I recently read a review of my newest romance novel, Perfect Rhythm, which seemed to confirm the secret fear that has plagued me since I first set out to write that novel. While I think that in many ways, Perfect Rhythm is a typical “Jae” novel that has everything readers love about my books, it’s different from my other novels in one aspect: it’s featuring an asexual main character. A homoromantic asexual main character, to be exact.
Holly is romantically drawn to women, but she doesn’t experience sexual attraction. She loves kissing and is a real cuddle bug, but even though she falls deeply in love with Leontyne “Leo” in Perfect Rhythm, she has no desire to jump her bones.
For someone who does feel sexual attraction, that might be hard to understand. Which brings me to the review I mentioned, which states:
When I started reading the book, I thought “I don’t get it, I don’t understand it. How is it possible? It won’t work for me.”
I had been afraid of exactly that: readers thinking a romance like that couldn’t work, so they would read the blurb, come across the word “asexual,” and then put the book aside without giving it a chance.
Never underestimate your readers
Well, I’m happy to say that I underestimated my readers. As it turns out, this reader, at least, gave Perfect Rhythm a chance, bought it, read it—and loved it!
Here’s what she had to say after reading the book:
This story has helped me understand that not everything is black or white but a wide spectrum of colors. It has given me a different view of sexuality. The story is written with such sensitivity and clarity that you forget about Holly’s special circumstance (I would have called it “issue” at the beginning but it’s not anything like that at all). It’s the first book I have read with one of the characters being like Holly but I am not disappointed at all. The love [scene] is one of the most endearing and overwhelming scenes I have read lately.
Clearly, for her, Perfect Rhythm has everything that makes a good romance novel.
Five essential elements of a great romance novel
So I started thinking: what is it that makes a great romance novel? What are the must-have elements that will make readers go back to re-read it again and again? Here’s my list of five essential elements of a good romance novel:
- Interesting characters: The two main characters in a romance novel need to be three-dimensional and lovable. Readers want characters that stay with them long after they turn the last page. Lovable, by the way, doesn’t mean perfect. In fact, characters with flaws and imperfections have much more depth.
- Believable conflict: Without conflict, the two potential lovers would get together, ride off into the sunset together on page 2, and the story would be over. But what keeps them apart has to be a realistic obstacle—something arising from their personalities or their pasts that makes them think they shouldn’t get involved with each other, not just a misunderstanding that could have been resolved with a five-minute conversation.
- Emotions: Romance readers read for the emotions. They want books that make them feel. They want to experience the growing emotional connection between the two main characters and to fall in love with them too.
- Magic: Okay, I know that sounds like something you’d expect from a fantasy novel, but bear with me. I think in a good romance, there’s something almost magical about a couple. It’s this feeling that they are destined for each other and wouldn’t be whole without each other. What they have needs to be very special. Readers will re-read those magical moments again and again.
- A happily ever after (HEA): Romances need a happy ending. That doesn’t mean that everything about the characters’ lives has to be perfect in the end, but readers have to believe that the characters will master all problems life throws at them together.
I could list more elements—such as supporting characters or setting—but I believe these five aspects are the core of what makes a great romance novel.
Hot sex scenes and sizzling sexual tension might be on the list of must-haves for some readers, but I believe that you can have a truly satisfying romance without those two things, as long as you have the five elements I listed above. And I think that’s exactly why my readers in the end weren’t disappointed with Perfect Rhythm at all—because it has all ingredients of a great romance novel.
If you want to check it our yourself, here’s where to find the book: