Prompt for a Romantic Story

Here’s my last prompt for a romantic story. Who are the man and woman in the photo? Where are they? Are they on a first date? Or their last? Here’s my inspiration:

The coffee was as delicious as Matt said. The pastries were too. Taking a sip from my mug, I watched Matt’s handsome face as he gazed out the window.

For someone who had insisted that we had to meet for coffee, Matt had been oddly inattentive. Or more like he had bursts of attention–complimenting me about my sweater, joking about the fruit preserve clinging to his chin–and then long sessions of staring out the window.

I reached for his hand. What was going on?

For more prompts for romantic stories, click here.

What’s your inspiration from this prompt for a romantic story?

Seven Must-Haves for Romance Novels

So happy to have a new author to introduce to you! Penny Zeller writes Christian romance, both historical and contemporary. She’s stopped by to give you the seven must-haves for romance novels. Take it away, Penny.

While romance is one of the most popular genres, it’s not necessarily the easiest to write. Given this genre’s complexity, how can we, as authors, be sure our romance novels keep our readers turning the pages? Here are seven must-haves for romance novels.

Good character description 

As a visual person, it helps tremendously for me to have pictures of my main characters on hand before I begin writing a book. One of the best ways to do this is Pinterest boards. Create one for character inspiration you can refer back to for any book, as well as a dedicated individual board for each book you are writing.

When I was writing my first novel, I cut out the photo of my main male character and taped him to the edge of my computer monitor. When my husband, Lon, saw the picture that evening, our conversation went something like this:

Lon: “Who is that guy?”

Me: “Oh, that’s just Zach.”

Lon: “Zach? Do we know him?”

Me: “Well, you may not, but I do. He’s the main character in my book. A figment of my imagination.”

I still do this, although now my family is accustomed to seeing strange people taped all over my workspace. It helps to have your characters in front of you, whether taped to your monitor or a physical character board, or on a Pinterest board.

Great tip, Penny! Most of the time, I can’t write a character unless I can see them crystal clear in my imagination.

Attraction between characters  

While it may be a while before they like each other, there does have to be a level of attraction. Make sure that attraction covers more than just appearance.


Make sure you have conflict in your romance novel. Keep the reader guessing and hoping the two main characters will someday have their happily ever after.

Relationship formers

In my latest novel, Love in Disguise, Emilie and Thad form a relationship over regularly having lunch together. They find they have common interests, likes, and dislikes. Give your characters ways to build and form their relationship through spending time together. Give them commonalities and some areas of agreement that brought them together.

Strengths and weaknesses

One of the easiest ways I have found to give characters strengths and weaknesses is to interview them. Ask “What words would your closest friends use to describe you?” Chances are, your main characters will come up with mostly strengths, but a few weaknesses too. Are they determined?  Creative? Organized? Flexible? Spontaneous? Energetic? Athletic? Nerdy? Flighty? A grudge holder? Easily bored? Risk-taker? Planner? Extroverted? Introverted?

Check to see what type of Myers Briggs personality your characters have and research that personality type. This helps develop their strengths and weaknesses even further.


Disclaimer here: I love watching clean romantic comedies and chick-flicks. As such, I do realize the main characters have to fall in love quickly to fit the hour-and-a-half movie allotment. However, in our novels, we need to be sure we are pacing the romance well. Give your characters time before they fall head-over-heels in love. Let them discover why they’re falling in love. While attraction (see above) is important at first, it’s not what remains important. Allow your characters to fall in love with someone’s personality–their dedication to the Lord, their integrity, kindness, witty sense of humor, and generosity.

Or alternatively in the area of pacing, don’t have them dislike each other from page one to page 301 of a 302-page book, suddenly, falling in love on that second-to-the-last page.

I think pacing is the hardest technique for a writer to learn. Great tip for keeping the romance real!

As authors, let’s give our readers a couple to root for by creating strong and relatable characters! 

A lot of your tips will work for any genre, not just romance. Thank you, Penny! For more tips from other romance writers, click here.


BUY AT AMAZON. Coming soon to Barnes & Noble.

Who knew concealing one’s true identity could be so disastrous? 

Who knew asserting one’s independence would cause such embarrassment? If only Almira “Emilie” Crawford Wheeler hadn’t insisted upon carrying her own stack of parcels, she wouldn’t have landed in an unladylike heap on the boardwalk. And what about the half-truth she told the handsome stranger who came to her aid? The stranger she never expected to see again?  

Thad Alexander Evanson should have been paying closer attention to the boardwalk, rather than the newfangled automobile motoring down the street. Had he been more astute, a collision with the beautiful parcel-laden stranger might never have happened. And if it never had happened, he wouldn’t have told a partial-truth he figured wouldn’t matter. 

Before long, Emilie and Thad are arranging to meet for a noonday meal each weekend in Missoula under the guise of different names. But what happens when their true identities are revealed? When half-truths are exposed? Could God have a plan even in the midst of a tangled web of lies? 


Penny Zeller is known for her heartfelt stories of faith and her passion to impact lives for Christ through fiction. While she has had a love for writing since childhood, she began her adult writing career penning articles for national and regional publications on a wide variety of topics. Today Penny is a multi-published author of several inspirational books. She is also a homeschool mom and a fitness instructor.

When Penny is not dreaming up new characters, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters, camping, hiking, canoeing, reading, running, cycling, gardening, and playing volleyball.She is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency and loves to hear from her readers at her website and her blog, random thoughts from a day in the life of a wife, mom, and author, at You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Amazon Author Central, and MeWe.

What’s the Friendship?

