Posted On February 19, 2014 by Print This Post

Loucinda McGary presents: The Basic Ingredients – The 4 elements you need in addition to the HEA to write good romance.

Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary are two romances set in different time periods with heroines who are polar opposites. But like all romances, they share the same basic components. Author Loucinda McGary discusses the four necessary elements of writing romance. Leave a comment to enter the drawing for one of Loucinda’s ebooks. 

Welcome back, Loucinda!

Thanks to Jennifer and everyone here at Romance U for inviting me to blog today. I always love to hang out here and talk about writing.

As the saying goes, “You have to break eggs to make a cake” and the same is true with writing a romance novel. Just like you wouldn’t try to cook a new dish without some kind of recipe, you need a guide when you sit down to write a book.

No matter what sub-genre, the framework for all romances is the same:

  • A couple meets—They might meet near the beginning of the book or their meeting could be long before the opening of the book.
  • They fall in love—Again, this might happen before the book starts or during the course of the story.
  • They encounter and must overcome one or more obstacles—These obstacles can be physical, emotional or a combination of both.
  • Once the obstacles are overcome the couple has earned their Happily Ever After (HEA). 

Clearly this framework can accommodate an almost infinite number of variations, even in the happy ending. HEA does not always equal marriage. However, there does need to be an indication that the hero and heroine will be together after the story ends (Happily for Now).

So what else besides the HEA do romance novels need? I think there are four other basic ingredients:

  • Three dimensional characters with believable goals and motivations — Not everyone has to be beautiful or handsome (in spite of what most covers show). In fact, many romance novels have a less-than-perfect hero or heroine with any number of “undesirable” traits. Those traits can be physical – the hero in my romantic suspense novel Dead Girl In a Green Dress was in a serious car accident that left him with a permanent limp. Or psychological – my heroine in High Seas Deception suffers from PTSD after accidently shooting a bystander when she was a police officer.  The most important thing is for the reader to identify with the characters, and feel sympathy and/or empathy for them. 
  • Conflict – Again it needs to be believable within the context of the story. Conflict can be internal, external or a combination of both. Stakes need to be high and they need to escalate as the story progresses. In His Reluctant Bodyguard, my heroine starts out merely worried about her job, to concern for the hero’s safety, to the realization that both their lives and the lives of all those around them are in danger. 
  • Accuracy – Obviously characters in historical stories can’t use items that haven’t been invented or speak in modern slang, but accuracy doesn’t just apply to historical romances. In paranormal and fantasy stories, things that happen must make sense within the context of the world created – no bringing in a flying horse to save the hero or heroine if one hasn’t been mentioned earlier.  Even in contemporary romance, it is crucial to get facts correct. A few years ago, I was reading a contemporary romance by an author who obviously was not from the west coast. Around the third chapter, the hero jumps on his motorcycle and takes a long ride west of Los Angeles. I hope that bike had water wings, but I don’t know because after that glaring error, I stopped reading. 
  • Finally, compelling or unique plot or storyline – The simple ‘Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl back’ needs an unusual or distinctive twist. In His Reluctant Bodyguard, the heroine is charged with protecting the former NFL player hero. And in my current work-in-progress, The Mozart Murders, my heroine is a police detective and the hero is a classical musician. 

So now you have your formula and your basic ingredients. Time to break some eggs and start cooking – I mean writing!

Thank you again for hosting me today! I’d like to give two free electronic copies of one of my romantic suspense novels, High Seas Deception, His Reluctant Bodyguard, or Dead Girl in a Green Dress to randomly chosen commenters.

What other factors are necessary to write an engaging story?  

Please join us on Friday, February 21st, when historical fiction author Jennifer Robson talks about how the Internet has transformed her research methods.  


Loucinda McGaryBio: A Golden Heart finalist, Loucinda McGary is the author of three contemporary romantic suspense novels, The Wild SightThe Treasures of Venice and The Wild Irish Sea. Her later books, The Sidhe Prince, High Seas Deception, His Reluctant Bodyguard, and Dead Girl in a Green Dress are available on Amazon, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.

Follow Loucinda on Twitter and Facebook.

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14 Responses to “Loucinda McGary presents: The Basic Ingredients – The 4 elements you need in addition to the HEA to write good romance.”

  1. Morning Loucinda!

    I do like my books to have an HEA! =) One thing I have a hard time understanding is conflict and making it escalate while the entire external conflict is escalating as well. =) Any hints on how to keep one from overwhelming the other? Or SHOULD one be stronger than the other?

    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | February 19, 2014, 10:05 am
    • Hi Carrie and thanks for hosting me today!

