1.) Join a writers' group - check bookstores, websites, newspapers, writer's magazines (Writer's Digest), your local colleges and art centers for listings of writers' groups in your area.
2.) Take a class at a local college or arts center.
3.) Attend a writing conference - here you'll be able to network with other writers at various levels as well as editors and agents. You'll also be able to attend workshops to learn more about the craft of writing and the business of publishing.
4.) Read books, stories or articles similar to the one you want to write to get an idea of different styles and writing techniques, then note who publishes that type of work. Also, join writer's organizations that offer newsletters so you can learn about the markets.
5.) Study the markets carefully -- Buy a copy of the Writer's Market and study it to see what types of books various publishers want and how they want work submitted.
6.) Read and study books on the writing craft - your bookstore should have copies of books on the writing craft as well as magazines for writers. Writer's Digest is a great one to start with.
7.) Hone your craft - the best way to learn to write is by writing. But you can't stop there; you have to let others read it, and not just your mother or loved one! Find a critique group of other serious writers who can give you an honest, fair critique of your work so you can learn how to improve it.
Not Enough Conflict
Conflict is the story! The conflict must be a real problem worthy enough to sustain the story. If two people argue, there is definitely a conflict between them, but if the argument can be settled with a simple chat or some minor action, it isn't strong enough to sustain an entire book. The hero and heroine should both have internal conflict (reasons) that neither one can be with the other. This internal conflict drives the characters to behave the way they do, to make the choices they make, and is often a result of things that have happened to them in the past which have hurt or affected them. The internal conflict enables the reader to see the character's vulnerabilities.
Your story will move faster and be more interesting if you add external conflict as well. The external conflict revolves around the situation that physically brings the characters together during the story and is interrelated to the plot. Use your external plot to make things happen with your characters that will play off their internal conflicts (their vulnerabilities and fears.)
A Convoluted Plot
Make sure your plot makes sense. If you have to constantly invent ways to get your characters' together or if your plot is so far out that no one will believe it, then your plotline is probably too convoluted.
Category editors push putting "hooks" in the stories to make them salable, but sometimes writers try to cram all the elements in one story and wind up with too many elements. Utilize one or two of the hooks, then focus on the building relationship and romance between the characters.
We want our characters to be larger than life, but also real people, not stereotypes. Use vivid descriptions and backstories to make your characters come alive, and avoid the trite and over-used (dumb-blonde, fat cop, etc.) Also, make sure your characters use logic and common sense in the story. Each character should have strengths as well as flaws. Those flaws help us to see the character's vulnerabilities which in turn makes us more sympathetic toward the character. A character that is too good is boring! A character that doesn't seem to have a brain in her head won't win our sympathy any more than a bully. And my pet peeve -- heroes and heroines who are depressed and feel sorry for themselves because they have no self-esteem are not heroic.
Also, watch for the dumb heroine (you know the one who goes into the dark alley alone at night!) If she's going into that dark alley, make sure she has sufficient motivation to do so (she has to go to save her child). Also make sure she is aware of the dangers and has something to use for protection, even if it is her stiletto heels..
Your first line, paragraph and chapter should hook the reader into the story by showing us the character's conflict. Drop the character into a situation where they are immediately faced with conflict. Save the boring back story and weave it in as you go.
Too Much Narrative
SDT - Show, Don't Tell -- Just as you want to start with a hook, you want to skip the long passages of narrative and descriptions. Immediately put your character into a conflicting or problematic situation, then show his reactions instead of just telling us, and let us learn about the character through his dialogue and actions.
Not Enough Dialogue (Or stilted dialogue)
By placing your character in a situation where he interacts and showing what he does, how he handles the situation, how he changes, or by using dialogue to reveal parts of his character, your character will come alive. Showing through dialogue also breaks up the page and long bouts of narrative (it also makes the page visually more appealing.) We learn about characters through the things they say, the way they say it, their speech patterns and cadence, and also the things they don't say. Internal monologue (thoughts)can also be very revealing — does the character say one thing but think another? Be sure to use the dialogue to further your story or characterization — try to avoid it for introductions or just chitchat, but make the dialogue count.
