leave your reader wanting more.
The first kiss isn’t the time for eternal promises. Even if this couple is going to get the happily ever after they deserve, the first kiss isn’t when they figure that out. Ending your first kiss scene with a pledge of fidelity isn’t just moving too fast—it’s boring. Without the question of whether the couple will end up together hanging in the air, the romance loses all its tension. Writing a good romantic scene at this stage in the manuscript (unless the first kiss is literally the last scene, or close to) means giving your reader a reason to keep going—and the only way to do that is to withhold the resolution.

Seven Blog Post Ideas to Promote Your New Novel

Whether you’re traditionally published or an indie author, doing guest posts on blogs aimed at readers and writers is an excellent way to get the word out about a new release. But it’s easy to write one or two posts and then feel like you’re repeating yourself. Want some fresh ideas to hook in readers about your latest book? Here are some post ideas to get you going.

A Playlist
Do you listen to music while you work? Did a particular artist or soundtrack inspire your writing? Great! Throw together a shareable song list (in Spotify, for example) and write a few paragraphs about what the music means to you.

Character interview
Sit down with your main character and interview her as if you’re writing a newspaper article. It could be a straight-up profile of her as a person, or an interview more related to the plot of the book—whatever brings out her originality.

In-world newspaper article
Speaking of newspaper articles, you could also play journalist and write a piece from the perspective of a publication within the world of your story. What’s going on in there? Can you include some weather reports? Sports scores? Quotes from colorful characters on the street?

Draft comparison
For a more writing-focused blog, talking about your writing process can be a huge draw. But instead of trying to scare up some material about your “inspiration” (who can ever pin that down, anyway?) try something more concrete: pull out two copies of the same scene, one from an early draft and one from the final, and discuss what changed. You can either quote directly from the lines themselves and analyze word choice, or just give a bird’s-eye view of all the tracked changes and/or margin notes you made in the process. If you worked with an editor, you can have them chime in, too, to discuss their end of the process.

Cover process
Similarly, readers love peeking behind the curtain and seeing how covers get made. If you worked with the designer yourself, you can go in-depth about the discussions you two had, how you selected color scheme and artwork, and how you tweaked the design to get to the final product. If your publisher made the cover for you, you can ask for some in-process covers (if they’re okay sharing them) to discuss, or else just talk about why the cover works for you and how it represents your novel.

Title process
Finally, titles can and often do change—but you’d be surprised how few readers know that. Talk about what went into your original title, what it means to the book, why it changed (if it did change), and how you hope it’ll reflect the book to readers.

Surprising Things I Learned
A grab-bag post idea for when you’re coming up a little empty, this topic allows you to frame anything that you encountered on your publishing journey in a neat format. Make a list (like a Top 5) or just ruminate in paragraphs about all the unexpected lessons that cropped up along the way, and don’t hesitate to show some personality.

How to Write A YA Romance Without Cliché

YA fans are some of the most dedicated readers on the planet: they buy tons of books, tear through them voraciously, and worship the couples that earn their adoration. But write flat, stereotypical, or hackneyed, and these readers will not be pleased. The good news is, with a little smart revision (and not too much revision), you can make sparks fly. Whether you’re writing a fairy tale retelling, fantasy, or contemporary, here are some strategies for writing a romance that’s truly one in a million.

Cool it with all the physical description.
Do we need to know that your heroine has auburn hair, full lips, a sprinkling of freckles, and long eyelashes? Writing extensive paragraphs describing your characters is—no pun intended—a turn-off. It means you’re not trusting the reader to picture the characters herself, it slows down the action, and it weakens the writing overall. Use description as a springboard to establish the voice of the POV character, but don’t overdo it.

Avoid the oh-so-quirky factor.
There’s nothing wrong with the adorkable character: it works for Zooey Deschanel, and it works for many stories on the page. But there are some too-precious elements that can be huge turnoffs, not just to readers, but to agents, editors, and other industry pros, too. These include, but are not limited to: wearing Chuck Taylors, “half-smiling,” green eyes, curly hair, and anything that makes a heroine “not like other girls.” These things may seem original, but in fact, they’re tired and insufferable. Instead, branch out by writing heroes and heroines who don’t fit in the conventional modes of “beauty” and would normally be overlooked; that’s a real opportunity for nonconformism.

Make your characters imperfect.
This does not mean giving them small but forgivable charming qualities (see above), but instead, really digging deep and making them human. Write characters that are occasionally sloppy, mean, selfish, lazy, or rude. They need to feel like people—and teenage people at that. It’s okay to let them be cranky once in a while. Just so long as they don’t become unredeemable misanthropes, readers will appreciate the candor and authenticity of characters that gripe and flounder—rather than sail effortlessly—through life.

Dial back the physical beauty.
Similarly, don’t make your characters paragons of physical attractiveness. Not only does it reinforce cultural stereotypes of what’s “beautiful” and “acceptable” (e.g., girls who are white, thin, and able-bodied), but it makes your characters’ personalities worth less. If the love interest only likes your character for their looks, why should the reader assume there’s anything more to him or her?

NO instalove.
It’s what it sounds like: two characters that fall, well, instantly in love. Attraction takes time, and is confusing, and is often hidden under layers of competing feelings like envy, anxiety, or dislike. Don’t have your characters lay their feelings bare too early—it robs your story of momentum, and gives reviewers an easy slip-up to pounce on.

Cut out the tired phrasing.
“I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.” “I melted at his touch.” “I shattered into a thousand pieces.” This bordering-on-purple prose will irk a reader at best, and at worst, make her throw the book across the room. Find unique ways to express your character’s inner monologue, and don’t rely on what YA is “supposed to sound like.” Some of the most romantic, unexpectedly sexy moments in romance use words and phrases that aren’t anywhere near the stock vocabulary of love and romance. Be creative.

