We’ve all read romance novels that were… okay. Some that were good, and even others that were pretty good. But what makes a romance novel GREAT? What makes us want to grip the book tighter, stay up until 4 in the morning just to finish, even though, duh, it’s a romance, we know how it’s going to end?

I don’t claim to be an expert on the matter, but I do feel a little qualified to answer since I’ve been a romance novel addict (let me clarify, a Christian romance novel addict) since I was about fifteen. Now, that isn’t to say my tastes are exactly like everyone elses, but I think there are a few ingredients that separate the “good” from the “great.”

  1. Sexual Tension. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Just because you’re writing a Christian romance novel doesn’t mean you can skip over this part. (This is a WHOLE blog post in itself though!)
  2. A Heroic Hero. If your hero is wimpy and not strong… it’s just not attractive to women readers. We want someone who will go slay dragons for the heroine, not run and cower because he’s a lazy butt who doesn’t have the guts to hold a sword. (Figuratively speaking of course!)
  3. A likable heroine. Even though women readers, IMHO, are more likely to be drawn toward the hero, we still want our heroine to be likable. If she’s that girl down the street who in high school we just wanted to punch really hard (did I say that???) then, yeah, we probably won’t be rooting for her to get the heroic hero.
  4. A plausible plot. Don’t make me roll my eyes because no guy is going to do that, and no woman would ever act like that when her hero is being such a dufus.
  5. Emotional Angst. If a romance novel doesn’t make you laugh and/or cry, it is rarely considered great. Good romance envokes emotion.

There are other things rolling through my head, but I think the top are my “must haves.”

Discussion: What are your must haves in a romance novel?



  1. What a think a great romance novel must have is super high stakes. As in, I have to know what's going to happen and how they're going to get together. Because we know they will get together by the end, but it's the how that's so fascinating.
    Plus, all your other points are must haves too. I completely agree with them.

  2. I need forbidden love. There HAS to be no way possible for these two, and yet, somehow they overcome the odds.

  3. I agree with all these things. Likeable is hard to define though. The biggest critique I get for BaVS (from contest judges) is that my heroine comes across selfish or maybe callous. Here's my difficulty. She actually is selfish and a bit callous (a defense mechanism) in the beginning of the story. This is a HUGE area of growth for her. Actually, the focus of her arc. So yea… I'm strugling with that one!

  4. Good points! I totally agree with each of yours and that would make me read a book of yours!

  5. Kind of odd, but I am drawn to novels in beach towns!

  6. I agree with all your points, but most importantly, #5!! You need emotion…lots of it…and different emotions. I consider my writing romantic comedy. For me, that is perfection. Life is nothing with love or laughter and that's what I want when I pick up a book. I want my heart to flutter, I want to laugh….and cry too….I love it when something touches my soul and makes me tear up!!

    Katie…I dealt with that same problem. Yeah, my MC is selfish and materialistic in the beginning (and she's sassy and entertaining!)…and I couldn't understand why agents were rejecting it based on that. Did they not read my synopsis? The point of any story is character growth, especially in romance. I just could not understand why they would think she stayed that way through the entire book. But….I found a small press who loved my story just as much as I do: Lyrical Press and it's due for publication this summer!

  7. Hmm… I like a good surprise, whether it's a situation, a conversation, a gift, etc.

  8. I like your list…Any kind of tension keeps me reading. 🙂

  9. The heroine has to be likable for me—and definitely not one of those "too stupid to live" types! I have to identify with her, I have to see a part of myself in her.

    But for me it all comes down to the hero. I want the author to make ME fall in love with the hero! And the reason that it's important for the heroine to be likable and for me to see part of myself in her is because if I fall for the hero and I feel like the heroine isn't worthy of him, I'm going to end up hating the book.

  10. I think the sexual tension and emotional arc are the most important. Great post!

  11. I don't write romance, but I do read it, and you have a great list here.

  12. I would have to say I require a small dose of self-confidence from the heroine.
    I really hate it when the heroine HATES how she looks. I mean, everyone has things they don't like about themselves, but some heroines (in both 1st and 3rd person) make themselves sound truly repugnant. Then, when the hero falls for her, I'm like "Wow, that is so NICE of him!" instead of "Oh, that's so romantic!"
    Good list, Krista!

  13. Some GREAT additions to the list! Next week I'm going to post on Romance novel pet peeves… I guess they could kinda be the opposite of the must haves huh?!? (but I have a few extra, ha!)

  14. The hero and heroine only have eyes for each other–in fact, they have a compulsive need to be in each other's company. They don't understand it. They fight it. But they can't stop it!

  15. Hi Krista –

    Throw in suspense along with history, and it's irresistible.

    Susan 🙂

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