To avoid stilted, unnatural sounding dialogue, watch TV or movies and listen to people talk. Most people use contractions when they speak, not formal sentences. Also, avoid having all your characters sound alike. Change their tones, inflections, speech patterns and cadence, etc. so they sound like individuals. For instance, a history professor would definitely sound different than a two-year-old.
Head Hopping — the POV switch
Point of view refers to the character who is telling the story (whose head are we in?) In a short story, the reader needs to identify with one main character and his or her problems. To make that identification possible, the author must keep the point of view fixed (stay in one character's head). Shifting the POV from one character to another can dilute the impact (can be done more effectively in a novel) and is best handled by changing points of view with a scene change. For a romance novel, write one scene in the hero's point of view, then switch to the heroine's.
Most fiction is written in third person point of view (sometimes in first person.) Remember that when you're in one person's point of view, he/she can only know what the other person is thinking or feeling by guessing it from the person's actions, gestures, or by their dialogue. Avoid using the third person omnipotent POV (the author's POV.) This type of POV puts the reader at a distance and makes it hard for the reader to really feel what the character is feeling.
Make sure your resolution ties up all the questions and problems in the story. Romance readers want a happy ending, but they do want it to be realistic enough to be believable. At the point of crisis, both characters should have to face their internal conflicts and overcome them by being willing to give up something for the other person.
Both should experience some kind of character growth which enables them to overcome their differences and build a life together.
No Character Growth
Since each character comes to the story with his/her own problems, each should grow or learn something during the story. For ex., through the heroine's love, the sinister bachelor-for-life should lose some of his cynicism. Or the woman who can no longer trust a man must take a chance and trust the hero. The jerk at the beginning of the book shouldn't be a jerk at the end (unless he's the villain!)
Be sure to study the market you're interested in writing for so you can target your manuscript correctly. In order to learn the markets and differences in the publishing lines, read several books from each category line or genre you're interested in, so you can learn the differences. Study category books and note the elements and story-lines category houses want, and find out how single-titles books differ. Also, network with other writers, attend conferences and workshops, and get the tip sheets from publishing houses. You don't want to send that inspirational story to Harlequin Blaze, a sexy line, or that romantic suspense to a comedy line!
Once you've grown an idea, should you consider markets, lines, word count?
Some authors stress that if you just write a great book, the book of your heart, it will sell. It's true, single title and literary writers emerge from the slush pile every day, making blockbuster deals.
For most of us, it doesn't happen that way.
That is unless you are the next Margaret Mitchell, Faulkner, or even Deborah Smith.
Wait a minute, Deborah Smith cut her teeth on category romance with several Loveswepts under her belt before she made her claim to fame. Write one of those formula books, you say?
Writing within restraints — word limit, subject matter, content, etc. is not for everyone. It definitely challenges creativity but it improves your skills.
If you enjoy shorter stories that aren't as complicated, issue-oriented, or literary, then category romance may be the place for you. On the other hand, if you don't enjoy category romance, forget writing it — your readers will be able to tell if your heart is not in your story.
Advantages of selling single title
- Longer word count gives you more creativity & freedom.
- You can explore more difficult, complicated issues, themes, subplots.
- You have a BIG book out.
- Time and money needed for promotion.
- Smaller print run — unless your publisher supports you with promotional dollars, you may reach a smaller audience.
- In some cases, you may earn less than you would writing a category romance.
Advantages to Category
- A built-in readership means your name gets introduced to thousands of readers.
- Little or no money is needed for promotion.
- You hone your skills in plotting, characterization, layering in subplots, editing, etc.
- Sales and publishing credit earned helps move you into single title.
- Satisfaction of breaking into print and making that first sale.
- You build a reputation with editors, agents, booksellers, readers.
- Stories are more restrictive in content, word count, and language.
- You may not get the notoriety of the "bigger author".
Tips to make your story saleable
- Read, study the markets, publishers' guidelines, language, content, themes, story types, etc. at that house. Making this decision up front will help you plan and incorporate the elements to make it salable.
- Use the hooks on the tip sheets.
- Play off your own unique voice.
- Come up with a different twist for a tried and true story line.
- Read new authors — a multi published author can push the envelope more.
- Put your heart into every book.
How do you do that? By writing characters that are real, characters that the reader cares about.
- Give your character some trait, vulnerability, problem, fear, secret that you can relate to.
