How Can a Manuscript Critique or Developmental Edit Help You With Your Romance Novel

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How Can a Manuscript Critique or Developmental Edit Help You With Your Romance Novel

Rumor on the street has it that writing romance novels must be easy.

*laughs slowly into oblivion*

Now, I don’t know who came up with that utter lie, or who read a romance novel and — obviously by the the lighthearted feelings it gave them — thought, “this must’ve been easy to write.”

As someone who’s tried for the last two years to write a romance novel, I know it isn’t. In fact, making something feel lighthearted and yet poignant is actually, really, really freaking hard.

I’m not saying it’s harder than writing genre fantasy, or sci-fi, or even literary. It’s difficult in its own way, and it comes with its own set of hurdles. Seasoned or unseasoned romance writers will let you know that writing a romance requires a handling of characters, plot, tone, and voice akin to a circus dish-balancing act. There’s a lot to keep track of when plotting/writing a novel.

This is why it’s always recommended that writers seek a second set of fresh eyes to edit their stories. Someone who’s not attached to the work and who is able to see issues of structure and characterization coming from a mile away. A developmental edit is great for this, but sometimes a manuscript critique will do just fine.

While having beta readers and friends read our manuscripts for feedback is great, getting a professional to look at your work can be the deal breaker between writing a romance that soars or one that fizzles out flat.

Having an editor evaluate your manuscript can help you scope out issues of character development, flow, pacing, dialogue, tone, plot holes, inconsistencies, etc.

But they can also help you spot problem areas particular to the romance genre.

Some issues I’ve run into while evaluating romance manuscripts have been:

  • Not enough interaction between the protagonists.

The main purpose of a romance is to get the MCs (Main Characters) to come together romantically. If they’re spending too much time apart, it defeats the purpose. Readers come to the story to see how these two characters will interact and how they’ll overcome the obstacles in their way and finally get together. Their interaction and chemistry are imperative to a successful romance novel.

  • A romantic interest who’s AWOL.

Worse than two characters that don’t interact enough, is an MC in a romance that’s AWOL. For the same reasons as stated above, the character’s interaction is a big part of what makes a romance a romance. Of course, this doesn’t mean that your characters should never spend time apart, or that you can’t write a separation into the story. It only means that you should look into how you write that separation/time apart so that the story isn’t happening with the two MCs apart in a way that the relationship can’t grow organically.

  • Not showing enough emotion.

Let’s be real, romance is *all* about emotions, feelings, and yes, all that mushy stuff. But some writers can fall into the trap of thinking that they can write a “tough” romance. That they can keep it neutral. But, again, that’s not how the romance genre works. The story needs to heavily focus on how the characters feel about each other and the situations that they’re going through. If the narrative lacks emotion, romance readers are likely to deem the story “hard to connect with” or claim the characters as “two-dimensional.” Romance writers need to lean into the complexities of the human heart and mind in order to pull off a romance story that pulls at our heartstrings.

  • The romance is not the main focus of the story.

If the goal of your main story arc isn’t for the two MCs to get together romantically at the end of the story, then your story may not fall under the romance genre. If what you’re hoping to write is a romance novel and not something else, then some restructuring of the plot and reassessing of your main themes may be necessary. It cannot be emphasized enough that in writing a romance novel certain prerequisites need to be met. Romance being at the heart of it is one of those things.

  • Not enough conflict between the protagonists or conflict that isn’t plausible.

You know those times when you’ve read a novel and felt like nothing happened? A novel that lacks conflict will feel that way. A novel with conflict that isn’t plausible will leave the reader frustrated and scratching their head, so you don’t want that either.

Conflict is the glue that holds your story together. It’s also the glue that keeps your reader hooked on your novel. There needs to be rising action in a story, no matter how innocent or comedic the romance may be, in order to engage readers.

  • The pacing of the developing romance is off and not credible.

If the MCs fall in love too quickly or take too long to fall in love, then the pacing will be off and it can risk boring or frustrating your readers. Yes, insta love and slow burns are both real tropes, but even those tropes have that sweet spot where it makes total sense for the characters to fall or to finally get together. Too soon and it won’t be credible; too late and the readers’ patience will be tested.

  • Missing the mark with tropes.

There are so many tropes to work with when writing romance: second chance, one bed, insta love, slow burn, small town, enemies-to-lovers etc., and they all come with their own expectations. For example, if you were to write an enemies-to-lovers arc where the MCs are friendly and compassionate with each other, and they only get miffed once in a while with their love interest, then labeling that as “enemies-to-lovers” could set your story up for angry reviews.

No, you shouldn’t write what other people want, and you should definitely write the relationship as you envision it. But if you were trying to meet the prerequisites of “enemies-to-lovers” you’d have some rewriting to do. Otherwise, if you wanted to stick to your guns, it would be best to remove the enemies-to-lovers label and avoid misleading readers.

  • Not writing a happy ending.

A happy ending is a must when writing a romance genre novel. If not a “happy ever after,” then at least a “happy for now” ending. This is one of the points that absolutely needs to be met when writing a romance novel. It’s the most absolute, most non-negotiable of the prerequisites. Readers expect that happy ending. And if your novel doesn’t have one, it may not fall under the “romance” label after all.

As stated above, writing romance isn’t easy. But it doesn’t have to be extra hard. An editor can help assist you so that you’re able to check all the boxes of your romance story and send it off on its way to be published and subsequently loved and adored by fans of the genre. There’s a lot to keep in mind when writing a romance and a magical balance that a writer has to work with. And it is totally doable! But you don’t have to go it alone, and you don’t have to throw your novel out into the world blindly. The resources exist for you to make it the best you can, and editors are here to help in whatever way possible.


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