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.

Conflict

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.

Pacing

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 www.pennyzeller.com and her blog, random thoughts from a day in the life of a wife, mom, and author, at www.pennyzeller.wordpress.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Amazon Author Central, and MeWe.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Thanks to Rebecca Waters for providing this guest blog, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”. She offers a different angle on writing romance. Great to have you back, Becky!

What’s love got to do with it?

Nothing. And everything.

When Jenn asked me to write a post for her blog, I was delighted. I write contemporary Christian fiction. Then she said she wanted an article about romance. Hmmm….

I met my husband when I was sixteen. I started dating him when I was seventeen and married him when I was eighteen. The steamiest our relationship ever got before we married was a goodnight kiss at the front door of my parent’s house. Not romantic by the world’s definition of romance.

So what do I know about romance? 

Nothing. And everything.

Though I don’t write the kind of romance the world defines as physical, characters in my books have been hailed as romantic. I believe it is because true romance is tender and mysterious. True romance expresses care through thoughtful and selfless acts. 

And romance isn’t unique to the young. 

Characters in my stories are often between thirty and fifty-years-old. They are married or have been. They understand the depth of true love and care and have learned how to express it. The women in these stories have learned to appreciate those small acts of thoughtfulness more than a bouquet of red roses or dinner at an over priced restaurant. 

Breathing on Her Own is the story of a family dealing with a terrible accident that leaves one woman dead and the other paralyzed. There is nothing too romantic in that scenario. There is a time when Molly’s husband takes her away for a few days. Away from the intense pressure the accident has brought to all of them. A getaway alone may sound romantic. However, the real romance here is when Molly pours out her heart to her husband. She shares her innermost thoughts and fears and weaknesses as well as her discovery of her relationship with God with Travis.

The romance? Travis listens. Travis cares.

Here is an excerpt:

To his credit, Travis listened. He listened on the long boat ride back to the docks. He listened, her hand in his as they sat in one of the little cafes drinking coffee and sharing a piece of the sweet baklava. He listened over the strains of Greek music playing at one of the outdoor courtyards as they walked back to their bed and breakfast. He put his arm around her as if to protect her from her uncertainties and fears. 

The air conditioner in their room was running and the cold air assaulted their sunburnt skin. They turned it off and sat on the loveseat in front of the window, wrapped in a blanket. 

Travis asked a question here or there. He offered a word of encouragement when Molly’s strength seemed to waiver, but for the most part, this was Molly’s story. 

They talked, they laughed, they cried. And they prayed. They didn’t move to turn on the light even when the shadows of twilight engulfed them. Eventually, the moon crept across the treed lawn and made its way through the blinds covering their window, casting lines of moonlight across their faces. 

Spent, Molly and Travis climbed into bed and the two of them, wrapped in each other’s arms drifted into a peaceful sleep.

There you have it.

So what makes up true romance? I believe it consists of behaviors that demonstrate you are cherished, valued, and respected. So what’s love got to do with it? Nothing. And everything.

*****

Molly Tipton and her husband have finally arrived. Their daughters are grown. Two beautiful grandchildren delight their hearts and retirement is within sight. Molly’s life spirals out of control when her older daughter is involved in a terrible accident. 

Losing control of a car is one thing, but when had Laney lost control of her life? How could God let this happen? Gripped with fear, shame, and doubt, Molly questions her own beliefs. Can her relationship with her daughter be restored? How about her faith in the God who allowed all this to happen? 

*****

Rebecca Waters is an author, speaker, and writing coach. She is the author of two novels, Breathing on Her Own and Libby’s Cuppa Joe. Rebecca’s novella, Courtesy Turn appears in the anthology From the Lake to the River. Rebecca’s stories have appeared in many of the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul collections. Her freelance work has resulted in articles for The Ohio Reading TeacherLanguage Arts, The Lookout MagazineChristian CommunicatorChurch LibrariesSquares and Rounds, and the Home Health Aide Digest. Her latest release, Writing to Publish is a compilation of presentations, blog posts, and journal articles offered to help writers reach their publishing goals. Follow her at her website A Novel Creation, on Twitter @WatersAuthor, and to sign up for her newsletter, rebecca@waterswords.com.

