Bon Mots for Victorian (and all) Romance Writers

By Julie Beard


Two years ago I had the great privilege of writing one of the Idiot’s Guides for Macmillan’s Alpha Books imprint.  I wrote “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Your Romance Published.”  It is full of tips on everything from how to come up with ideas to how to plot and how to find an agent and editor.  In honor of the release of my newest romance—my only Victorian—I’ve put together some bon mots from the Idiot’s Guide.  I used many of the techniques from my “how to” book when writing my Victorian romance, The Duchess’ Lover.  It’s about a duchess who falls in love with her gardener.  Imagine the scandal!  So whether you want to write a Victorian tale of love or a contemporary Silhouette, I hope you’ll find these tips helpful:

Talk About Pacing...

Dialogue is easy to read and moves a story along quickly.  That’s why writers today increasingly use dialogue to communicate plot points or exposition.  Some writers even start the first scene of their books in the middle of dialogue.  For the reader, it’s like jumping on a carousel that’s in motion.  It’s a little jarring, but it also leaves no doubt that the plot is moving along at a fast pace.


Big emotion has to be justified or it will seem melodramatic or just plain silly.  If you want your characters to react strongly, you have to create conflicts that warrant strong reaction.  And you have to make sure your characterization is strong as well.  If you put cardboard characters in a dramatic situation, the reader will simply yawn.  A good romance is a triangle of strong plot, emotion and characterization.

Circumstantial Evidence...

Many beginning writers mistakenly use overblown misunderstandings to keep their lovers from declaring their love too early in the book.  This technique never works!  Here’s an example:

Your heroine overhears a conversation and mistakenly assumes your hero cheated on her.  Her injured pride and anger prevent her from asking him about the alleged infidelity.  The misunderstanding (which is their only conflict) drags on and on, when the problem could be resolved with a direct confrontation.

Readers don’t like circumstantial evidence anymore than juries do.  Misunderstandings can add fuel to the fire of other bigger conflicts, but circumstantial problems should be resolved in a reasonable amount of time and through direct dialogue.  Your hero and heroine must, after all, be reasonable people or your readers won’t like them.

Brainstorm Coming...

Best-selling historical romance author Jill Marie Lands believes in brainstorming so much that she belongs to a plotting group.  Five published writers meet regularly to discuss their storylines.  All the writers work in different subgenera and each offers a different perspective.  Jill says: “You get five different points of view on how your book could go, and you can take them or leave them.  It fills in a lot of holes.  Somebody will ask a key question like “What’s his motivation?” or “What’s the key conflict?”  Somebody else might notice you don’t have any.  It helps you validate whether your story is working or not.  Somebody will say ‘That’s a great idea’ or ‘Gee, I just read a book like that.’  You always think your own baby is pretty.  But you get it out there and it might not be.”

Got Talent...?

Personally, I think talent is highly overrated.  After all, where does talent end and skill begin?  Clearly, some writers are more talented than others.  But raw talent is just one aspect of writing.  Some authors have a natural ability to tell a good yarn, some have a talent for tapping into trendy ideas, some have a quirky, interesting writing style, some have an ability to create a cozy world, or vibrant characters.  There is room in the marketplace for a variety of skills.  Does that mean you have to be the most talented writer who ever lived in order to achieve your dreams of being published?  Nah!  But you DO have to be determined.  So hang in there!

Julie Beard is the USA Today Best-selling author 10 novels and novellas.     Check out Julie’s website at

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