The Art of Writing Slow-burn Romance

in #writing5 years ago

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.

green rider books

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.

shadowy horses

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:

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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!

Whatever happens, keep singing your song!

Peace. @katrina-ariel

Katrina Ariel

Author bio: Katrina Ariel is an old-soul rebel, musician, tree-hugging yogini, and mama bear to twins. Author of Yoga for Dragon Riders (non-fiction) and Wild Horse Heart (romance), she's another free-spirit swimming in the ocean of life. Check out her music here:


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I am not sure I can keep my characters away from each other...

I know, I can't!

I know, right?! I don't think I have that kind of restraint. She's a master at torturing her readers in the best possible way, though. I keep coming back for more.

I'm an avid reader, so first off, thanks for these two author recommendations. I've read many similar books in several genres, with the "romantic" sub plot. and as I've grown older I've realized that sex as a "completion" of a romance has become less important to me than the actual recognition of love and overcoming the unresolved tension or obstacle that is standing in the way.

Sure sometimes it's interesting to see some light porn in the book, but for me it doesnt make or break the book. The plausibility of the romance does. If I dont get the romantic connection, ie attraction is all based on sex and superficial nonsense or outright stupidity on the part of the characters, the characters lose flavor and fall to pieces. I stop caring if they will mate.

I will recommend to you an author I read a year or so back and have started to re-read because I find her plots memorable and her characters compelling.

Trudi Canavan, specifically the Black Magician trilogy, but her other series are just as fascinating. perhaps not as slow burn as you might like...

Oh, don't get me wrong, I like steamy sex scenes as much as I enjoy a slow-burn romance. I guess I gravitate towards the former so this was me recognizing how much I like both approaches.

And I agree with you—character building and genuine connection are much more important to me than sex scenes. If the characters are being stupid I tend to lose interest very quickly.

Thank you for the recommendation! I'll check out her work. :)

I read Green Rider well over a decade ago, and don't remember much besides the cover. Might be time to start reading the series (six books though? I dunno if I can handle that kind of torture)

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So... Don't tell anyone but I skipped book five. I might go back and read it at some point but I have enough of an idea that I could read book six without it. The first three are my faves. Book four is pretty dark, if I remember correctly. Book six is freaking amazing.

So I was just watching the Downton Abby movie today thinking about how much I love a slow burn romance. For Downton a bit of the slow burn comes from the era. Like the romance in this movie is all people calling eachother by last names and holding eye contact just a little too long while exchanging hankies. Or asking permission to send one another letters. There is something kind of hawt 🔥 about the innocence of the exchanges. Cause you know under the innocence that all of their lions are still burning. 🤣😂

Plus sometimes the anticipation is what makes the pay off on the end even hotter. 😍😄

Anticipation. Yes. And sometimes subtlety is so hawt!

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I love fantasy and romance but I confess romantic novels (besides the classics) are not a genre I often read even if "Yidneth" the graphic novel and story I wrote is above all a paranormal love story (that genre that then became popular... like two decades after I wrote it) sigh. So I guess it would fit the romance genre if being rewritten. I still have to read one ofyour books Katrina... :) will try to get to that soon.

I hear you—it's nice to have romance in a story but not necessarily in the romance genre. I bet your graphic novel is AMAZING! Love paranormal love stories. :)

Awww at least the male characer is my own self-tailored fantasy hahaha :) hahah blush! :) sorry Héctor :)

I'm pretty sure that's how it goes for anyone who writes. ;)

I prefer slow-burn as well. It gives time for more complex narratives and world-building. :-)

Yes! Although, I can weave a few hawt scenes into complex narratives and world-building, so... ;)

Don't know if you need advice from a nonfiction writer who doesn't read romance novels, but I'd write the breakthrough scene first to get it out of my system and then lock it in a drawer. The digital version of a locked drawer would be a password-protected document.

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.

Good point. Nothing is as annoying as a plot based on a trivial misunderstanding. On the other hand, I do like tsundere characters who only later reveal what their problem is.

Yes, sometimes you only learn why a character does something later in the book (or series). As for my writing process, I tend to get ideas and run with them. I outline as things come to mind, but have also written entire novels by the seat of my pants, not knowing what's going to happen until it does. It's a fun way to write, but it's helpful to know where the plot is going as I write, too. Regardless, my characters tend to take on a life of their own. ;) Thanks for reading!

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