When I send a rejection to an author, I try very hard to be as clear as possible on why the writer had the manuscript returned.
I usually start with the basics, SHOW, don’t TELL, Point-Of-View issues, backstory and secondary characters. I iterate why these plot devices will not work and then usually end the paragraph with that most disheartening of sentences…”this does nothing to progress the developing romantic relationship.”
Romance, by its very nature and meaning, is between two people. The characters do not know one another at the beginning of the relationship, or if they do, they’ve never looked at each other in a romantic light or acted on the romance of the relationship before.
So, when starting a romance the primary goal is to get the couple together. And keep them together. As much as possible. A page or two foray of them going off alone is fine. Even 5 pages. And dare I say it? Even 20 pages. I don’t recommend that last. I’m just saying it can be done. It isn’t done often, and it is only for very experienced romance writers. If you don’t have at least three published books under your belt, don’t try this at home.
So, how do we keep the hero and heroine together? How do we maintain the excitement and attraction of a new relationship? Actions. Words. Put them together in whatever setting you choose. Have them speak to each other. Read the dialogue outloud. Is it stilted, disjointed, weird sounding? Then go back to the manuscript and re-write it.
Have them act together – a walk in the park, a dinner for two, babysitting a dog, rescuing a cat, stopping to help at an accident scene, whatever works – whatever you have in mind.
From that point, you can also begin building character. Hero and heroine must be aware of each other’s body language and actions. When hero does something warm-hearted, does the heroine notice? Does she see him gently scooping the kitten into his hands and holding it against his heart, comforting it? These actions give the reader insight into the character’s character. Strong emotive scenes can make your words zing.
Without over-doing it, describe a juxtaposition around them – in one character’s POV.
Jane looked around, noting the sunny, glorious day, with puffy clouds and the scent of Spring in the air.
John stood at the graveside, mourning the loss of his father, his jaw tight, his expression shuttered.
This day should be as cold and dreary as his broken heart, she thought.
Pulling the elements in, to contrast the characters’ feelings, makes them real to the reader. Jane is NOTICING John. She is feeling his pain. The relationship has begun. Now, keep it going.