- Show your character hurting and struggling.
- Make your character care about something, give him a goal, then make him wait to achieve it, threaten it or take it away.
- Put yourself into your character's head and feel his emotions — write the scene in first person to get inside his head.
You have your story idea and targeted market — now what?
To sell your story, you'll submit a proposal (the first three chapters and a synopsis). How can you make your manuscript catch the editor/reader's attention and stand out from others on her desk?
- A catchy title — your title is the first impression the editor has of your story. Although it will probably change later, it should reflect the tone, premise, line and type of book you're writing.
- An unusual premise - is your story idea fresh, high concept? If it has been done, have you added a twist to make it unique?
- The beginning — Start with a compelling first sentence, first paragraph and first scene which shows the main characters in conflict. Action and dialogue make great beginnings — weave backstory in later.
- Set up a strong conflict — conflict makes the character struggle, threatens their goals and dreams, causes character growth, and drives the characters' actions and choices within the book.
Internal conflict is born from a character's backstory (his past relationships, childhood, environment, traumatic experiences, personal fears, goals, etc.) External conflict — What obstacles must your characters overcome to reach their hearts desire? Are their lives in jeopardy? Are they both vying for the same job?
Your conflict doesn't have to be life threatening, but it must be strong enough to carry an entire book. If it is so trivial the character can overcome it by a simple conversation, there is no story.
TIP: For a more seamless story, use your external conflict, the events, situations, obstacles, and setting to trigger your characters' internal conflict.
- Setting — will you story take place in a small town, large city, a ranch, a deserted island, a jungle? Setting should add to your characters' conflict, enhance the mood, tone, and atmosphere. For example, if your characters are on the run from a criminal, use a setting which heightens the danger.
- Characters — In chapters 1-3, introduce your characters and make the reader care about them by giving them goals, dreams, vulnerabilities, problems and qualities we can admire, sympathize with, and root for.
- Voice & Tone — your chapters and synopsis should reflect your unique writing style. If your story is a romantic comedy, word choice, situations, etc, will be lighter. If it is an emotional or suspenseful story, word choices should be darker. Keep the tone consistent and don't ping pong between dark edgy suspense and comedy or you'll confuse the reader.
- Balance between Narrative & Dialogue — make sure you show (Show, don't tell) your important scenes. Use narrative for transitions, inner thoughts, etc.
- Hooks — each scene should end with a hook and leave us wanting more. Hooks can be dramatic events, a question left unanswered, a new problem the character faces, or uncertainty as to how the character will deal externally or internally with obstacles.
Chapter three should end with a cliffhanger which reflects a turning point for the character. Will he take the call to action and how will he overcome the obstacles?
Leave off with a bang here and the editor will be so caught up in your story he/she will have to ask for more!
Your real life significant other might be five-three, weigh two hundred pounds, wear glasses, have a comb over, and be named Homer, but romance readers read romance for the FANTASY, so it's your job as a writer to create fictional characters that the reader can relate to, sympathize with, root for, and fall in love with.
He must be larger than life, a man to die for like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Goran Visjnic, Antonio Banderas, or Samuel L. Jackson — a hero who sweeps us off our feet with at least one of the following: his impressive size, physical prowess, looks, wit, or intelligence. Although he might be suffering himself, in pain, injured, or just plain tortured emotionally, he still has to sacrifice his goals, dreams, life for the heroine and do it while he's bleeding (either literally or figuratively), with one hand tied behind his back, blindfolded, and NEVER complain, whine, moan, or begrudge his sacrifice.
Before you start, make a character sketch/outline listing physical characteristics, mental/intellectual abilities, personality traits, and emotional elements which might describe the hero and heroine.
Choose your hero's name carefully. His name reflects the type of man he is, his personality, character, etc. When you're in bed with a man, you don't close your eyes and see Homer — you see Lance, Drake, Chad, Zeke, Rhett or ...well, you get the idea.
The hero's name should sound masculine while fitting your audience and the time period in which you're writing (the name of your hero in your historical novel would have a different flair from one in a contemporary or chic lit one.)
- List his height, weight, hair color, eyes, coloring
- Body style -- Is he athletic? Muscular? Strong? Lean & trim? Brawny?
