Posted by on 16th March 2021

What are the hallmarks of a truly great romance novel?

Thanks to the explosion of self-publishing and e-books, there are more books than ever available and at your fingertips. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in really great romance novels. And I don’t mean in just self-published books. Some of my favorite romance authors are self-published.

Part of the problem may be traditional and self-published author’s efforts to keep up with the crazy-prolific publishing schedule of some indie authors. Because trying to put out that many books in a year can hurt quality.

I’ve always been a quality over quantity person, as both a romance reader and romance author.

While some people certainly write and edit faster than I do, it takes  me time to write a book that’s layered and emotional and real. The kind of book that sucks you in and takes you on a journey that doesn’t end until you finish the book at three a.m.

Sometimes, when I DNF another book, I think maybe I’m being too critical. Then I remember I’m equally as critical of my own writing (Which is why it takes me so damn long to write and edit a book.).

So, what makes for an unputdownable romance read?

  • A unique voice. I love getting inside the head or experience of someone different from me. When an author has a unique voice, I’m transported to a different place and time and I get to live someone else’s life for a little while.
  • More questions than answers, especially at the beginning. I do not want or need to know a bunch of backstory early in the book. In fact, for the better part of at least the first half, I only want little tiny dribs and drabs of backstory. Just give me what I need to understand the characters motivations over time but keep me guessing. It’s the lingering questions that make me turn pages in search of answers (Think season one of Stranger Things.).
  • Every sentence, every scene, every word choice is written that way for a reason. In a great book, nothing is superfluous. Every single detail adds to the richness of the setting, the depth of the characters, or the arc of the plot. When this isn’t the case, stories tend to be redundant, clichéd, and/or boring.
  • The writing flows smoothly. I adore a book that’s so easy to read I don’t even realize I’m reading until I reach the end and stop. I want to be lost in the world the author has created and not stumbling over awkward sentences or noticing redundant information. If I’m shaken out of my reading trance more than a couple times because I’m somehow confused , I’ll stop reading that book.
  • The story ebbs and flows. A great romance should be a bit like a roller coaster, with moments of tension, moments of excitement, and moments of release and reflection. It needs slower parts and parts that zoom by. Otherwise it feels flat and boring and I’m not compelled to keep reading.

If a romance novel has all of these, it’s likely to be a great read. That’s regardless of the setting, or level of steaminess (though I’m all for super-steamy!). One of my favorite recent reads was a male-male hockey romance, and I don’t like hockey or have a particular affinity for m/m romances. But in a great romance novel, the characters backgrounds, ethnicities, or sexual orientations only add to the story (the more diverse the better!).

Here five great romances I read last year.

What makes for a great romance for you? Got any romance recommendations you think are amazing and unputdownable? Please do leave a comment below.