Writing a Romantic Scene for a Novel That’s Not Romance


Dear H.…

You’re trying to force a plot or character shift with an unearned moment of mushiness, and that won’t work. The fun of reading a romantic scene is feeling the emotional threads that author has been weaving between two characters finally tighten with satisfying resonance. The story hits an emotional peak, and it’s oh so lovely. Ahhhh. Without those emotional threads, no peak. Just dialogue lacking emotional underpinning and awkward touching. Ick. You don’t want to write that, and I don’t want to read it. What relationship shift is true to your characters? Their internal arcs and relationship arc haven’t been about attaining rewards found in romantic love. What’s their emotional need? Is their forced team-up finally shifting to true friendship? Are they revealing vulnerabilities to establish true trust? Identify why the characters you’ve written must connect emotionally at this moment, then write that peak. You’ll enjoy that scene, as will we.

Happy writing!
The Editor


  1. Hmm, not sure I agree with The Editor. It’s possible to write a romantic scene in a book that isn’t a romance, just as it’s possible for character dynamic arcs to move toward romantic love without this arc being the main focus of the novel. It’s a false dichotomy to split novels between ‘romantic’ and ‘non-romantic’, and also unrealistic.

    • Thanks for your input. I absolutely agree with you: a romantic thread does not make a book a “Romance.” I read this author’s dilemma as being about the difficulty of writing a convincing romantic scene in a story that doesn’t feature a romance. Do you read it differently? Would love to hear your take on that.

      • It is possible to create a romantic scene in a story that isn’t a romance, but it must be done carefully so as not to seem gratuitous. I read the writer’s question the same way DEAREDITOR did, and agree that a romantic moment must be woven delicately, where the feelings evolve naturally. Small moments…a glance, a hand accidentally touching, a new feeling of wanting to see someone, blushing, etc., can be woven in earlier in the story.

  2. I also interpreted the question like Yahong Chi did.

    I am writing a YA novel that must feature a romantic scene, but I don’t actually enjoy reading romances myself so was having to work extra hard at making it believable but with a light enough hand that it’s not Harlequin Romance-y.

    I’m not sure how to instruct someone else to do likewise though. It has to grow organically from your own story and characters.

  3. I agree with the sentiment expresed by all the commenters so far. To make any romantic scene feel natural to your story—whether the story is a full-on romance or simply includes a romantic element—there must be a foundation for it. I say in WRITING NEW ADULT FICTION “great buildup begets great sex”, and the same is true for non-sexual romantic scene. If you build up the romantic tension and make that romantic scene inevitable, you’ve already got your characters and readers keyed up and you won’t have to get heavy-handed in an effort to make us feel the emotion. Review your story prior to that scene to make sure the characters have built up a interest in each other. Their interests should include physical admiration or physical reactions to the others’s presence, it should include mutual appreciation of some (if not all) skills or attributes, it should include some points of intellectual bonding or mutual interests and shared goals. There are a lot of options in there—you aren’t limited to writing about people’s breaths catcing at the sight of deep blue eyes or hard pecs. And explore sensual details in their interactions, setting the stage for their awareness of each others’ physicality. When the girl is around, for example, the boy’s narration might include more observations about the breeze on his skin and the energy in his muscles as he stacks the stones in their war bunker—the point being that he becomes acutely aware of his physical response to things when she’s around. Then when the time comes to deliver that romantic scene, you and readers are primed for a more sensual kind of writing and the emotional connection is already in place and just aching to be capitalized upon.

  4. Loved the article. For some reason I cannot for the life of me write anything that does not involve romance…at least as a sub plot. I wrote two futuristic hard boiled detective novellas (that might have made more sense set in the 1940s, lol) and even they included romance (well, the type a hard boiled detective would have gotten into anyway). I guess, what you’re saying here I didn’t know I already knew. You can only go so far once you’ve hit the peak, so the building up to that has to be the meat of the story. No one wants to read a book about how in love the characters are…they want to know how they fell in love. Anyway, you told the H. exactly what he/she needed to hear…You cannot just slap a romantic scene into an otherwise non-romantic story. Bang! Romance! Now (reader) feel something. Nope. You have to earn how your reader feels at any given point in your story. Bang! Romance! is zero amount of work towards earning anything.

  5. Also, H. could have meant romance in a book that does not fall under the genre of romance (happy ending, blah, blah, blah). However, based on the question that would have had to have been an assumption on your part…so, you answered the question as asked. You cannot read H’s mind to know what was intended other than the words they used to communicate.

  6. However, like I always say: you break any rule in any way you want if it’s for comedic purposes, lol (which means the reader must laugh or it’s just bad writing).

    • Thank you for the time you’ve put into chewing over H’s issue. In these comments we’ve been able to get lots of ideas about how to address it from several directions. Love that! And I like your point about “break[ing] any rule in any way you want if it’s for comedic purposes.” What fun when rules are broken to fabulous effect—and laughter is indeed fabulous.

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