- Does he exercise work out? Work outdoors? (please, no skinny wimps — If I can lift him or he can wear my jeans, I won't fall in love with him!)
- Does he have scars? Tattoos? Long shaggy hair or is it neatly clipped military style?
- Distinctive birth marks?
- Physical Prowess — does he work out at the gym? Jog? Is he a mountain climber?
- Parachuter? Rodeo rider? A fireman who must be physical fit because he races into burning buildings to save lives?
- A Commanding Presence — is he a leader? Do people admire him and grow quiet when he walks into the room? Is he a strong role model in some way? Does he have a distinctive air of authority or a hard edge to him?
- Sensual features — are his eyes liquid pools of heat and fire? Do his hands look rough but feel gentle? Does he smell like a man, woodsy and earthy? (Okay, Nicholas Cage looked sexy in Conair when he was bloody and dripping with sweat, but how many of us really want to hug our man when he's mowed the lawn and his Fat Tire t-shirt is drenched in smelly sweat?)
- Clothing — how does he dress? In rugged jeans and a denim or white shirt with the sleeves rolled up revealing that fine dusting hair on his forearms (my personal favorite!) A three-piece suit? Causal dressy clothes that tell you he's comfortable with has enough money to take you on the town? Black leather? Briefs or boxers?
- Your hero doesn't have to be a genius, but give him intelligence, wit and the ability to solve problems in one particular area that makes him shine. His career choice reflects his character and is often an important element used in the external plot, but his hobbies and extracurricular activities should also round him out.
- What is his career/job choice? Is he a CEO of a million dollar company that he's built from scratch? A construction worker who builds skyscrapers with his own designs? A rugged cowboy who has turned a ramshackle farm into a booming horse ranch? A fireman whose expertise and experience with arson enables him to solve the crime? A hard-edged cop who only sees things in black and white?
- Hobbies? Choose these careful to reflect something about his past, to show contrast with the career he's chosen, to reveal some secret dream he might have, or to show a different side of his character. For example: he might be a cut throat district attorney but he volunteers at the children's home on weekends.
Emotional Characteristics/Personality Traits
Women are born caretakers, the very reason they fall for the tortured hero, the alpha male, the brooding loner. His emotions are tied into his behavior and personality, intertwined but they offer depth to the man. What makes him tick?
- What is his goal in life? What does he value?
- What is his temperament? Is he tough? Quiet? Mysterious? A flirt?
- Possessive? Ambitious?
- Is he tortured? Tortured means he's hurting, alone, in pain because of something in his present life or past. He desperately needs the love of a good woman to save him. (Caution: don't confuse tortured with the depressed, whiny, suicidal narcissistic male — he's not hero material!)
- Does he know how to love? Has he ever been loved? How would he show/express his emotions? Is he vocal? Would he buy gifts? Use romantic gestures? Tattoo his lover's name on his arm?
- Other positive traits: he knows his job/trade, he has strong convictions/opinions (whether the heroine agrees with him or not), he's a good provider, a loving protective father, a leader in business or the community, a go-getter (ambitious).
- When he finally falls, he falls hard. And only that one woman, your heroine will do!
We'll talk about her next time in A HEROINE TO DIE FOR
Are the characteristics you want for your heroine the same as your hero?
Yes, and no. While you want a fantasy woman, a strong, brave, appealing heroine, a woman the reader can admire, root for, and watch grow, it's important that you make her real, someone the average woman can identify with. If you paint her as the perfect ten with a flawless body and flawless skin, a woman with a great job who has men flocking after her, your readers will hate her and root for her to fail instead of get her man.
The basic blueprint for your heroine should include a contrast of characteristics:
She must be strong but vulnerable, appealing but flawed, attractive both physically and personality wise yet unaware of her beauty and imperfect in some way. She must be independent yet in need of a loving hero!
Ultimately the hero's job is to challenge her goals/needs, then give her fulfillment, love her in a way she can't achieve on her own, and save her either physically from danger or from living emotionally alone. In turn, she does the same thing for him!
Making a Plan
Start by modeling your heroine after someone you know.
Choose her name to reflect her personality, upbringing, economic status and birthplace.
Select hair color, eyes, build and type of body (Is she petite? Tall? Overweight? Is she athletic, gangly, graceful?)