How to Write a Christmas Mystery

For some reason, Christmas and mysteries go together like silver and gold on a Christmas tree. Christmas mysteries are a very old tradition in the genre. One of the first, and best, is “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”, a Sherlock Holmes story. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple had Christmas cases. So did Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen, V.I. Warshawski, Brother Cadfael, and Father Brown. Maybe the mystery of God coming to earth, fully God and and fully human, gives the whole season an air of the unexplainable. If you’d like to try your hand at this very specific sub-genre, here are a two tips on how to write a Christmas mystery.

The Story Can’t Take Place at Any Other Time

The best Christmas mysteries take advantage of what the season offers. In “A Christmas Party” by Rex Stout, the boss of an interior design firm is murdered during the Christmas office party. The man who was working the bar in a Santa Claus outfit disappears during the confusion created when the boss collapses from cyanide poisoning. Santa was so heavily made-up no one at the party can describe him.

In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie, old, mean, manipulative Simeon Lee invites his four sons, their wives, and one granddaughter—some of whom he hasn’t been on speaking terms for years—to the family home out in the English countryside for a real, old-fashioned Christmas. Or so he says.

Neither of these stories would work at another time during the year. Except at a Halloween party, you couldn’t have a waiter or other staff help disguise themselves so effectively. In America, Thanksgiving is the only other holiday which gives a character a plausible reason to gather warring family members.

One of the many fun qualities of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is how well it incorporates characteristics of Christmas that existed at the time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it. A commissionaire who is an acquaintance of Holmes, finds a precious stone, the blue carbuncle, in the crop of the goose his wife was going to roast for Christmas dinner. Holmes and Watson follow clues through a bitterly cold London night to figure how the jewel, stolen from a luxury hotel, ended up in the goose. 

Include Themes of the Season

Another quality you can take advantage of are the meanings of the season. One aspect of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” that makes it so special is the offer Holmes extends to the culprit once he uncovers him. In “A Christmas Party,” Archie Goodwin learns just how highly his boss Nero Wolfe values him. “The Killer Christian” by Andre Klavan is about redemption. In my Christmas mystery, “A Rose from the Ashes”, I used a theme of mercy and forgiveness as my teen detective Rae Riley attempts to discover how her father is and if he tried to murder her pregnant mother.

For more recommendations of Christmas mysteries, click here.

What are some of your favorite Christmas mysteries?

Hiding the Villain in a Mystery

Hiding the villain in a mystery is the toughest task when writing a story in the genre. Planting clues and red herrings effectively is hard too, but if I don’t correctly handle hiding the villain in a traditional whodunit, I’ve ruined the whole story.

Do’s and Don’ts for Hiding the Villain

Don’t have a very minor character be the villain.

Mystery author Bill Pronzini describes this pitfall in a chapter of his book Son of Gun in Cheek when writing about his love for the old Charlie Chan movies made in the 1930’s and ’40’s. He writes that often the villain turned out to be such a minor character that it was difficult to remember what scenes he or she was in.

Part of the fun of a mystery is to reread them after the solution is revealed, noting how the villain acted and what clues I missed that pointed to his guilt. If the villain hardly appears in the story, the reader has no satisfaction in seeing him unmasked. The mystery’s solution isn’t a revelation but a shock and a cheap one at that.

Now I can have a very minor character turn out to be an accomplice. That can provide a nice twist to the plot. But this character should still have enough page time for the reader to say, when revealed as the villain’s ally, “Aha!’ instead of “Who?”

Do make the villain a major player.

He should be an important secondary character, someone who has significant interactions with the detective. But if he has too many scenes in which he plays a pivotal role, the reader may get suspicious. So …

Don’t make the villain the only major player.

