Are you a budding romance writer? Ever thought about writing a Mills & Boon novel? This blog is a must read! As it is National Novel Writing Month, our author Heidi Rice has given us her fantastic top ten tips on how to write a Mills & Boon novel!
Heidi Rice’s Top Ten Tips for Writing a Mills and Boon Novel
Sorry to say, contrary to popular opinion – and the general misconceptions about romantic fiction propagated by people who don’t read it – it’s incredibly hard to write a Mills and Boon novel (especially if you want to get it published!). So I’m not going to be able to tell you how to do it in one blog… But as a USA Today Bestselling author of over twenty Mills & Boon novels, here are my Ten Red Hot Tips on what you need to know when starting to write a Mills and Boon novel. The rest is up to you…
- Love Reading Romance (No Faking It Allowed): Romance readers are smart, savvy, demanding and they know what they want. If you want to know what they want too, so you can give it to them, you must love reading romance too… And if you want to write a Mills and Boon novel you have to know what they are publishing now, not five years ago, or ten years ago, or in that book you found in your great aunt’s bedside drawer when you were fourteen. And you have to read lots of them, because there are many different series and author voices – one book does not tell the whole story. And forget Meg Ryan in that deli, this is one thing that cannot be convincingly faked!
- You’ve Got to Have Style: Your own personal style as a writer (often called your ‘voice’) is the thing that makes your writing unique. To find your voice try on lots of different romances for size (see Top Tip 1). Decide what you like and don’t like about them and then create your own unique style from your choices by writing and re-writing. I love sexy, sassy, witty books with exceptionally hot alpha heroes and smart, savvy, warm-hearted heroines, so guess what kind of books I write?
- The Formula Is… There Is No Formula: A romance is a character-led story about a relationship with a happy ending. But the happy ending is just the pay-off. Your story is the journey your characters took to get there. What their journey is will depend on your characters and their conflict (see Top Tip 6) and how they overcome it. Every story is different, because your characters and their conflict is always different. So that tale about a secret formula … Total myth, sorry! (See, I told you this was hard work.)
- Characters Are Your Crack: So, we know your romance is all about your characters… But how do you get to know them? Ask them questions and then keep on asking them. Who are they? What do they want? Why do they want it? What do they really want, that they don’t know they want? Etc, etc… Getting to know them inside and out is important because how they interact, how they change and grow, confront their fears, overcome their weaknesses, discover their strengths TOGETHER during the course of your story (and theirs) is what their unique romantic journey and your story is all about. Pretty deep, huh.
- Embrace Your Inner Multiple Personality Disorder: When getting to know your characters, let them talk to you and be prepared to listen. They need to be real to you – multi-layered, three-dimensional, complex – if they are going to be real to your readers. (That said try not to have a conversation with them on the 19 bus, people will look at you funny. I’ve done it, I know, trust me on this one).
- Conflict Is King: Remember I mentioned the conflict between your characters in Top Tip 3. Well, while the characters and their journey is the point of your story, their conflict — those all important elements of their character that are buried in their psyches and are stopping them from living happily ever after from day one — is the engine of your story and its driving force. It’s the shark in the water that’s keeping your characters swimming at a page-turning pace towards their Happy Ever After. So it’s important too. Know what it is, and how your characters are going to confront it and overcome it.
- Start with a Bang: No, not that kind of bang (or not necessarily, unless you’re writing a Dare!). This is the bang as opposed to the whimper. This can be anything from a meet-cute – eg: a blind date between an innocent young heiress and a studly corporate raider turns into a one night stand to remember – which is promptly forgotten when the heiress gets amnesia! (Shameless Plug Alert: as in my book The Virgin’s Shock Baby; to a meet not-so-cute – eg: a backpacking US artist gets mugged on the Amalfi Coast only to get inconveniently rescued by a gorgeous billionaire she knows, and can’t stand (SPAII: Captive at Her Enemy’s Command); to an emotional turning point wrapped up in a meet-hot – eg: a Manhattan billionaire sweeps a young woman into his arms at his company’s midsummer ball intending to punish her for her role in his twin brother’s death, only to discover she is not the woman he thinks she is, she has a devastating secret that will force him to face all his worst fears.. And she turns him on to the point of madness! (SPAIII: Bound by Their Scandalous Baby). However you decide to begin your story, the key is to start it on a point of action (emotional or physical or hopefully both) – so you hook your readers into the story on page one.
- Research Is Good, Except When It’s a Gratuitous Timesuck: You want your story, your settings, your characters to be authentic and convincing, so do the research you need to do to make them so. (NB: historical romances will usually require more of this). But don’t get carried away. ie: checking out buff guys on Pinterest for more than an hour is hard to justify as research (although I’ve tried).
- No Sex Please, Without Emotion: When writing love scenes remember they must be there for a reason. The sex can be good, bad, awesome or behind a closed bedroom door, but whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) there needs to be action of the emotional variety to go with the physical – or your love scenes will be gratuitous or, something far worse, really boring.
- Cliché Is Not Cool Unless It’s Fresh: Mills and Boon romances are a vivid, varied, vibrant, bang-up-to-date (not that kind of bang! sheesh), hugely popular and constantly evolving section of the romance fiction market. And while it’s virtually impossible to find a new plot idea – secret baby, marriage-of-convenience, blind date, one night stand, etc–when using those familiar tropes you should always be looking for a new twist and/or compelling characters to make sure your story is fresh and unique. So when writing your romance, be adventurous, be daring, be different, be bold and above all be yourself. Not simple but satisfying, I guarantee it. (Did I mention already this is hard work?)
If you want to learn more about how to write romance from Heidi, she tutors a 7-week online Writing Romance course with The Professional Writing Academy. For more details check out their website here.