Category Archives: Writing Advice

Setting in a Romance Novel

My latest guest post on the Romaniac’s site:

Louise’s books are always set in interesting or exotic locations. Here she talks about how she uses setting to add depth and substance to her stories. Over to you, Louise.

I love to travel. Growing up in South Africa meant that we had to travel long distances to get to Europe and America, so as a family, we contented ourselves with shorter trips to more unusual destinations. The rugged and wild west-coast of Namibia, Kwazulu Natal, Mauritius, Mozambique and Lesotho all featured in my childhood. I learnt early on how the culture and atmosphere of a location can influence your stay there.

After university I jetted off to Europe and spent a few gloriously care-free years working in London and taking frequent trips to Italy, Spain, Greece, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and everywhere else in between. Not being a 5 star hotel kind of gal, I stayed mostly in family-run B&Bs and met a variety of interesting and colourful characters many of whom have influenced my characters over the years.

My latest release, The Italian Inheritance, is set on the glamorous island of Capri, off Italy’s Amalfi Coast. I visited Capri with a friend in 2003 and the dry, lazy heat and classy glitz and glamour of the place left an indelible imprint in my mind. It struck me as the perfect place to stage a romance, because of its laid-back charm and eloquent lifestyle. Not only is the island incredibly dramatic in its beauty, but it’s also historically relevant, once being the summer playground of much creative and literary talent.

Being only a short ferry ride to Naples and Sorrento gave my island setting the lifeline to the ‘real world’ which I needed. This added substance to my hero – the darkly cynical, Rafael Vialli.

Character development is important in a romance novel and I wanted my hero in
The Italian Inheritance
to have flaws and trust issues resulting from a difficult past.

Naples is not a pretty city. It has elements that are beautiful about it, but it is rough and dirty in parts and provided the perfect background for my hero to have grown up in. Its gritty character also contrasts nicely to the idle and luxurious personality of Capri, only a stone’s throw away.

Setting can play an important role in a romance if it contributes to the depth or conflict of the story. Here are my top tips for creating a setting that adds impact to your story.

  • Pick a setting that either compliments or contradicts your characters personalities. In my first novel, Antarctic Affair, my hero was a fiery adventure photographer so I set the story in Antarctica. The heroine by contrast was a city bound journalist, with an inherent dislike of the outdoors. So pitting her against the elements (and the hero’s fiery personality) made for interesting reading.
  • Let the setting add insight into your character’s personality. In The Italian Inheritance, the rough neighbourhood in Naples where Rafael grew up made my heroine, a London-based nurse distinctly uncomfortable. It unleashed empathy and provided a glimpse into his past that she might otherwise not have had. By contrast, his elegant villa in Capri was a symbol of how far he’d come in life and how his ambition had paid off. It signified his pride and sense of achievement.
  • The setting should provide obstacles to your heroes’ journey. This can either be in the plot or the personal development of the love story. In The Italian Inheritance my heroine, Anna, is a hardworking nurse from London. She can’t afford to stay in Capri for long. The island is notoriously expensive. When the legal process around her identity drags out, she is forced to accept Rafael’s offer of a place to stay. This forces them together and enables the love story to progress.
  • The characteristics of the location can contribute to the ‘heat’ in the story. Capri is hot and dry, most people wear little in the way of clothing, the water is warm and inviting so there is a lot of wondering around in bikinis and sarongs… You get the picture? It can work the opposite way round too. In Antarctic Affair the biting cold forced the characters to huddle together, drink mulled wine, generate body heat and stay in bed for longer…. Use your imagination.

The Italian Inheritance is out now on

The Italian Inheritance

A mysterious letter… A father she never knew… A vast family fortune…

Life couldn’t get any stranger for quiet, conscientious, London-based nurse, Anna Crawford. On a trip to the glamorous Italian island of Capri Anna discovers a family legacy too great to ignore and a man, whose trust she must win, in order to change her life forever.

Writing The First Draft

I’ve finally completed the first draft of The Italian Inheritance, a contemporary romance about an orphan and a trust attorney, set on the Italian island of Capri.

Writing the first draft of any novel is a fairly momentous achievement and I learnt a few important things along the way.

  1. Finishing a first draft, even a rough draft, takes an immense amount of dedication. For three months I got up and stared bleary eyed at my computer, before putting my hands on the keypad. As the manuscript progressed, the more motivated I became. In the middle bits I sagged a bit, but forced myself to go on, if only to prove that I could finish it.
  2. Having a set writing schedule helps. I dedicated my mornings to writing, which gave me four or five hours a day in which to write. Afternoons were out of the question due to the school run, extra murals etc. I even logged out of my email client so that I wasn’t disturbed by interesting little pop-ups vying for my attention. The volume went to mute on my PC too.
  3. It helps to have a concrete plot / conflict outlined before you start. About half way through the manuscript I had to sit down with my Conflict Spreadsheet and revisit the developing conflict, tension and character reactions in each scene. I made notes such as “Conflict escalates after first love scene” and “Heroine first realises she has feelings for hero,” against each scene so I could track the development of the relationship.
  4. Outlining the new scene before I wrote it helped me to add in the appropriate tone, action and conflict.
  5. I made it my mission to end each scene with the reader wanting more. This became a goal of mine and made finishing the scene fun and motivating.
  6. To prevent sagging middles, plan your novel carefully. Know how the relationship develops and what happens before you start writing. Otherwise get to the middle and the conflict will be weak, story can’t sustain itself.

As Louis D. Brandeis says, “There’s no such thing as good writing, just good rewriting.”

It’s more important to get the story down with all the conflict, developing relationship issues and resolution before worrying about consistency, spelling, grammar and stylistic errors. That’s what the rewrites are for.

Heidi Rice Workshop

Romantic Novelist, Heidi RiceYesterday evening I attended a New Voices workshop hosted by the lovely Heidi Rice at the Mayfair Library in London. We grabbed a glass of wine and some cheese straws and huddled around a large wooden table to get down to the business of writing romance. The setting was intimate and informal – perfect for a chat about Heidi’s books, alpha male heroes and sassy heroines.

Heidi began by outlining what Mills and Boon look for in a romance novel and went through the various lines, including the newly founded RIVA line, aimed at bringing younger readers into the M&B fold.


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