In romance, the paramount part of the story is developing a relationship. Hero and heroine should meet quickly, have an emotional reaction to each other, and create the capacity to further the relationship in a romantic way.
Thirty pages of the heroine’s or hero’s past, told from her/his own and others’ points of view, is not developing the relationship. Backstory has no impact. Backstory is the past, always static and never changing. It is also simply a passive retelling of events. And remember, romantic fiction works better when you show, don’t tell.
Start the story where the hero and heroine meet. Establish an emotional bond as quickly as possible. A physical bond, such as noting the other’s attractiveness, is an okay start, but by delving straight into emotion, the bond is stronger and the reader begins to identify with the protagonists much quicker.
Spend the rest of the novel keeping the hero and heroine together as much as possible. Find reasons for them to meet, whether by accident or design. Play up each meeting with emotional impact – what they are feeling, rather than what they are seeing. As I’ve noted in other articles, a good way to do this is to pretend your character is blind, and then use the remaining senses to tell the reader about that character.
“Merry Christmas!” Jeanie moved towards the door, pulling her scarf tighter against the chill outside. Stepping out into the crisp winter day, she sighed with delight. “Oh!”
“Pretty, isn’t it?” Jarrod Smith stepped forward, a brightly colored shopping bag in his hand.
“It’s like a Christmas card.” The scent of cinnamon wafted from the bakery next door. She looked up at him, noting his eyelashes were coated with snowflakes as he lifted his face into the sky.
“This is my favorite time of year.” His laugh was infectious and she joined in.
“I love the smells, I love watching people scurry about, although I’m not too fond of shoveling the wet stuff.” He grinned. “Listen!”
Then she heard it. Bells jingled as two horses came dancing down the street, pulling a small sleigh.
“Want to go on a sleigh ride?” He didn’t wait for her answer. He grabbed her mittened fingers and ran across the street. Jeanie felt warm hands around her waist as he lifted her into the seat.
“Hot cider in the thermos, warm cookies in the insulated bag.” The driver pointed as they snuggled under a wool blanket.
As the bells rang and the snow fell, Jarrod leaned close and gently kissed Jeanie, tasting of cider and sugar cookies.
Even though no descriptions of the actual characters are used, the reader gets an implied sense of character from how the protagonists are reacting to the various stimuli around them. Jarrod is fun-loving, spontaneous and interested in Jeanie. Jeanie is polite, yet adventurous. Both are observant and Jeanie is making memories in her mind. All those subliminal messages are picked up by the reader, placing them not only in the scene, but making them enjoy it. This allows the reader to identify with the characters even more.
Refrain from introducing a third character who describes or spends time listing all the hero or heroine’s attributes. Not only does this detract from the developing romance by putting a “three’s a crowd” aspect into the novel, but it is telling, rather than showing.
You can write a little bit of the past into the hero and heroine’s point-of-view, but only if it pertains to the developing relationship. Perhaps the hero has a small child. He can let the heroine know he adopted the child while he was overseas, or his wife ran off or died. A few paragraphs are the limit of what is needed to explain to both the heroine and the reader. The wife doesn’t even need to be named, she is non-essential to the developing relationship.
What happens in the here and now is where your hero and heroine should be. The present. Not the past. Show, don’t tell. Make your readers remember the characters long after the story is finished. Give your hero and heroine a future, a Happy Ever After.