Make it awkward.
Do you remember your first teenage kiss? Yeah, hardly a world-ending act of timeless romance. Let your characters miss, clack teeth, elbow each other in the ribs, and not know how to take off a bra. It’s not only genuine; it’s adorable.

Hold back on the HEA.
Many real-life lifelong romances blossom in high school, which is fantastic, adorable, and enviable! But let’s be real: most teen couples are not destined to be together forever and ever. And that’s okay! That doesn’t make the relationship any less powerful—in fact, it increases the intensity because the experience will end up being so formative for the characters. Don’t feel that you need to tack on some hint (or explicit epilogue—looking at you, JKR) that the characters all end up coupled forever until the end of time. Unlike adult romance, where a happily-ever-after is de rigueur, it’s okay to end a YA romance on a note of “happy for now,” or even of total uncertainty.

 

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.

What Agent Responses Really Mean

Querying is almost like online dating: as soon as a writer gets any indication of interest from an agent, they gather their writer friends and begin to pick apart every possible inference from the message.

Is she going to read more?

Does he like my writing?

Am I about to get the call?

It’s hard to tell, and every agent is different—plus, as with all parts of publishing, there are no guarantees. Everything is subjective! If you’re been writing strong queries and getting responses that stump you, here are some guidelines to decoding agent-speak.

If they’re responding to your query

I’m intrigued by this. Can you send me the partial manuscript?
It’s what it sounds like: they wanna read it. Some agents want to commit to a smaller chunk at first, just to get a feel for the story and the voice. Does it mean they think your story has less potential if they only want a partial? Not necessarily! It could just be a time saving method.

Can you include a synopsis?
Agh, the synopsis: the nightmare of many writers. Whether it’s 2 pages or 10 (or anywhere in between), this kind of plot summary can be a drag to write. So why do agents want them? Before they dive into a manuscript, they may want to make sure the bird’s-eye view of the plot is sound and logical. If your ending is muddled or your plot goes off the rails, you may be looking at a no—so don’t submit a fixer-upper and hope for the best! Make sure your plot is solid, and your synopsis reflects that.

Can you send me the full?
Great news! They want to read. This means you’ve broken through to the next step: no more, no less. Celebrate and then get moving on your next idea. Try not to dwell!

This sounds like a wonderful idea, but…
…it’s too close to something on my list.
The downside of hyper-specific manuscript wish lists is that agents may get flooded with a certain type of book, and by the time your query reaches them they may already have signed a client with a similar project. When they’re pitching editors, they want each project to stand on its own merits, so taking on too many Robin Hood-inspired fantasies, say, will overload their submission list. It’s not a reflection of your book!

…the market for this is too saturated right now.
Trends wax and wane, and agents are always paying attention to industry fluctuations. If they say this, it’s because they’ve spotted a lot of books in your niche getting picked up, making editors much less likely to want more. (Bear in mind that agents see deals reported years in advance of books hitting the shelves, so they can see trends that haven’t reached readers yet.) It’s discouraging news to get, but the upside is that it has nothing to do with the quality of your book, and another agent may totally disagree.

…it’s not to my taste.
Taste is taste. If an agent isn’t feeling your book, nothing can make her change her mind. You want an agent that’s passionate about your work, not meh on it. So move on to the next!

Dear author, thank you for your query…
A form rejection stings, no doubt about it. But agents are busy and can’t respond to everything personally. If they get 50 queries a day and take two minutes to respond to each, that’s almost two hours of (unpaid) work every day! (Remember, agents are paid on commission, so only selling rights to books makes them money.) There’s no point in parsing the phrasing of a form rejection; they’re standardized by the agent and simply don’t contain meaning specific to your book. Throw another iron in the fire and don’t look back.

If they’re responding to your manuscript

I loved the voice/characters/etc. but had concerns about the plot/pacing/etc.
Concrete feedback is good. Whether you end up revising for this agent, or just in general, you’ve gotten specific criticism in where your book could be better from an industry professional—even if it’s a rejection, that’s a compliment to your work. Sometimes the agent will leave the door open for a “revise and resubmit,” or “R&R,” which means they want you to do just that: fix the issues and send it back. You don’t have to do this; if you disagree with the feedback, there’s no obligation to follow the advice just for the sake of maybe landing an agent. Remember, you want an agent who’s passionate about your work, not trying to change it beyond recognition. If it’s ultimately a rejection, though, don’t push back. A no is a no, and they’ve already done you the favor of sharing some thoughts. A polite thank you is all you need to send back.

I just didn’t connect with it.
The dreaded missed connection. What does it mean? It’s hard to make general statements for ALL agents, but in many cases this means the agent loved the concept of your story (based on your query), but for them, the execution fell flat. This is often a case of a weak, less than compelling voice. If you’re getting consistent non-connects, it may be time to have an editor look at your work.

This one isn’t right for me, but please resubmit in the future.
The mixed bag. A personal invitation to query in the future is a big positive, so try not to dwell on the rejection and get to work on your next project. If you do re-query, refresh the agent’s memory about your first submission when you submit.

If you have no response yet

Agents are busy. At any given time they’re revising with clients, preparing submissions lists, meeting with editors, negotiating contracts, chasing payments, selling foreign or audio rights, attending a conference, or, yes, reading queries. So they simply haven’t gotten to your query yet! Remember, agents are only paid with their author clients are paid; they prioritize client work to keep the lights on. No response yet is just that: no response. If an agent says a certain number of weeks with no answer is a rejection, then it’s a rejection. If not, keep waiting and try not to stress!

 

Want a free eBook guide to querying? The Coffee Break Query Letter is our free workbook for brainstorming, drafting, and polishing a killer query.