Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self Editing

In writing romance, the challenge is to show the love of the characters in unique ways that touch the heart of the reader. However, there is a trend for authors to overuse phrases to tell us that one character is falling in love with another. Though most editors haven't taken to thinking of these phrases as cliche, an author would do well to stay ahead of the curve and work to replace such phrases with creative scenes that show the developing romance, whether or not the couple is aware of their feelings.

Phrases that are quickly hurdling toward the "overuse" column deal with the fluttering of hearts, the tingle of skin when one's hand touches the others, and the warmth a heroine feels when the hero places his hand on the small of her back to gently lead her away. Just like a cliche, they are becoming droll and mundane. Yes, some readers actually laugh at the flutter of butterflies in a stomach, and they grow tired of the tingling skin.

Why? Because these are not true reactions. Young crushes might result in giddy excitement or a niave heroine might experience a jolt when the hero touches her hand, but most often true romance happens subtly. The feelings sneak up on a couple. Sometimes they don't even realize what has hit them. The key to winning a reader's heart and giving her a love story to remember is in letting the reader see what the characters might not even recognize.

Let's look at some romantic films and/or stories for examples of ways to show the blossoming or the contining romance:

1. Sacrifice. The hero or heroine is shown whether covertly or overtly giving up something important for the good of the other. In the classic story of the beautiful woman and the beastly ogre, the beast gives up the possibility of having the spell broken and returning him to his human form. Their relationship grows through the story, and his ultimate sacrifice is one that is not forgotten as it is the key that eventually releases the spell over him.

2. Reactions. In the movie The Way We Were Katie walks into the party at the beginning of the movie and sees Hubble sleeping in the lounge. The screenplay then sweeps the reader back to their college days (not something recommended in writing, but in screenwriting, it works well). As Katie is drawn back from the past, she moves toward Hubble and with a tender touch, she brushes his hair from his forehead. That one reaction to seeing him after so long a time is worth a million well worn phrases.

3. Familiarity: As the romance grows in the movie Two Weeks Notice, the hero and heroine are usually at odds, but the writing was so well done that the audience realizes even with the bickering and with the heroine’s intent to leave the burdensome employment, that the couple are falling in love. The first hint of it is so subtle that a viewer might miss it: It’s the restaurant scene where they receive their meals and as they discuss business, each takes something from the others plate. That simple interaction shows the audience what the couple obviously don't realize at that moment. They are made for one another.

In self editing, look for ways in to replace worn phrases with vivid scenes that show the couple's blossoming love or even the true depth of their love. Readers may not be able to tell one fluttering-hearted heroine from another, but an author who takes time to layer in the moments of sacrifice, reaction, familiarity and other indications of true romance, will have a story not soon forgotten by the reader.

Happy editing.


  1. Wow! Thanks for this advice! I have used these phrases, recently, in a workshop I took trying to learn how to add romance to my manuscript. I will be removing them:) Boy, have I got some editing to do. Thanks for this superb advice!

  2. Great post, Fay. Makes me want to go back and edit ...