I’m taking a somewhat different approach for this week’s prompt and this month’s theme of love and romance. Many of fiction’s best friendships are between non-human characters. Charlotte and Wilbur, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, Frog and Toad are just a few I could name. So what’s the friendship and love between these two stuffed animals?

The smaller bear looks more worn. Maybe he’s the old favorite toy of a child, and the bigger one is the new favorite. But that kind of plot should lead to jealousy, not hugs. How about the worn bear has heard that he’s going to be “repaired” and is afraid of what that means?

For more prompts about friendship, click here.

What’s the friendship you imagine for these characters?

How to Write About a Nice Family (Without It Turning to Mush)

I take issue with the opening line from “Anna Karenina”: All happy families are alike; all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.” I think happy family can be happy in their own, unique way. But I understand Mr. Tolstoy’s point. Writers think they have more to work with when they create unhappy characters within a family. But as long as the kind members of a family aren’t perfect, and writers don’t shield them from unhappy events, nice families can prove just as interesting and more challenging as lead characters in a story. But how to write about a nice family without it turning to mush was a problem I confronted when writing my YA mystery, A Shadow on the Snow.

My main character, nineteen-year-old Rae, has just discovered who her father is and is getting to know him, her half-brothers, her grandmother, and extended family. Her father is thrilled to have her because he thought she died before she was born. I wanted readers to see that this is a warm, loving family without miring them in a lot of sentimental goo. To accomplish this, I relied on three keys ingredients: humor, matter-of-fact, and no loitering in emotional moments.


I don’t think I could write main characters who are likable without a sense of humor. Giving Rae a sense of humor about some of the members of her new family keeps my writing from turning all mushy. For example, Rae’s two younger half brothers Aaron and Micah are crazy about her. They’re nine and seven and like having a big sister with whom they can share their interests, like they’re latest invention.

Now I could have had Rae melt every time these little boys wanted to show her something. But that would soon get boring and tiresome. Instead I have her somewhat stunned that they want to spend time with her. And having been an only child, she has a hard time deaingl with little boys who have no appreciation for personal space. So while she’s trying to learn how to be a good big sister, she’s also fighting the temptation to order them out of her face. The warmth of the relationship is evident without being cloying.

Matter of Fact

Another way to handle emotional family moments is to state them and move on. Rae’s father is very close to his sons. I show this through all the physical contact between them–Aaron likes to attack his dad when he gets home from work, Micah likes to scare him, their dad hugs them. The oldest brother Rusty likes to read with his dad on the couch after his younger brothers are in bed. Rae, as the POV character, mentions the actions but doesn’t add things like, “As Dad released Aaron from a hug, the kitchen overflowed with his love for his family.” (Wow is that awful. I hated writing it even as a bad example.)

Rae does think about Rusty and their father reading together but in a questioning tone because she’s not sure why Rusty values this time.

Let the reader understand the close relationships through actions and dialogue without underlining it. They’ll be able to figure it out.

But Don’t Be Afraid of Big Emotions

My novel is a story about a teen learning about her father for the first time in her life. If I didn’t include some emotional scenes, the story would seem false, even trivial. But a few raw emotions can go a long way. So when I have an emotional scene, I …

Don’t Loiter

Or maybe a better way to put is to use the line from The Court Jester (1956)–“get in, get on with it, get it over with and get out.” As I mentioned in my post “Six Tips for Plotting Elegantly”, Rae has an emotional scene with her father in the middle of A Shadow on the Snow. I loved writing about it. But if I lingered too long, basking in all the good vibrations, I might bore readers or give them a sugar rush. So I only let the scene last as long as I felt necessary for readers to enjoy the emotions and to make the scene seem genuine. Then I got out.

To know when to depart a warm, fuzzy family scene takes relying on your instinct of how the scene is unfolding and your memories of similar scenes you’ve read or watched and what worked and what didn’t. But humor does allow you to stay longer because it knocks down the mush. For more on that, read my post “Adding Humor to Enhance Drama.”

What happy family in fiction is your favorite?

Romantic Story Prompt

Happy Valentine’s Day! Perfect day for a romantic story prompt. As a history major, this photo intrigued me. Old pictures can speak to hidden histories. Here’s my inspiration:

Blowing my bangs out of my eyes, I slumped back against Great-Grandma’s ancient couch. “Let’s split the boxes between us, get them out of the house, and then we can sort through them at a sane pace.”

My sister Em didn’t even glance at me as she pulled glassware from the old hutch. “It won’t take us that long. And an hour ago, you said we should just leave everything and let the new owner clean it out.”

“I just want to be done with cleaning out the house.” I rubbed my grubby hands on my jeans. “We’ve already taken what Grandma wanted us to have.”

Em tugged on a drawer of the hutch that seemed stuck. With a jerk, she freed it and something fell from the bottom of the drawer. “So that was what was jamming it.”

I crossed to the dining room, dodging boxes, and picked up a piece of folded paper. Three black-and-white photos slid out and drifted to the floor. I gathered them, cleared a spot on the dining room table, and laid them out. One was a picture of Grandma. At least, I though it was. She had only two photos of herself when she was a teenager. It might have been one of her sisters. The second was a portrait of a young man I didn’t recognize. The third showed the young woman and man walking together, clearly as a couple.

Em joined me as I opened the note. Foreign words taunted us.

“Is it Polish?” Em asked.

I shrugged. Grandma had taught us a few Polish words but I’d never read any. “One thing’s certain. If this girl is grandma, she had a boyfriend before Grandpa. And she never said a word about him.”

For more romantic prompts, click here.

What story does the photo inspire for you?

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