Posted On July 29, 2016 by Print This Post

So You Want to Write a Military Romance by Heatherly Bell

Why are military romances so popular? Author Heatherly Bell joins us today with a discussion on writing military heroes and the various research methods employed by military romance authors.

Great to have you back, Heather! 

Hi everyone, and thank you for having me back to Romance University.

As a romance writer, I’m forever on a quest for learning and love to share what I’ve learned about the industry.

I did not set out to write a military romance. However, the heroes in the latest two books of my small town Starlight Hill contemporary romance series, Unforgettable You and Forever with You, just happened to be former military. One of them an Army sniper turned firefighter, and the other a Marine turned chief of police. These books are, by far, the most popular books in the entire series.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Earlier this year I sold a series on Air Force heroes to Harlequin (Breaking Emily’s Rules – Heroes of Fortune Valley releases in Heatherly BellFebruary 2017) and I became curious about military romance. I decided to do a little more research, because I’d fallen into a romance niche that I love.

What is military romance, and exactly what defines it?

For the answers, I decided to go straight to the experts in the field: New York Times and National bestselling authors Marina Adair, Sharon Hamilton, Cora Seton, and Jessica Scott. These lovely and giving authors took the time to answer my questions about writing a successful military romance.

The definition

While there may be some disagreement over whether either hero or heroine must be active military for a book to be considered a true military romance, one thing is clear: whether former military or active, the military background must affect who they are as characters, create conflict, and move the plot forward.

Cora Seton, author of the Email Order Bride series, takes a wide-lens look at the genre. “In most of mine, the action occurs after a hero/heroine has left the service and is transitioning back to civilian life. I love that moment, because it’s a moment of huge change and can include a redefinition of a character’s motivations and goals.”

So true!

On the other hand, Jessica Scott, author of the Homefront series, writes about heroes that are active military, especially due to her unique perspective (more on that later).

Why write military romance?

From my perspective? Let’s face it, the military man is the perfect Alpha hero. Readers can’t get enough of these captivating stories centering on real life heroes and heroines. As Marina Adair says (and I wholeheartedly agree), “What is sexier than a former special forces bad ass who is capable and ready…for anything?”

Sharon Hamilton, author of the SEAL Brotherhood series, actually has a close family member who is a Navy SEAL. “Seeing the making of a SEAL right before my eyes gave me a great perspective to start with. Then researching and asking questions of active or former SEALs gave me all the pieces I needed to weave into my stories.”

Jessica Scott was an officer in candidate school when she read Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series, and decided she wanted to focus her writing on the everyday soldier. “…not Special Forces, not Navy SEALs but the everyday men and women who I have the honor of serving with.”

Getting it Right

When I wrote Forever with You about a gung-ho Marine hero, I realized there were going to be a few back story scenes that included life as an active duty Marine. Most of them were from the perspective of a young military wife who is constantly left behind, and the husband who tries to balance love for country and service with love for his wife. It was important to get it right. What about leave time and dwell time? How many tours and how long was realistic? I turned to my best resource on the subject of all things military: my good friend Rose, a military wife, mother and sister-in-law of both the Army and Marine branches.

It turns out that all of the authors I interviewed are either in the military (Jessica), and have friends and relatives who have either been in the military or still are. But there are many other ways to do your research. Cora reads biographies of military men to get into their mindset. Sharon does as well, and also watches films in a frame by frame analysis. And Marina talks to military vets.

When it comes to PTSD, an oft-used character issue and obstacle to happily ever after, Jessica reminds us how important it is to get this right. “I would love to see people do better research before they start writing about combat induced PTSD. There’s so many bad caricatures about PTSD—do your homework and get it right. Don’t cheapen the real sacrifices of our brothers and sisters by trivializing PTSD and the real challenges people who live with it face.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Pick Your Branch

Without a doubt, most military romance centers on SEALs and other special force’s teams. Both Sharon and Cora have a popular series based on SEALs heroes, and for good reason. They are immensely popular with readers.