Let the physical characteristics you assign and the way your character dresses reflect something about her personality, her goals, or occupation. You can also use those physical characteristics to contrast with the hero or to challenge him to accept love from a different type woman than he might normally choose.
Use your character's past history, origin, family, friends, and prior relationships with men to shape her into the flawed heroine you want, and to show why she is the way she is through her behavior and choices. Again, if she's had a princess perfect upbringing, never had to struggle for anything, she may not be likable. But if she has had that perfect upbringing, use it to contrast her with a wealthy or tortured hero and let this be part of her growth.
Her upbringing will also shape her ideas about life, family, men and her goals.
For example, a heroine who grew up in near poverty may be very career oriented, and her values may be very different from a woman who grew up in high society. An athletic heroine might be competitive to a fault. A heroine who has been burned by love or betrayed will be less likely to trust or jump into a relationship.
Is she strong? Brave? Does she cry at Kodak commercials or does she refuse to cry? Is she openly loving or does she use restraint when getting involved? Is she optimistic or pessimistic? Does she go after what she wants or is she shy? Is she so tenderhearted she has become a nurse, or so tenderhearted she can't stand being around sick people? Or does that tenderheartedness make her choose to be a fireman or a more remote type job where she doesn't interact with people?
What does your heroine want?
What are her dreams? Her dislikes? Her career goals? Her feelings about family? Men? Children?
What obstacles do you plan to put in her way to keep her from achieving her goals? And how will she react to these obstacles?
What does your character need in order to be happy, fulfilled, complete, a better person?
Remember — what she thinks she wants may contrast with what she really needs!
Also, her external goals may change as she faces obstacles during the story and discovers her own flaws and needs — this is her character growth. For example, she may want that big corporate promotion and deny herself love to get it, only to discover that success brings other problems, that it's lonely at the top, that giving up the man she wants hasn't really made her happy.
The internal conflict drives her both toward the hero and away from him and adds that spark of sexual tension that keeps the reader turning pages until that happy ending!
The empty white page looms in front of you, endlessly blank, just like your mind. You have writer's block. No fresh ideas. No even semi-fresh ideas.
And you're sure you will never ever have an idea again.
So how do all those other writers seem to pull them out of hats like magic, one after the other as if their stack is as endless as your white page?
Stop — first of all, don't compare yourself to other writers.
Second, get up and leave the computer.
Third, relax and stop trying to force it.
And last, go shopping for ideas. Yes, literally shopping.
Take yourself places that might stimulate your imagination like a vacation, flower shop, the mall, an airport, a train station, a hospital, a nursing home, a wedding chapel, hotel, a lingerie store, a graveyard, history museum, resort, haunted house, antique shop, or even take a look through an old photo album or your attic. Does that photo of an old friend/lover make you wonder what happened to him? If he's the one who got away? Does the baby picture make you want to write about a mother with her first child?
Study, observe, and write down what you see, then choose one and play the what if game — soon you'll have the kernel of an idea that begins to grow.
Exercises: Here are a few simple scenarios to consider from commonplace things you might see:
- A lost child
- Three women trying on wedding dresses
- A woman running toward a bus in a wedding dress
- A woman pushing a baby stroller, crying
- A teenager with several body pierced parts sneaking toward her car
- A security guard arresting a woman
- A going out of business shoe sale with women fighting for first place at the door
- A handsome man in a wheelchair
Airport/Train or Bus Station
A soldier leaving for war or returning
A man and woman saying a tearful good-bye
A young man waiting with flowers in his hand, looking nervous
Two women with a half dozen suitcases rushing toward their gate, laughing
A woman waiting for her lover/husband, but the plane arrives without him
An announcement at any of the above that there has been an accident
A group of stranded passengers housed together for the night
- Two lovers rushing inside in costume
- Two lovers fighting as they're leaving
- One woman and two men going into the church?
- A sobbing bride
- The father of the bride with a shotgun
- The bride with a shotgun
- A preacher refusing to marry a couple
- A woman taking a pregnancy test in the bathroom
- Two women in a cat fight
- A woman's ex-husband and lover meeting for the first time
- Girlfriends trying to get picked up/girlfriends trying to avoid being picked up
- A cop in disguise
Okay, you get the point — the list is as endless as that white paper and so are the ideas! You just have to look for them!
