As a writer of romance, I realized I haven’t written about the fundamentals of writing romance here in a very, very long time! Whether you write romance or another genre, it’s very likely that you’re going to have at least some romance in your story. The thing is, we all love romance—whether we’re writing a thriller, mystery, scifi/fantasy, or whatever, romance almost always has a role somewhere in our stories.

So, what are the basic building blocks for romance? Do you really have to write sex to say your books have romance?

No! Of course not. In fact, in my opinion, the best romances don’t have any set in them at all. To me, the most romantic books (and movies) are those about developing love; people falling in love. Yes, there does need to be physical attraction, but it doesn’t need to be—and shouldn’t be—the entirety of the romance. As we all know, you don’t have love someone to have sex with them.

So, what is it that makes a romance romantic? It’s the feeling. It’s the connection. It’s the zing of warmth that you feel when you look into someone’s eyes or touch their hand. And underlying all of that is trust, and with trust comes honesty.

That is what makes a good romance.

It seems so basic. So easy. And yet, trust is the most difficult thing for anyone. To trust someone so utterly and completely that you are willing to reveal everything to them—your thoughts, feelings, and quirks… your true self—is the most difficult thing for anyone.

Not only do your characters need to learn to trust one another with their deepest, darkest secrets, but they need to be willing to give up something in order to be with the other person. It could be something small—their home. Or it could be something big—their country. And it doesn’t need to be tangible. Someone could give up a habit or they could give up their religion. The thing is, the harder it is to give that something up, the more committed they will be to that relationship.

And although I said at the beginning that sex does not make a romance, the physicality of a relationship cannot be ignored either. There are set stages of intimacy and if they are skipped or rushed through it can jeopardize any relationship. Here are the stages as defined by Desmond Morris:

  1. Eye to body.You notice the person. You are interested.
  2. Eye to eye. Your eyes meet. You notice each other. You are interested in each other.
  3. Voice to voice.You talk. You call. You text. You email. This should be a pretty long stage. You start emotionally bonding.
  4. Hand to hand.You hold hands. It may be accidental touch that is kept in contact or deliberate. You are special.
  5. Hand to shoulder.You put your arm around their shoulder. This publicizes your relationship.
  6. Hand to waist.Your arms around each other’s waist. You know this person about as well as you know your best friend, and you like what you know.
  7. Face to face.You hug and kiss. Gazing into each other’s eyes. You start physically bonding which is an extension of the emotional bond you have taken time to establish.
  8. Hand to head.You run your fingers through their hair. They cradle your face. You stroke their face. This shows a deepening trust.

For obvious reasons, the following steps progress rapidly once started.

  1. Hand to body.
    10. Mouth to body.
    11. Touching below the waist.
    12. Intercourse.