Help A Bitch Out

HaBO-Thon: Books on Writing Romance

This isn’t quite a HaBO request about a missing book – more like a request for guidance. T. wrote and asked:

Would it be possible to ask you and/or your readers
which books provide the best advice on how to write a romance novel? Or what
advice authors who are writing romance would offer?

I’m curious and perhaps some of your other
readers are as well. There are so many how-to books out there and just a
brief page through at the local B&N made it clear that some of them were too
vague to be of use and others too limited (advice on writing erotica,
for instance, that a plethora of published romances prove isn’t such great
insight after all). What’s an insecure “I’d like training wheels” writer
wannabe to do?

I am betting that many folks here will suggest joining your local chapter of RWA, especially if that local chapter is a strong one. My biggest suggestion: read a lot of romance. Note what you like, note what you don’t, and figure out why for both.

But are there any writing how-to books that have rocked your world, both for writing romance, and for writing in general? I’m curious what your opinion might be.



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  1. 1
    Milena says:

    It’s not romance-specific, but, in training wheels value, I think few books can top The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.

  2. 2
    Jan Breitman says:

    I think Stephen King’s “On Writing” is truly the best.

    such29-well, I wish I was 29 again!

  3. 3
    Tamara Hogan says:

    The most well-thumbed book in my rather extensive collection of writing and craft books is Angela Knight’s “Passionate Ink: A Guide to Writing Erotic Romance.”

  4. 4
    Lynne Connolly says:

    First – don’t get carried away. Don’t keep reading and never put fingers to keyboard.
    The best way to write?
    BICHOK – Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. I have it in jewelled letters above my monitor.
    So, a couple of books. And don’t forget, they may not work for you.
    Donald Maas – Writing the Breakout Novel, book and workbook.
    Deb Dixon – Goal, Motivation, Conflict
    Dwight Swain – Techniques of the Selling Writer
    Kate Walker – The Twelve Point Guide to Writing Romance

    There you go. Steven King’s book is a great read, and holds some good pointers, but there is more than one way.

    The RWA has already been mentioned. You could also join the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) and their New Writers’ Scheme. Unpublished writers get the chance to send a full manuscript in to the RNA. It will be read and critiqued by a published member in a relevant genre, field or publisher. It’s capped at 250 a year, because the RNA is a smaller organisation than the RWA (full members have to be published in romance) and it fills up fast. Membership is from January to December.
    If the writing is considered publishable, it’s sent for a second read, then the RNA will send it to a relevant publisher or agent.

  5. 5

    I liked On Writing and also Unlocking the 90 day novel, that one is really helpful if you can’t get an idea to just solidify in your mind already damn it. ( I have that problem a lot). Another one that’s pretty good on the romance specific genre is Will Write For Shoes by Cathy Yardley it’s a lighthearted guide to writing more chick lit style if you’re into humor or Wild Ink How to Write for YA if you’re wanting to go that direction.

  6. 6
    Ros says:

    If you want to write category romance, Kate Walker’s 12 Point Guide is essential.  Otherwise, my favourite writing book is Francine Prose’s ‘Reading Like A Writer’.

  7. 7

    Seconding the recs for these books:

    Deb Dixon’s Goal Motivation and Conflict
    Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel (get the workbook and apply your MS to it)
    Angela Knight’s Passionate Ink (good for general romance, not just erotic—95% of its content can be applied to any romance novel)

    You might also want to give Leigh Michaels’ On Writing Romance a try.

  8. 8

    Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon is a good book to help a novice writer analyze what works and why.

    I also liked the Stephen King book, and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

    What it really comes down to though is my favorite piece of writing advice, attributed to Nora Roberts: “You can fix anything but a blank page.” 

    Write, read, write some more.  That’s how you do it.

  9. 9
    Karmyn M. Crabb says:

    I read Goal, Motivation and Conflict As Goat Motivation and thought that sounded really awesome.
    In my defense, I didn’t have coffee this morning.

  10. 10

    @Karmyn—I have friends who keep goats, and from what I hear the goats don’t need a lot of motivation to do their work.  It’s different for those of us who have to write: A goat only has to eat trash, I need to make sure I’m not writing trash.[g]

  11. 11
    Lori says:

    Writing For Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block is an old favorite. And being that today is Oct. 31, join the nanowrio community and write your novel, starting tomorrow. It’s a crazy way to do it but you might find it motivational.

  12. 12
    An Goris says:

    I wrote a master thesis on romance writing handbooks back in 2006; these were the then relevant books my study was based on:
    Clair, Daphne en Donald, Robyn, Writing Romantic Fiction. London, A & C Black, 1999.

    Estrada, Rita Clay en Gallagher, Rita, You Can Write a Romance. Cincinnati (Ohio), Writer’s Digest Books, 1999.

    Parv, Valerie, The Art of Romance Writing. How to Create, Write and Sell Your Contemporary Romance Novel. St Leonards (Austr.), Allen & Unwin, 1997.

    Vinyard, Rebecca, The Romance Writer’s Handbook. How to Write Romantic Fiction and Get It Published. Waukesha (Can.), The Writer Books, 2004.

    Wainger Leslie, Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies. Indianapolis, Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2004.

    Walker, Kate, Kate Walker’s 12-Point Guide to Writing Romance. Somerset (U.K.), Studymates Limited, 2004.

    I analyzed them and didn’t read them in order to learn how to write a romance novel myself, but I thought both the Walker and the Wainger books seemed pretty instructive.
    Best of luck with this.

  13. 13
    Julie Cohen says:

    I agree with Kate Walker’s 12-Point Guide being one of the best books about writing category/series romance.

    Once you’ve written your book, I can recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King…an oldie but a goodie.