As Sharon says, “I am in awe of the men who are SEALs, and the women who are strong enough to love them. I believe they are America’s finest and will always portray them in this fashion. We know real life is different than my fantasy, but I will always write them as the hero, a common man who can do uncommon things.”

Cora likes to give attention to all of the military branches, and Marina writes about former Army and Marine special forces because those are her connections. Jessica writes what she knows, and interestingly enough, she strives to make her real life ‘wild’ stories more believable. As we all know, unlike true life, fiction has to make sense.

I chose to write about a service branch that is not quite as prevalent in military romance, the Air Force. But hey, can I help it that I find pilots sexy? Since my books are set as the men are adjusting back into civilian life, my research has involved interviewing current pilots at my small south county airport. I also have an author friend and CP, Lee Kilraine, whose husband is a former AF pilot. She’s had him answer many questions for me, and I received a short history lesson behind the term ‘Mach’ speed.

Some may not picture the Air Force hero as the sexiest of Alpha males, but come February I hope I will prove otherwise.

In the meantime, I hope you’ve learned from the experts what it takes to write a successful military romance.

Now, go forth and write all the words!

Do you have a military romance in the works? Any tips you can share with us? 


HeatherlyBell_ForeverWithYou2500FOREVER WITH YOU – Starlight Hill Series Book 5

She forgot something on the way to the courthouse …

Sophia Abella has a good life, even if she is a little stuck. Not quite single, not quite married, she keeps men at a safe distance. But when her ex-Marine husband returns to town and takes the job of chief of police, it might finally be time to get that paper work done once and for all. After all, most of her family already thinks she’s divorced.

They’re not actually, in the fullest sense of the word … divorced.

Years ago, Riley Jacobs chose the Marine Corps over his wife and has regretted his decision every day since. But once a Marine always a Marine, and he’ll use every tactical advantage he has to get Sophia to realize that she’s the only one for him.

Love and marriage … take two


Bio: When early onset stage fright dashed dreams of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status, Heatherly Bell tackled her first book in 2010, and now the people and voices that occupy her head refuse to leave. She no longer sings unless you count randomly bursting into song to annoy her children (and the dogs).

If she were not an author, Heatherly maintains she would be a detective and a criminal’s worst nightmare. She watches Dateline every Friday night and takes notes.

Heatherly lives in northern California with her family, including two beagles, one who can say ‘hello’ and the other who can feel a pea through several pillows. To learn more about Heatherly, visit her website and sign up for her newsletter, or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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20 Responses to “So You Want to Write a Military Romance by Heatherly Bell”

  1. I have a couple of sci fi romances where the main characters are in the military, an imaginary future service called the Terran Federation Guard. A lot of the action takes place on a military base on the alien planet, Aleyne. The first novel in the series is a YA sci fi where the main character’s father is in this service, newly posted to the base.

    Not coincidentally, my middle son was in army intelligence at the time, posted to Afghanistan, and the area around the base is desert.

    One of the sources of conflict in the adult novels is unreasonable orders that the main characters have to decide what to do.
    I picked my son’s brains each time I wrote one of these novels about existing military procedure, since I wanted my Guard to be as realistic as possible.

    My father also served in the army during World War II, and I ended up using some of the stories he told in the books as well.

    Posted by Margaret Fieland | July 29, 2016, 8:37 am
  2. Thanks for having me here today!

    Posted by Heatherly Bell | July 29, 2016, 11:55 am
  3. Great article! I too love the military hero…alpha male at its best!
    Looking forward to your new series!

    Posted by Brenda | July 29, 2016, 12:17 pm
  4. Hi Heatherly,

    I’ve written a couple of military heroes. Some of my research involved talking to friends who’ve served and reading blogs written by servicemen deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think each branch of the service has its own on-line newspaper, too.

    On a soldier’s transition back to civilian life and PTSD issues…this topic is something writers can draw upon for the sake of character development, but it’s reality for thousands of veterans, and something that needs to be handled with care.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 29, 2016, 2:27 pm
  5. Great article, Heatherly. Looking forward to Forever With You. I love second chance romances.

