My Eleven Steps to Writing a Romance Novel

So, when I mentioned that I’m working on a romance novel, or several of them, I also said that editing them consumes much of my writing time.

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Editing is about like this for me.

Beth Turnage had a question on what I do to revise my novels, but it’s so integral to how I write, that I thought I’d share my process.

I’m not saying this is good or bad as every writer is different. As with most creative endeavors, what works for one artist won’t work for another. But here’s my:

My Eleven Steps to Writing a Romance Novel

1. Spend Some Time Thinking about the Characters

You’ll notice I didn’t say plotting. And I don’t. I wish I did, oh, how I wish I did! You may have noticed that I tend to be an organized person with a spreadsheet for most things. But I can’t do it with writing. Yet.

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But the plot will resolve itself if I’m mean enough to the characters.

But I didn’t say plotting, I said thinking about the characters. Who are they? What motivates them? Why do I care about them? If I’m really lucky, I can toss the characters around with my husband. Talk about them, about what they’d do in different situations. This is my sandbox time with them. Nothing is off the table. Sometimes, I’ll come up with characters and situations that lead to two stories. Sometimes, they bore me and I table them until later.

Honestly? This is one of the most fun parts of writing.

2. Write the Skeletal First Draft

I’m not kidding about it being skeletal. My first draft of the romance novel is very bare bones. Usually around 40k-45k words for a book that will end up being around 70k-80k words. I’m not sure why I write this way, but I’m not one of the authors that needs to cut a lot. Usually, I need to add more. A whole lot more. But that’s for the second draft. This first draft gets down the characters and what’s happening in the story. Mostly.

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Yeah, my first draft looks about like this

3. Take 6 Weeks Away from the First Draft

Yep. I now spend at least six weeks away from the first draft. I have plenty of other editing to do, or another first draft to write.

4. Go Back and Make the First Draft Coherent

At this stage, I read the first draft again so I have a clue what I’m facing. Then, I try to weave any themes I see later in the book into the earlier sections as I focus on adding all the stuff I skipped in the first draft. This tends to include, but is not limited to:

  • Writing better transitions
  • Adding details such as taste, sounds and smell
  • Giving a better insight into characters’ thoughts and feelings.

Many times, this draft will include adding entirely new scenes. In one story I wrote, it involved moving when the hero and heroine are married from the end of the book to the beginning. Yeah, huge change. But as I was reading the draft, I realized there was a huge plot hole, and to fix it, the hero and heroine required an earlier wedding. It meant using other things to “keep them apart”, but the novel was much better for the change. It was still a lot of rewriting.

5. Tidy Up the Second Draft

At this point, most of the stuff is in the right places. This revision has me looking more at are characters being true to themselves in dialogue tags and mannerisms. Tidying up word choices, particularly word repetition. I add more description, and I smooth over as many rough edges as I can find.

6. Send It to My Alpha Reader

I then send the romance novel to my Alpha reader. They are not a detailed reviewer. Rather, they tell me if they liked the story. If they liked the characters. If they wanted to see the hero and heroine get together in the end, and if the obstacles in the story were believable. They also tell me if there is anything unclear. If I have to explain a part to my alpha reader, then I need to go in and fix it to make it clear as I won’t have that option with a final reader.

7. Alpha Reader Revision

I go through the story again and make most of the changes my alpha reader recommended (usually all). I do another clean-up revision while doing this.

8. Send it to My Beta Reader

At this point, I feel like the story is pretty clean, so I send it to my beta reader. I only have one at this point, but she’s awesome. She gives me constructive criticism where I need it, but she also points out what I’m doing well. She does a much more detailed review, marking areas that feel rushed, transitions that need work, or spots that aren’t clear. She also makes sure my characters stay in character. If I get cheesy or whiny (which, I’ve gotten MUCH better about), she’ll tell me that, too.

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And she’ll tell me those doubts, too.

9. Beta Reader Revision

I go through the story again and make most of the changes my beta reader recommended. This sometimes has a few larger things to address, and as I do them, I do another revision of my own.

10. Detail Revision

This is the revision where I go through the work and look for word choice, punctuation, grammar, all the important things so that the writing itself is understandable and errors don’t pull you out of the work. I purchase Pro Writing Aid this year, and I am going to try that as well.

11. Final Polishing Edit

One last look through before I release my book baby into the wild.

I’d love to afford a real editor, but at $2 per page, I’d be looking at almost $700 to have a book edited. and that’s on the cheaper side. I’m sure they’d make my work better, but I just can’t afford them yet.

So, there it is. I will say that this is my most recent pattern. The first book I wrote after taking up the keyboard again is sitting mothballed, and that doesn’t include all the other ones I wrote ages ago that are also forgotten electrons.

The first romance novel I wrote that I actually plan to publish took a far more circuitous route to finish. But as I now have six novels in progress, not including the ones I started and kicked aside along the way, I’m starting to find my rhythm. It might not be perfect, but it’s mostly working for me.

If you’re a writer, what’s your process? Even if you’re not a writer, any tips or pointers on editing? Maybe you do something else creative? If so, what’s your process?

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10 thoughts on “My Eleven Steps to Writing a Romance Novel

  1. If I wrote anything remotely like an outline, the tech writer would rear her ugly head and pretty soon the story would be neat and precise, the exact opposite of what a good /story/ should be. So I practise self-imposed blindness and pants like crazy. Then I do a hell of a lot of restructuring to make the seemingly random flow without any ‘what the…?’ moments. 🙂
    For me, editing is a constant. 🙁

    1. Your process sounds similar to mine. In my case, it’s the accountant coming through, trying to neatly organize and structure everything. Makes for a boring novel. But seat-of-the-pants blindness sees books written even if the first draft is a mess.

  2. I loved reading about your process 🙂
    At the moment mine is either plan, write, get stuck, or pants, write, get stuck. I always write too much and I know I’ll have to cut words rather than add them. My next big goal is to finish a first draft. After that I’ll need to find Alpha/Beta readers, and I imagine the rest of my process will be similar to yours.

      1. In the end I banned myself from my laptop for the afternoon and wrote down my plot in bullet point form to figure out where I was going wrong. After a bit of random trawling of the internet on my phone, I finally got down to it and figured out what was missing 😀 Electronics seem to be a major source of distraction for me!

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