Sandra Gerth - author of the Writers' Guide Series

How to write a great romance novel—the five core elements of romance novels

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

Apple iTunes
Barnes & Noble
Ylva Publishing webstore

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10 thoughts on “How to write a great romance novel—the five core elements of romance novels”

  1. All I can say is YES to all of it. You also hit the nail on the head for me there at the end. While don’t get me wrong, I love some sizzling sexual scenes just the same as others at times… but what I come to find a lot of times is writers seem to use those as a way of showing how much the characters “love” each other. And when it is done in that way, focusing on those types of scenes repeatedly, instead of the small nuances around one another and the slow growing pull toward one another, by the end of the books I just feel empty. Still might consider it a good read, for the time, but not one i would feel pulled to read again or ponder on the characters many days after the fact. I just notice my heart tightens and I forget to breathe when I read those slight touches or those secret glances that get caught and the half smiles.

    With your novels I have yet to ever feel that. All of your characters are perfect to me. And I say perfect in the sense that they ARE 3-dimensional and relateable. They have flaws and imperfections that make them perfect, if that makes sense. I honestly could probably write a novel of a response about your characters, to be honest. However, I will leave my ramblings on that for now.

    • I agree. Sex scenes definitely have their place in a romance novel, but if sexual attraction is all that ties the characters to each other, it doesn’t make me believe that they’ll brave life’s storms together after the book ends.

      • I absolutely agree!! Readers want the relationship to have substance. Romances need to be aspirational and compelling. There isn’t anything compelling about two characters that just have sex in common. There needs to be more.

    • I think it depends on the individuals and where they fall on the sexual – asexual spectrum and other factors such as how good they are at communicating, how high are their sex drives, how much else do they have in common that they can base a relationship on, how important is sex for the non-asexual partner, and is the asexual partner sex-indifferent, sex-positive, or sex-repulsed, etc.

  2. Magic. Yes, there must be magic. Sometimes we forget about that and wonder why the story isn’t working. Must go back and check for that in the one I’m writing now. Thank so much for all your writing help. Everything is always spot-on to what I need to hear.

    • I try to sprinkle in a little magic in every little scene between the two main characters, especially as the story progresses. Happy writing!

  3. Romance is the genre that consistently publishes bestseller books. Despite the myriad of genres, you will find many people prefer reading romance books. Check out Provocative Techniques to Develop Romance in Your Story. Hope this will help. Thank you.


  4. idk if anyone still posts on this i think its probably a long shot

    what are the negative components of a romance that ends in the main characters beloved passing away

    sort of a romeo and juliet but one is alive

    could the story end on a bittersweet note and still be appealing to readers?

    • If it’s a romance, it needs a happy ending (or at least a “happily for now”). It’s one of the defining criteria of the romance genre. If there’s no happy ending, it’s not a romance. Romeo & Juliet is a tragedy, not a romance. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t appeal to readers, but it would definitely not appeal to romance readers, so you wouldn’t want to market a book like that to romance readers.


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