New Romance Writers Make: And How to Fix
Copyright Judy Bagshaw - All Rights
Part One can be found here
5.RELYING ON CLICHES (Purple prose and
those awful euphemisms)
"Throbbing manhoods" and "soft milky
mounds" are just two examples of purple prose you really
want to avoid in your romance writing. Besides being awful,
they're really dated.
Your readers are a more sophisticated
crowd now. They'll handle words like "erection" and
"orgasm". Breasts can be breasts, and not mounds, orbs, or
Study the vocabulary in romance books
currently on the market. Make a list for yourself of the
terms used throughout for body parts, and intimate
activity. Based on that list, brainstorm some original
terms that fit the style and flavour of the currently
accepted vocabulary, but are fresh and new and bring your
own voice to the mix. Remember, there are all sorts of
romance lines, from sweet to really steamy, and the
vocabulary used will vary from line to line.
Also, your heroes don't all have to be
tall, dark, handsome and slightly dangerous. Nor do your
heroines have to be slight, blonde, blue-eyed and
submissive. Today, readers want variety and more reality to
the characters. Almost anything goes in today's market.
There is a growing market now for more mature (40+)
heroines. One publisher I know of, is interested in stories
with characters who have disabilities.
I personally made the choice to have
full-figured heroines in my romantic fiction. This choice
has really worked for me. I get letters all the time from
readers thanking me for writing heroines they could relate
to. I've also had heroes who were balding, who had a slight
paunch, who wore glasses, who were average height...in
other words, normal!
Again, study the market. See what's hot,
what's in demand. Read publisher's writer's guidelines.
They'll specify what they're looking for. And try to find a
niche that works for you.
6.TRUSTING SPELL CHECK AND GRAMMAR
Don't get me wrong. These are great
tools to have. Just don't rely on them exclusively.
Spell-check can't differentiate between homonyms.
Ex. He didn't no what to where their,
sew he cot the bus home.
A good rule of thumb is "when in doubt,
look it up". A writer's key tools still, are a good
dictionary and a good thesaurus.
And study a little (actually, study a
lot!). At least learn the rudiments of grammar and
punctuation. For clarification, consult an authority like
Strunk and White's Elements of Style. Your old English
teacher would be so proud of you!
7.TRYING TO WRITE LIKE THEIR FAVORITE
It's true that many artists learned to
hone their skills by imitating or copying the masters. I
don't recommend it for you, as an aspiring romance writer.
The pitfalls are deep! And although imitation is the
sincerest form of flattery, it can sound pretentious in the
I do recommend reading voraciously in
the genre to which you aspire to write. If you wish to
write Regencies, then read a whack of them. Familiarize
yourself with the tone, the conventions, the language, the
atmosphere, the background. Then write using your own
voice, and your own style. If the Christian romance market
is your choice, then research it thoroughly (more on
research later). Read a broad range of inspirational
romances to discover how faith is interwoven into the
story, what language and description are acceptable.
Most publishers will provide writer's
guidelines to help you with some of these issues. And it's
a good idea, if you are targeting a particular publisher,
like Harlequin for instance, to familiarize yourself
thoroughly with what they require for their various
How do you find your own voice, you may
ask? There aren't any rules for writing like yourself, but
I think much of it develops over time with study and
experience. Through editing your work, and paying attention
to what works and what doesn't, you'll find that your own
voice will begin to emerge. This is where a critique group
or some kind of writing support group comes in handy. They
can give you insight into what is sounding true in your
work, and what is forced.
8.NOT DOING THEIR HOMEWORK:
There are two things I want to address
here; research and craft.
a) RESEARCH: Nothing can kill your story
for a reader, than to include faulty research in your
book--wristwatches before they were invented, products that
didn't exist, clothing styles from the wrong decade,
vocabulary that's too modern.
Particularly with historical romances,
you have to get your information right. Readers will catch
the errors and your credibility will be shot.
The Internet offers an endless resource
of information on virtually any subject. An armchair
researcher can easily find correct information for their
work. All sorts of books have been written on any number of
eras, societies, fashion trends, language. For example, I
am currently researching the mid-1800's in the Canadian
West, a rich time of tremendous change in my country. I
have books on the rise of the law in the west, the first
nations people, the Metis and Louis Riel, fashion and
society of the 1800's...all which will help me paint a
vivid picture of the time and lend authenticity to my
b) WRITER'S CRAFT: I don't believe a
writer ever finishes learning his/her craft. It is a
lifelong pursuit of perfection. And it's important to
master the key elements of the writing craft quickly,
particularly if you aspire to be published. Much of this
will happen over time as experience and practice teach you
through trial and error. But there are things you can do to
give yourself help.
Join a writer's group and/or critique
group where you can share your work and get constructive
feedback. I belong to the Writer's Circle of Durham Region
www.wcdr.org Through them I've had
access to terrific workshops and classes on various
aspects of writing including romance writing. I've heard
speakers at the monthly breakfasts who open my eyes to
the writing world. For example, we once had a senior
editor from Harlequin come to speak and share how
romance publishing has and is changing--very
Take writing courses. You can do so by
correspondence with schools like Quality of Course
www.qualityofcourse.com Or you can
check out the local colleges or high-schools for night
classes to take. There are numerous online writing
courses offered as well, some that focus specifically on
romance writing. Just do a Google search on writing
courses to find them.
As well, read, read, read voraciously on
the subject of writing romances--books like
"How To Write Romances" by Phyllis Taylor Pianka, and
"Writing the Romance Novel" by Leigh Michaels can be
immensely helpful. A search at
Amazon.com will bring up a slew of titles on the
subject. And of course, read the articles here at
Romance Writer2Writer. There is a
wealth of useful information for the budding writer.
Do your homework. It will make you a
better and more successful romance writer.
9.THINKING THE FIRST DRAFT MEANS IT'S
This is one of the hardest lessons to
learn as a newbie writer, but one of the most crucial. We
spend however long crafting that wonderful story that's
been floating in our head for ages. We finally get it down
on the page, and then...we have to start over again??
Revise, revise and revise
again...perhaps through 3, 4, 5+ drafts until you have the
most polished product possible. Only the cleanest of
manuscripts should EVER be sent to a publisher.
Two books that I've found quite useful
are "Self-editing for Fiction Wrtiers" by Renni Browne and
Dave King, and "The Complete Guide to Editing Your Fiction"
by Michael Seidman. By studying guides such as these, you
can, step by step, polish your romances until they really
However, learn when to leave well enough
alone. You can edit the life out of a piece if you're not
10.TAKING CRITICISM PERSONALLY
You know you've really grown up as a
writer, when you can listen to a bit of constructive
criticism without contemplating homicide (grin).
As writer's, particularly as new writers
just learning our craft, we have to be open to the wisdom
of those who have gone before us. After all, once you're
published, your work will be judged by publishers, editors,
readers, and reviewers. You'll face rejection, and will
darn well have to deal with it. And hopefully, learn from
I have a saying I coined a few years
ago, that I try to live by. "Rejection is the fuel that
fires my resolve to prove them wrong".
About the Author:
Judy Bagshaw has been published since
2000. Writing romance featuring full-figured
heroines, her publishing credits include 4 novels, 1
collection of short stories, and short stories in
three anthologies. She was also part of the writing
team for the Ginn Reading Series, and Reaching
Readers Series, used in many elementary schools.
Retired from teaching, she writes full-time from her
home in Ontario, Canada. Visit Judy's