Romance has rules and a formula. Say what?

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of romance. I’ve always read books with romance, but it tended to be more adventure or fantasy with a side of romance. But my current New Adult kick has lead me to a plethora of books with romance as the main plot and while reading these stories I’ve noticed that there seems to be a pattern. So of course I had to research to find out if this was just a coincidence or an actual thing.

It’s a thing, guys.

There are rules or more importantly a typical structure to stories written in the romance genre. They aren’t etched on a tablet that’s kept behind a glass cabinet in the romance headquarters–that would be Harlequin, right?–but rather, they are unwritten rules that readers of the genre expect to find in their books.

So what are these rules?

The romance needs to be the main plot.

Sure it’s okay to have a story with suspense, vampire aliens, evil overlords, or killer zombies, but these other plots should not overshadow the love story.  Romance need to be at the plot’s center.

The heroine must be sympathetic

This one’s probably true of all good books, but in romance the reader needs to feel like the heroine is someone they’d want as their bff.

The hero must be attractive and irresistible

Tall, dark and handsome. Check. The hero needs to not only be attractive, but also have some or all of those traits we admire most in men. The ones many women pine for — an attentive lover, a kind friend, funny, intelligent … you get the idea.

A happily ever after

The hero and heroine must wind up happily together by the end of the story, and not just happy for now, but in a solid you’re-my-forever contentment. Usually the story itself needs to wind up happy as well. So no killing off main characters or doing anything that will make them miserable forever. Capiche?


And that’s it.


Avid romance readers tend to expect a certain structure to their stories and most of the best selling authors deliver, so this means there is a typical pattern to romance plots.  It was probably this more so than the rules that I noticed as I read. The plots were a little fomulatic and tended to go something like this;


  • Main characters are introduced. As is their reason for not being together
  • Something happens that forces them together and they hate to love it
  • There is a physical connection (usually around the midpoint)
  • They start to fall in love, but … there’s now a new/ worse problem that keeps them apart
  • Finally, they get past the problem to reach the resolution of the relationship
  • Everyone lives happily ever after

Of course all rules can be broken. Many authors have done so and got a my-book’s-a-bestseller award. But don’t let them fool you, breaking rules the right way isn’t easy. Maybe the important thing to remember is; just tread carefully.

So there they are, the common rules and standard formula of romance. That’s it from me, but what about you? What do you like in a good romance?

Stacey Nash (3)

Stacey Nash writes contemporary new adult romance with a smattering of other stuff and young adult other stuff with a smattering of romance.  To find out more about her books find her at, twitter or facebook.


  1. I’ve noticed the same thing. Sometimes that first steps in the typical plot are a bit different; they might get together earlier (without getting physical too early), but the seeds of the thing that will divide them are sewn.



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