by Priscilla Oliveras

It’s no secret, romance novels fly off the shelves. YA and adult readers alike clamor for novels in the genre that for decades has been at or near the top of fiction sales. In fact, romance averages more than 20% of the market.

Many outside of Romancelandia claim the titillation found within the pages, and sometimes on the covers, is what draws readers. Those of us more experienced understand that the genre’s appeal runs far deeper.

Today’s romance novels celebrate the value of healthy relationships. The power of meaningful human connections.

The desire to connect with others—emotionally, physically, spiritually—is a universal need. As a romance writer, I understand the importance of tapping into and satisfying this need for my reader. My goal with every book is to create characters readers will fall in love with and want to revisit again and again. If I succeed, my book has a better chance at landing on a reader’s Keeper Shelf.

I imagine you have the same Keeper Shelf goal for your work. If so, perhaps you’ve considered adding a romance or romantic subplot to your current manuscript. (There is a difference, by the way! A romance always has an HEA, or happily ever after, whereas a romantic story can be open to other endings.) As a romance genre aficionado, I am all for this idea. With, however, one bit caveat:

Consider craft and reader expectations.

I tell all my writing students: Craft is key—study and practice it. Also, reader expectations should be considered. Because let me tell you, romance readers do have expectations. We know a well-written romance or romantic subplot and one that’s been merely dropped into a story to “check the romance box.” The latter leaves me disappointed, often re-writing the story in my head. That can be a great exercise as writing practice, but not so great if a reviewer feels the same way.

To help avoid disappointing readers, one of the top romance craft books I recommend is Pamela Regis’s A Natural History of the Romance Novel. I discovered Regis’s book while earning my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. Talk about a game-changer!

In her text, Regis introduces eight essential elements inherent to successful romance novels. She dissects multiple classic and contemporary bestselling romance novels examining how the authors implemented the essential, and often the incidental, elements to craft Keeper Shelf novels that have withstood the test of time. When writing or plotting your romance or romantic thread, keeping the essential elements in mind can help ensure you hit all the right beats.

Here are Regis’s 8 Essential Elements:

Society Defined: The society (world) in which the characters live/work/play. This world is flawed in some way that creates conflict for the lead characters. By the end, the conflict that kept them apart has been resolved or vanquished and their society—or their inner circle—is a healthy space for them.

The Meeting: In a romance, the Meeting typically occurs in the beginning. In a non-romance, the appearance of the love interest should be appropriate for the plot. Even if the characters already know each other, there should still be a “meeting” for the first time in the novel.

The Barrier: This is the major conflict(s) keeping the characters apart. It’s stronger if there are internal and external barriers. The Barrier/Conflict helps propel the story forward as it consists of multiple scenes where we see the Barrier in action.

The Attraction: This is also a series of scenes that show us why this couple must be together. These scenes keep the main characters together long enough to resolve their conflicts and act on their attraction. The Attraction and The Barrier create a back and forth, push-pull effect that provides momentum.

The Declaration: The moment when the characters confess their feelings. It can happen at the same or different times. The type of Declaration (actions, words, even a serenade—see my novels Kiss Me, Catalina and Their Perfect Melody) should be appropriate for your character.

The Point of Ritual Death: The loss of something or someone important—a literal or figurative death. This element creates the belief that the HEA is doomed because the Barrier is too big to be overcome.

The Recognition: When the character experiences some type of realization—often thanks to new information gleaned—of how they messed up or misunderstood. This leads them to “prove” their love for/commitment to their partner. In a romance, this element is typically the catalyst for what’s known as the “grand gesture.”

The Betrothal: The moment when it’s clear the love interests will be together. It can be a kiss, a proposal, an invite for a first date…whatever is appropriate for your story and characters. Key: The commitment to each other is clear.


Keep in mind, there’s no specific order for the elements to occur. I like to think of myself as a mad scientist in my lab with all the elements laid out on the table. How and when I use them is at my discretion as I craft my own, unique Keeper Shelf romance. Whether it’s a beach read romance set in Key West, a Shakespeare re-imagining set in the world of mariachi music, or (my latest release, Their Perfect Melody) an opposites-attract romance between a by-the-book Chicago cop and a victim’s advocate with rose-colored glasses, Regis’s Essential Elements remain at the core. The secret non-romance writers might not know? They can work for your subplots too, no matter what genre you’re writing.


Priscilla Oliveras is a USA Today bestselling author whose books have earned Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist along with praise from O, The Oprah Magazine, the Washington Post, New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and more. Priscilla earned her Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, where she now serves as adjunct faculty. She also teaches the online class “Romance Writing” for and is a book coach and developmental editor with Your Best Book.