    Aside from On Writing, my favourite book about writing in general, that’s not a how-to book, is The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. Tremendously inspiring and reassuring.

  14. 14
    Kristi Lea says:

    I learned a lot from Alison Kent’s Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance. 

    On the complete flip side of the spectrum, I also love Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine, which is targeted for a younger (middle school/high school) audience and yet is extremely thorough.

    Haven’t read Deb Dixon’s book Goal, Motivation, Conflict, but I’ve been to one of her seminars and if the book is close, it is awesome.

    Mostly, though, I have learned a ton by joining RWA (and attending local meetings where we have talks from authors and folk in the biz), attending a few online classes, participating in our chapter’s monthly critique group, and by writing and re-writing my own stuff.  And reading everything I can in a variety of genres.

  15. 15

    Stephen King’s On Writing is my very favorite writing book, but for writing romance, I give a huge, enthusiastic to this one:

    Wainger Leslie, Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies. Indianapolis, Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2004.

  16. 16

    I give a huge, enthusiastic what to it? I was supposed to write “ditto”, but I guess it’ll remain a Mad Lib.

  17. 17
    Brian says:

    Not specifically about Romance, but since the Kindle version is free right now (at least for US customers, not sure about elsewhere) I’ll mention…

    Write That Book Already!: The Tough Love You Need To Get Published Now – By Sam Barry & Kathi Kamen Goldmark

  18. 18
    Abby says:

    Quasi-unrelated: NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow, and before I was in grad school having to write all the effing time for real, I used to try it every year!  If nothing else, it forces you to get ideas down on paper that you can later edit.  There are usually a number of people writing romance, and you can find local groups for write-ins and such.

    Good luck!

    Spamword: student34 (now that’s just creepy)

  19. 19
    SandyH says:

    I recommend Lynn Viehl’s blog – Paperback Writer

  20. 20
    Gina says:

    ‘Love Writing’ by Sue Moorcroft
    ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg, to get you into a daily writing habit.
    ‘Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies’ Great format and humour.
    Good luck!

  21. 21

    I’m a fan of Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat”, particularly the original book.

    LOL, everybody always recs Stephen King. I would’ve, too. All writers should read “On Writing”.

    As far as writing erotica goes (full disclosure here, although I make no money from the sale of this book I did contribute an essay about kink for it), Shoshanna Evers put together a collection of essays called “How to Write Hot Sex”, all written by multi-published romance and/or erotica writers. You might try that if you’re finding that the other guides you’ve seen on writing erotica or ero rom aren’t accurate or helpful.

    The best advice, and I realize I’m not the first to say this, is to read a lot in the genre you’re hoping to write.

  22. 22
    P.N. Elrod says:

    I found Katerine Falk’s “How to Write A Romance and Get It Published” to be a HUGE help for writing in general.

    While some info is out of date now, it did explain the publication process—what happens to a book after a publisher accepts it, something that was a mystery to me though I’d sold several books by then.

    It also explained the basics of promotion, which was also a mystery, which started me on printing book and getting on local TV shows.

    Some of the chapters were excellent, others flat out silly, but it was worth reading.

    1984 edition—

    2000 edition—

    I’ll also put my vote in for SAVE THE CAT which was given to me by the bestselling RACHEL CAINE.  It’s helping me even now!

    WORST: “The Romance Writer’s Phrase Book.” I hate that trees died for that waste of shelf space. Don’t bother unless you’re at a convention and reading it aloud to others at your table. Make sure they’ve all had at least one chocolate martini so the reaction is hilarity, not heaves.

  23. 23
    P.N. Elrod says:

    Urgh—“started me on printing bookmarks”

  24. 24
    Ziggy says:

    This Ask Metafilter thread contains some cool insights, and recommendations of books and blog posts that might help.

  25. 25
    Chris Eboch says:

    Thanks, everyone, I now have a few more for my reading list! Self Editing for Fiction Writers is one of my favorites, which I’ve recommended to many students.

    And forgive me for a little blatant self-promotion, but my book Advanced Plotting has advice on everything from strong beginnings to cliffhanger chapter endings, plus a detailed method for analyzing a draft and figuring out what needs work. You can read lots of excerpts on my blog: Plotting or see the book on Amazon:

  26. 26

    The first writing book I ever borrowed from the library turned out to be the one that “rocked my world”, and helped me make it through that frightening first novel:

    Guide to Ficton Writing, by Phyllis A. Whitney to Fiction Writing.htm

    It’s an older book, but full of really practical information and examples, and to this day I still use an adapted version of Ms. Whitney’s “notebook” method for organizing my notes and ideas while working.

    I find I go back to this book more often than I do to all the others on my shelf, for inspiration. The other books I pick up all the time and re-read are the ones like my various copies of “The Writer’s Handbook”, put out by “The Writer” magazine, that are filled with a bunch of different articles on different subjects, all by published writers whose names I recognize.

    I’ve found I learn a lot more from brief articles by writers who’ve been at this game awhile than from a whole book by an “expert” who has only written how-to guides on writing :-)

    Best of luck!

  27. 27
  28. 28
    Silver James says:

    Leslie Wainger is a long-time editor with Harlequin. She has some great advice in her book, mentioned above several times.

    I also like Hallie Ephron’s “The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel.” It’s great for those needing training wheels. It’s a clearly written how-to for the beginning and makes a nice refresher course when a writer with more experience hits a wall.

  29. 29
    Kelly says:

    Hooray, I can help, sort of! It’s not a how to, but Bella Andre’s short novella Ecstasy is about a new romance writer learning how to write a romance novel from a current successful romance writer, with sexy times abounding of course. You could save it for some light reading after all the awesome suggestions here.

  30. 30
    Linda Hilton says:

    On story crafting—The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.  If I had to rescue one how-to-write book from a fire, it would be that one.

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