      I think the kind of conflict and how strong it is with vary depending on what sub-genre of romance you’re writing. Since I write romantic suspense, my external conflict is probably going to be stronger than internal. If you’re writing contemporary romance, the opposite may be true.

      It can be a balancing act, certainly. Just keep in mind what your characters have to lose, then make it more and more likely that “the worst” will happen. 😉 Sometimes it takes a few rounds of revision to hit the right balance.

      Happy writing!

      Posted by Loucinda McGary | February 19, 2014, 12:28 pm
  2. I think you’re spot on about three dimensional characters. I hate reading cookie-cutter people, the Ken and Barbie romances. My favorite romances (my favorite stories in any genre, actually) involve people who come to life, who step off the page. And they only do that when they have true personalities. Great post.

    Posted by Staci Troilo | February 19, 2014, 12:14 pm
  3. Thank you, Staci!

    Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Creating those characters “who step off the page” as you so brilliantly put it, can be difficult. Often, we writers know our characters so well that we forget to “show” their many facets to readers. Sometimes (if we are really lucky), our characters have such strong personalities that we can barely contain them. This is one of the joys of writing.


    Posted by Loucinda McGary | February 19, 2014, 12:33 pm
  4. Thank you Jennifer, Carrie, and the other wonderful members and readers here at Romance U for having me as a guest today!

    I love to talk about writing and welcome any and all questions. I’ll be checking back throughout the day and will answer everything to the best of my ability.

    Happy reading and writing!

    Posted by Loucinda McGary | February 19, 2014, 12:37 pm
  5. Hi Aunty Cindy:

    So what you’re telling me is that there’s only water west of LA? Who knew? Does that show up on a map somewhere?

    Sorry, sarcasm is my go to mechanism.

    All good points and I certainly agree that if there is no emotional attachment to the characters, what’s the point of wasting time reading? I just finished judging my Golden Heart entries, and some of them definitely were lacking in that department.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Posted by Patricia | February 19, 2014, 1:03 pm
  6. LOL Patricia!
    I wondered if the author, or any of her editors ever looked at a map of the US. 😉

    Judging contests can be a real eye-opener. I recommend everyone do it at least once.

    Thanks for dropping by and Happy Writing!


    Posted by Loucinda McGary | February 19, 2014, 1:14 pm
  7. Hi Loucinda,

    Sure, it’s fiction, but accuracy is so important. A Picasso wouldn’t hang over the mantel in a regency romance nor would a house during that period have gas lamps.

    Empathy/sympathy is the clincher for me. If I can’t relate to the H/H, then it’s a lost cause. That’s why the intro to the characters in the first chapter is so crucial.

    Great to have you back!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | February 19, 2014, 1:36 pm
  8. Hey Jen,
    Thanks sooo much for inviting me back! I love being a guest here at RU. 🙂

    I’m always amused by newbie writers who say, “Oh, I’ll just write contemporary (or fantasy) so I don’t have to do any research.” There are regional difference (especially in dialogue) that writers need to portray accurately. And even in a fantasy/paranormal world things must be consistent within the context of that world. No bringing in a flying horse to save the day if you haven’t mentioned that they exist!

    Plus, I agree with you about the main characters. If I can’t relate to them right away, I’m not going to finish the story. 😛

    Happy writing!

    Posted by Loucinda McGary | February 19, 2014, 2:46 pm
  9. Hi Loucinda,

    I’m reading contest entries now. Some very good ideas out there. I like a character have a problem and have the other help them work through it.

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | February 19, 2014, 2:48 pm
  10. Hi Mary Jo!
    Appreciate you taking time to drop by. I think judging contest entries really gets you to focus on what works and what doesn’t in a particular situation. The results can sometimes be quite surprising. 😉

    I like your scenario of one character helping the other solve a problem. Or maybe a character steadfastly refusing the help of another. That can be interesting too.


    Posted by Loucinda McGary | February 19, 2014, 5:42 pm
  11. Loucinda – You make it sound so easy! I’ve bookmarked this, and hopefully I’ll be able to put it to good use as I tackle revisions. Thank you!!!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | February 20, 2014, 1:06 am
  12. Thanks for stopping by, Candy!

    You are sooo right about characters. If I can’t relate to them, feel some sympathy for them and their situation, then I’m not going to finish the story. 🙁

    Hope you find some great new authors to read!


    Posted by Loucinda McGary | February 20, 2014, 12:25 pm
  13. Hi Becke!

    Appreciate you stopping by to comment. Did I make it sound easy? It never feels that way when I’m in the midst of writing a new Work-In-Progress, like I am right now. 😉

    Good luck with those revisions!


    Posted by Loucinda McGary | February 20, 2014, 12:26 pm

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