The ABCs of HEA: Romance Writing Terminology

Romance Writing Terminology

If you’re just starting out in the world of romance writing, you’re most likely encountering certain phrases and acronyms that are unfamiliar or completely foreign. Those of us at All The Kissing wish to welcome you to your new world, and offer our own English-to-Romance dictionary to help you better understand the romance writing terminology and more quickly acclimate to your new environs.

Romance Writing Terminology Breakdown

Active Voice: The opposite of passive voice, and a style of writing in which the subject is performing the action. “She threw the ball.”

Alpha Hero: A type of hero described as a leader, brooding, protective, the warrior with strong emotions, and who makes the hard decisions. The alpha hero can (and usually does) take care of everything.

Antagonist: The character who creates conflict in your story, opposition for the protagonist, or the core story problem, and is not always portrayed as a bad guy.

Beat: An important moment or action that takes place in the story.

Beat Sheet: A visual tool to track the key moments or actions that occur in the main story.

Beta Hero: A type of hero described as more cerebral than physical, comfortable and confident in an understated way. He can be funny and easy going, or the shy, quiet type.

Beta Reader: A test reader for your novel who might provide feedback on story flow and overall narrative arc.

Black Moment: The point of the story where it appears all is lost, and the main character is broken. Also called the Crisis, Dark Moment, All is Lost, and usually occurs around the 75 percent mark.

Byline: The name of the author printed at the head of the article or on the cover of the book.

Character Arc: The personal journey, or inner growth, the lead character undergoes during the story.

Climax: Occurs after the Black Moment and when the main character decides to recommit to the story goal (whether or not she reaches the goal). Also called the finale, showdown, or final battle, and occurs around the 80–99 percent mark.

Critique Partner (CP): Refers to the people who will take your first draft and give you honest and unflinching feedback, often over multiple passes of the book.

Exposition: Information providing backstory to characters, events, etc.

Female/Female (F/F): Indicates the love story involves two females.

Female Main Character (FMC): The leading female character of the story. Also known as the heroine.

First person: The point of view where the main character is also the narrator, using first person pronouns such as I, me, mine. Can be used in both past and present tense. “I got out of the car.” “He calls me.”

Flashback: A break in the story where the timeline shifts to an action or event that occurs in the past.

Gamma Hero: A type of hero who exhibits both alpha and beta traits.

Goals, Motivation, and Conflict (GMC): The three key elements in character arc.

Genre: A category of romance, such as historical, paranormal, contemporary.

HEA: Happy Ever After.

HFN: Happy For Now.

Head-hopping: When the storytelling suddenly shifts between character point of view.

Heat Level: Refers to how much intimate activity shows up on the pages and ranges from inspirational to erotica.

Hook: The opening event that grabs the reader’s attentions and compels them to keep reading.

Inciting Incident: The moment that sets the main character on their new path, or officially kicks off the story’s main conflict/plot. The first major beat (or turning point) in the story.

Info Dump: When the author “dumps” a ton of information on the page, usually backstory or description, instead of sprinkling it into the dialog or action of the story.

Logline: A one line summary of your novel, also called a pitch.

Main Character (MC): The protagonist or the lead character in a story.

Main Male Character (MMC): The male leading character in a story. Also referred to as the hero.

Male/Male (M/M): Indicates the love story is between two males.

Manuscript (MS): Refers to an unpublished work. MSS is the plural version.

Midpoint: The halfway mark (50 percent) of your story, usually the second major turning point.

New Adult (NA): Focuses on new adult experiences such as first love, first job, going to college, or being out on their own, and bridges the gap between YA and Adult. Also referred to as college romance.

National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or NaNo): Between November 1–30, authors aim to write a 50,000-word novel.

On Sub: Refers to when a manuscript is being submitted, usually by an agent, to editors at publishing houses.

Ownvoices: Refers to authors from diverse and/or marginalized groups who write a book about that same diverse and/or marginalized group.

Pacing: How the story flows and unfolds.

Pantser: A writer who writes by the seat of their pants, letting the story unfold without previous outlining or planning.

Passive Voice: A style of writing in which the subject is having the action performed upon it, and uses verbs such as is, am, were, was, are, be. “The ball was thrown.” (See Active Voice.)

Pinch Point: A turning point in the story forcing the main character to act. This can be outside pressure, but a pinch point can also be spawned by the internal false belief.

Plotter: A writer who outlines or plots the major beats in the story before drafting the story.

Point of View (POV): Indicates who the narrator is and usually has a tense attached. For example first person-past, first person-present, third person-past, omniscient.

Protagonist: The main character who drives the story, who has the most at stake, or the most to lose.

Purple Prose: A type of overwriting where the author uses too many details, large chunks of description, or too much exposition.

Romance Writing Terminology Books

Query Letter: A one-page letter summarizing your story and sent to agents to garner their attention and entice them to read your entire manuscript.

Query Trenches: Refers to the situation of authors who are currently sending query letters to agents in hopes of acquiring representation.

R&R: Revise and Resubmit, when an agent asks for a major revision to a story, then the author can re-submit the revision directly to the agent.

Resolution: The wrap-up of the story where readers are shown the new normal and how the main character has changed. Also called denouement.

RWA: Stands for Romance Writers of America, a nonprofit association that offers networking, advocacy, and education in the romance genre.

Scene: A singular time and place where some action occurs to move the character through the story arc. Manuscripts are made up of many scenes.

Setting: The physical location in which the story occurs such as a small town, big city, spaceship, regency England, planet Zorkin, or the vampire’s castle.

Showing: A way of writing what the character sees as it’s happening, and provides a stronger connection between the reader and the story. “Her eyes narrowed, and her body tensed.” (See Telling.)

Story Arc: The external plot’s beginning, middle, and end.

Synopsis: A summary of your manuscript, including any twists and the ending. Generally 1-3 pages in length.

Tagline: A short line of text appearing under the title of the book that provides a sneak peek into the story.

Telling: A way of writing that provides facts and explanations. “She was angry.” (See Showing.)

Trope: Refers to tried-and-true story arcs such as enemy-to-lovers, friends-to-lovers, marriage of convenience, secret baby, love triangles, etc.

That’s What She Said (TWSS): A response when someone uses innuendo.

The Call: The phone call an agent makes to an author when the agent is interested in offering representation.

Voice: The unique “sound” and style of the story.

Women’s Fic: A story that may not have the requisite romantic elements such as a HEA or HFN, or romance isn’t the major focus of the story.

Work-in-Progress (WIP): Refers to the manuscript an author is currently writing or working on.

Have you come across a term or acronym not listed here? Share in the comments so we can add it to our glossary of romance writing terminology.

Feature image by Element5 Digital on Unsplash.

Shannon Caldwell
Shannon blames her mom. She snagged one of her steamy bodice-rippers at fifteen, and has had her nose stuck in romance books ever since. In college, Shannon wrote her first novel, a western time travel romance. On an electric typewriter. The keys (now on a laptop) have click-clacked ever since.

She’s had many jobs in between her journalism degree from North Texas and her current day job of training yoga teachers. Marriage, step-kids, an adorable son, and one awesome rescue pup round out her days, and romance writing heats up her nights.
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