The first ever feedback I got for my writing was from the editor who eventually bought my first book. Though I didn’t know that that would happen at the time. How could I, when the feedback was “scrap what you have, and start something new”? Though it took some time, I knew she was right. Because the book I’d written was rife with common mistakes new romance authors make. Here are some major ones:
Mistake 1: Too Much Plot
Writing my first book was an experiment. I didn’t know how to sustain conflict over 50 000 words, and so I ended up using any and every ploy I could think of. The result was a character on drugs, an attempted physical assault, and a kidnapping (I wish I was kidding…). This still happens to me, and I have to remind myself that the point of romance is to write the best possible journey to happily ever after for the hero and heroine.
This means that each character has to contribute to the development of this journey. Each scene, each conversation, must bring your characters closer to the realisations that will allow them to be together. If you have characters, scenes or conversations that have merely been included to extend the word count, do yourself a favour and cut them out. It’ll be hard when you do it, but it’s for the best in the long term. Trust me.
Mistake 2: The External Conflict Takes Over
While similar to the first mistake, this one is sneakier. Because your external conflict is necessary. (Unlike ploys such as drug abuse, assault, or kidnapping…) External conflict is what brings your characters together, and generally, what starts your story. It’s the reason your hero and heroine are forced into a marriage of convenience, or why they suddenly see their friend as a lover. And because of this, it’s easy to make the mistake of letting the external conflict take over your characters’ journeys.
For example, in the first draft of my fourth book, United by Their Royal Baby, my heroine, Queen Leyna, had to have a baby because:
a) she had to save her kingdom,
b) she needed an heir to please her grandmother, and
c) she had an illegitimate sister she wanted to include in the line of succession, which forced her to have an illegitimate child herself.
These aren’t options in a multiple-choice question. The external conflict that had Leyna deciding to have a baby comprised all three of these. It completely distracted from the romance, and I ended up only using one in the final version. Remember, the romantic relationship is the most important. Which brings me to mistake number 3…
Mistake 3: The Story’s Focus is Not on the Romance
I’ll say it again: every scene, every conversation, every character should further your main characters’ relationship. This entails developing your characters’ internal conflict throughout the story, since this is what’s keeping them from being together. But remember, the internal conflict is being developed because of the romance. If your heroine has problems to trust because of an untrustworthy parent, she should overcome this because the hero proves that she can trust him. Having her parent suddenly prove their trustworthiness, making the heroine trust again, is not the point of the romance. The characters’ love for one another should inspire their growth. Which is what makes the happily ever after so worthwhile!