As I’ve written mysteries, this tip is the one I’ve found helpful: give each suspect almost equal time on the page. Creating suspects with as much reason to be guilty as the real culprit and allowing them meaningful page time helps disguise the true villain. The drawback of this method is that if a character acts suspiciously but is innocent, my detective either has to uncover to reason or the character must explain her actions. Unlike in real life, mysteries must tie up loose ends. For more on writing about clues and red herrings, click here.

What mysteries had the best reveal of the villain?

What Makes a Mystery a Cozy?

This is an updated article from 2019. The term mystery or crime fiction covers many subgenres, cozy mysteries being a very popular one. What makes a mystery a cozy? Below are the four most prominent features of cozy mysteries, ones that I incorporated into my YA mystery, A Shadow on the Snow.

COZY MYSTERIES ALWAYS HAVE AMATEUR SLEUTHS.

One reason I think cozy mysteries are so popular is because, in the end, they are underdog stories, and these have huge appeal. The amateur sleuth can come in many flavors, but he or she can’t have any official standing within law enforcement, automatically making them the underdog. However, amateur sleuths do need some kind of advantage or skill they can rely on when they tackle a case. For more details on that special ability, click here for my post, “Three Tips on How to Build a Teen Detective.”

SECONDARY CHARACTERS ARE IMPORTANT.

Many cozy mysteries are series, and readers derive a lot of enjoyment from spending time with characters they regard as old friends. It’s important to develop secondary characters, who add a family feel to the stories.

I had a ton of fun creating secondary characters for Shadow. My main character Rae has just discovered who her father is and that she has a whole herd of relatives. As Rae gets to know her new family, so does the reader.

  • Her worry-prone, protective dad who is the sheriff.
  • Her three half-brothers: Rusty, the quiet, imaginative writer. Aaron, the enthusiastic inventor. Micah, the easy-going, practical first-grader.
  • Her laid-back, unflappable grandmother.

Rae has more relatives but those are the ones I focus on in my novel. Because I’ve created this world of complex secondary characters, I have a great raw material to work with in my next novels. In my second book, maybe I’ll focus on Rae and her cousins or on the young deputies she jams with in a band. Two of my beta readers really liked Rae’s great-grandfather. That surprised me, but I’ll try to work him into future stories.

THE CRIME TAKES PLACE IN AN INSULATED COMMUNITY.

For many cozies, this translates into a small town, like St. Mary Mead where Miss Marple lives, or Three Pines, the hometown of Inspector Armand Gamache. But the setting can be any small, tightly knit community. The members of a community theater, a sorority, or a carnival would all fit in a cozy mystery. In fact, the amateur sleuth’s membership in this community may give her an edge. Such as the teen who is investigating threats at her high school. She would be able to questions suspects in a much different way from the police.

Rae Riley is a newcomer to rural Marlin County, Ohio. It’s the kind of county where a newcomer stands out, and several generations of a family live within its borders. One of Rae’s advantages in such a community is that she can judge people without any preconceptions that might come from knowing someone for twenty years.

Although small-towns might seem cliched, I think a majority of Americans don’t know what small-town living is like and find reading about it in fiction intriguing. This truth came home to me last week. I’d been invited to a Bible study in a town of about 700 people. We were going to meet in an old bank that’s been converted into rental office space. When I got there, I couldn’t find any of the ladies who’d invited me. But I knew one owned the salon across the street, so I poked my head in and asked if I’d gotten the wrong day. She said no. We were starting at 7:30, not 7.

Later the salon owner told me that when I stopped by, she had a couple ladies from a nearby big city waiting. One of them was surprised by my visit, remarking that everybody really did know everybody else in a small town. Her reaction made me smile.

NO GRAPHIC SEX OR VIOLENCE, PLEASE.

Readers of cozies do not want heads rolling down the stairs or couples rolling around in beds. That doesn’t mean they expect a G-rated story. They know someone will be murdered. They know adultery or other plots revolving around sex are likely.  They just don’t want every grisly detail of the murder described or told exactly what the two-timing wife did in the bedroom with her boyfriend. Those details are not essential to solving the mystery.

What are some of your favorite cozy mysteries?

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