The Art of Writing Slow-burn Romance
I just finished reading Firebrand, the sixth book in Kristen Britain's Green Rider series. There are many things I love about this story, including complex characters, layered world building, an interesting magic system, and a balance of dark scenes and warm friendships.
You can see by the picture below that my copy of Green Rider is well loved. I've read it more than twice.
But the thread that keeps me coming back to the Green Rider series is a slow-burn romance that doesn't quit. The author has delightfully tortured her readers for over two decades with this particular sub-plot, and the series isn't finished yet.
Another book that comes to mind with a wonderful slow-burn romance is Susanna Kearsley's The Shadowy Horses. All of her books that I've read are slow-burn, actually.
Aside from recommending the above books, I want to dive into my thoughts about writing slow-burn romance. Because it's something I struggle with as an author.
When it comes to writing a romantic plot line into a story, I have a hard time keeping my characters apart.
I get excited, wanting to hop from meet-cute to first-kiss to let's-get-it-on. I have manuscripts of all heat levels, and only one of them is a slow burn with no on-page sex (okay, there's this one scene, but it's not with the characters in question).
Now, here I am thinking about the merits of a romance that never gives the reader the satisfaction of completion, or at least leaves a lot of the juicy details out.
There's a different kind of juice, and that's the yearning, the exquisite burn of want. Need. The give-it-to-me-already feeling that keeps you up at night. A desire unfulfilled. A thirst unquenched.
How does one write a story and keep that kind of tension all the way through the book, or in some cases, a whole series of them?
Here are a few things I've noticed while reading stories that include slow-burn romance:
The characters need a compelling reason why they can't be together. Forbidden love is one such example. Distance is another. Being in another relationship doesn't seem to be an awesome reason, as I've seen many people express their dislike for stories that include affairs, but there's always exceptions to the rules. Maybe the characters don't like each other at first. Maybe they're on opposite sides of a fight.
Regardless of what keeps them apart, there must be a reason, and it better be good, or the reader might throw the book across the room. Sometimes a character just isn't ready, or both of them are dealing with things that make them unavailable.
Authors who write slow-burn romances have the lovers come together for brief bits of time, then push them apart, again and again. They don't get too close. The authors torture their characters (and their readers) by never letting them get what they want. It's such a tease. The best kind.
The story is about each character's journey. Yes, their relationship is important, but the character's lives don't revolve around each other, because life is more complex than that. Some of my favorite stories don't fall in the romance genre, but have a romantic plot nonetheless. The Green Rider series is fantasy. It just happens to have a dash of romance, enough to keep me hanging on and wanting more.
I'm sure there are more tips to writing a slow-burn romance, but these are my observations for the day. Time to wander into another story!
If you need the TL;DR version of this post, here it is:
Thanks for reading. :)
What about you? What's your favorite book, and is there romance in it?
If you're a fan of romance, consider checking out my novel, Wild Horse Heart!