Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance

Kate Walker has over 40 titles published with Harlequin, contemporary around 55K words. Because this is what she writes successfully, the entire book sways toward her personal writing process.

Most of the book is pretty basic “need to know” for someone who is thinking about writing romance but has never attempted the genre before. That would not be me. Each chapter ends with suggested exercises that makes this into a workbook. Here's the high points.
  • A romance is about the emotional journey - because the destination (the happy ending) is guaranteed.
Walker has an organic, character-based process very similar to my approach, which may account for the familiarity of the information she presented. We both start with the characters, interview them, get to know them, have their history understood before creating the plot. She has a character worksheet in her book that I am going to try out.

Putting characters in a book is like matchmaking two people you know really well. Their story should naturally evolve. or be told by the characters, without much effort if you do know them well. (Easier said than done!)

She does not use the standard 3 act play formula. Instead she uses a simpler design:
Hero + Heroine + conflict + getting to know you + the black moment + resolution + happy ending
  • She suggest the story should be written like a sexual experience: interest to arousal to passion to emotional climax.
  • She believes that the external conflict should always resolve before the internal conflict.
  • The black moment should be a rearing up of the external conflict, thought resolved, that stirs up the internal conflict of the characters and the final resolution of the internal conflict puts at rest the external conflict for good.
To illustrate the black moment: if the external conflict is “the secret baby,” a common plot for Harlequin where the reunited couple has to deal with a child conceived in the past that the hero doesn't know about, then the black moment should surround the baby. Possible black moments for this common plot:

  • He decides he wants her and the baby, but she interprets his behavior as him only wanting the baby and being resigned to having her around, too.
  • He not only decides he wants her and the baby, but he wants more children. She interprets that all he really wants is a broodmare.
 Other points she makes about her process:
  • Dual black moment endings are acceptable.
  • 60% meaningful dialogue (mature, that moves the story forward) – 40% narrative
  • Don't use dialogue tags like whisper or shouted. Instead, use “business” that show the character's mood (body/face language) -- the action and the pace of the action -- and dialogue that supports the whisper or the shout.
  • The H/H should be passionate about everything they do and say.
  • No matter how much emotion you have in the story, add more.
  • The plot should look like a series of Ws, where the characters take two steps forward and one step back until they reach the destination.
The modern heroine:
  • is neither passive nor aggressive
  • wants to pleasure as much as be pleasured
  • is sympathetic, not pathetic
The modern hero:
  • can be aggressive but not abusive
  • must take responsibility for contraception
  • must show personal and moral integrity
  • can be either an alpha or a beta male (she explains both)
Walker writes about the importance of knowing the Who, When, Where, What and How and Why.

  • Who: hero and heroine (she doesn't do many side characters, says it takes away from the main romance which is the focus)
  • When: era, season, when in the character's life in relation to traumatic past events, age of characters or maturity level, when in relation to the “point of crisis” what is also called the inciting incident.
  • Where: setting (geographical location, buildings, apartments)
  • What and How: the plot
  • Why: the motivation of the characters, every scene should have a purpose and be able to answer the why: why do they act as they do, why do they fall in love.
She showed one synopsis without the “why” and a revised one with the “why.” Since writing synopsis is a chore that I struggle with, this bit alone should help with my future synopsis writing and was worth the price of the book.
Her best quote:

  •  “Love is not only blind but the complete opposite. It sees things in other people that no one else can find.”
Like I said, most of this I already knew. I'm not seeking to write 55K word contemporary stories so I didn't find what I really hoped to find. I'll keep looking.

I'll keep you posted.


  1. Well, take not finding what you want as a good sign. You're already so well-read on the subject it's hard to find any new tidbit you haven't heard!

  2. Nice post!
    A lot of great info. Thanks for sharing!

  3. It's really great that Ms. Walker is sharing her techniques this way,hopefully other authors do the same in the future. So many people are interested in writing romance novels that there should be a market for this type of how-to for a long time.