    I didn’t set out to write military heroes but they all ended up either active duty or former. One of my local chapter friends has a son who is a former Marine and both she and her son have generously answered my questions.

    Posted by Carrie Nichols | July 29, 2016, 5:12 pm
  6. Great article, Heatherly, and great advice.

    I actually never thought I’d write military romance, because as a military historian it was the day job for so long I wanted to escape. But you can’t run from your first love and soon I had to give the SEALs and Marines in my head their stories. (They can be quite persuasive) 🙂 Along with the day job came a slew of sources and working around Marines and Sailors, I’d been researching all along and didn’t know it. 🙂

    Thanks for the article.

    Posted by Kirsten Lynn | July 29, 2016, 11:09 pm
  7. Thanks for the shout out Heatherly. Nice article and great job bringing together some key fundamentals of writing military romance. We all come to it from a different place, and thank goodness there are enough readers to go around. Fingers crossed this continues to be a marketable genre, but I think it’s here to stay for awhile. Suz Brockman and Marliss Melton will both tell you that they were once told by their publishers it was dead. Not So!

    Posted by Sharon Hamilton | July 31, 2016, 10:49 am
  8. Hi heavenly I’m an avid reader of military romances. I like all the different forces. I am married to a former British soldier, so I know the ups and downs of being apart and then the reunions. It’s nice to read what’s going on with the different heroes and their heroines

    Posted by Julie | July 31, 2016, 12:14 pm
    • Julie, my hat is off to you and all military spouses. The dedication in Forever with You reads:

      “With deep admiration and thanks to the wives of enlisted men everywhere, and to the wives of law enforcement officers.”

      You’re the unsung heroines! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Posted by Heatherly Bell | July 31, 2016, 2:38 pm
  9. I am an AF vet, AF spouse, and romance book blogger. I am happy to promote your books about AF heroes! My advice for writing military characters? Follow on Twitter: DOD, all five services, the major joint commands, NSA, DIA, CIA, FBI, and NGA (Nat Geo Spacial Intel). The agencies have a pulse on what is happening in operations and its people, including families and recovery.

    Posted by Kim Lowe | July 31, 2016, 12:50 pm
  10. I love it that you made the former service member into a fire fighter!

    There are so many former service members (or serving in National Guard or Reserves) who are first responders – I served in a National Guard unit with several state troopers, a big city police detective and a couple patrol officers. We also had people who were teachers, nurses, and a physician’s assistant (but they were all helicopter pilots in the army). I knew a special forces National Guard soldier (yes, they have those units in the guard) who was a regional trauma center ER tech in his civilian life. Same sort of skills.

    It’s so good to see writers branching out from ex-military turning into private security contractors and mercenary types. So glad to see you doing this!

    Posted by Anna Richland | August 1, 2016, 1:25 am
  11. Oh – I’ll piggyback off Kim Lowe and mention a couple research websites I use.

    The Sandbox was a clearinghouse for MILBlogs (blogs written by anyone connected with/about the military) – you can find anything there, and then follow it back to that individual writer’s blog – but it’s a compilation site, basically.

    Sandbox is just reading worth doing.

    And Duffel Blog:

    Darkly funny satire – these are not true! Do not be the commenter who posts outrage when it’s satire (and there always is one) – but spot on to military life and military humor.

    And for military slang, I think this is the most comprehensive list, but be careful b/c some of it is foreign military slang, some is out of date – by 50 to 100 years – and offensive – and some is service specific. So when using this extremely detailed Wiktionary, the details are key.

    Have fun! I’ve just given you three ways to spend a lot of time on the internet!

    Posted by Anna Richland | August 1, 2016, 1:35 am
  12. Yaay! More Air Force books! I write about (mostly) active duty combat/special ops airmen – mostly because my husband’s one :). I can’t wait to see more USAF based books!

    Posted by Emmy Curtis | August 1, 2016, 6:43 am

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