Where should you begin your story?
Sounds easy, doesn't it. You start at the beginning!
But wait — where exactly is that?
First you want to set up the story, show the setting, tell us the character's conflict, his backstory, what events led to the present, introduce us to his family, his pet, tell us about his past loves gone awry...
Show, Don't Tell — SDT
First of all, you don't want to tell us anything. You want to show us through scenes that reveal the conflict, introduce the characters, and make us invested in wanting them to overcome their problems.
Hook -- Conflict
Second, you want to grab the reader's interest with a strong first line (hook)!
That means starting the story at the point where your main character is in conflict. Choose a scene/situation that shows the character struggling, having to make a difficult choice, meeting the hero, in some kind of peril or troubling situation, preferably an active scene where we get to watch the character react physically and emotionally to something that has happened to him. Then you've got the reader's attention. You also tell us a lot about your main characters through his actions.
If possible, reveal or show that conflict in your first line. If not, the first paragraph.
Definitely the first chapter.
Once you grab the reader's interest with the conflict, then go back and feed in the backstory gradually, layer in the setting, and add other layers of conflict. By the end of chapter one, the reader should know what the main character's big problem is, what his goal is, and what he is struggling to overcome.
Set the tone with your first scene and keep it consistent. Are you writing an action/adventure novel, a gothic, a dark emotional book, a light humorous story? Use your word choice, descriptions, setting, and characters to maintain that tone throughout the book.
Ending that first scene — chapter
Leave off that first scene, first chapter, with another hook that makes the reader want to keep reading. Here, the reader should wonder if the main character will achieve his goal, overcome his problems, and if he/she will ever be able to work out his relationship with the protagonist. If he/she has no problems to overcome, no conflict (if he meets the heroine and they fall desperately in love on page one), then you have no story.
Beginnings that don't do the job:
Riding in the car (transitional activities).
Pages of internal thoughts — the character thinking about his problems.
Long winded descriptions of the setting.
Scenes with secondary characters in which the main character is not present.
Set-up scenes revealing backstory.
Boring scenes showing characters doing mundane things — for example, cleaning the house, showering, picking up dry cleaning, performing tedious boring jobs, etc. (the only exception to this would be a character driven story where this behavior or act reveals characteristics of the character or an action that is inherent to the plot and the character's conflict. For example; think Monk — an obsessive-compulsive uses that flaw or character trait to help him solve crimes. Another example; the main character opens his mail and finds a threatening note or a bomb explodes in his face.)
A scene where there is no external or internal conflict (Story is conflict).
Beginnings that work and grab our attention
Scenes with action — for example, a woman in jeopardy.
The main character either physically or mentally on the run from a problem.
One character meeting another conflicting character — for example, they argue over external problem, clash due to personality characteristics, sparks fly sexually.
Catchy dialogue between characters which reveal his/her conflict.
A secret is hinted at or revealed which changes the course of the main character's life.
Emotional scenes — show the main character is an emotional situation which reveals his/her problem/s — for example; he/she has just lost a loved one, he/she's in court on charges of murder, a good-bye scene between lovers, a childhood struggle, the character learns something about his past or present (a secret) which upsets him, creates a problem, or throws a new spin into his life that he isn't prepared for (for example; a man learns he has a child he didn't know about, a woman learns she has a disease, or she learns she was adopted,etc.).
Grab that reader's attention with a strong hook, conflict up front, give him angst, emotion, trouble, characters to love and root for, and he'll keep turning the pages for more!
You've started your story with a bang, set up internal and external conflict, introduced likable, sympathetic characters, and hooked the reader by placing the character in a conflicting situation so he has to make choices which threaten his dreams, desires, goals, livelihood. Now what do you do?
The beginning of chapter four is a turning point — your character accepts the challenge to go forward. There is no turning back. Like it or not, he's involved with the hero/heroine, thrust into the plot, and must fight to overcome obstacles and achieve his goals. You've established those goals, you may have your black moment planned (the dramatic moment where things in the story fall apart,) and you may have envisioned that last scene where the hero drops to his knees and proposes, or the lovebirds gallop into the sunset on a white horse.
But what do you do with all that space in the middle? Does the your middle part of your story drag? Does it move the story forward, build tension to the climax of the story, and keep the reader turning the page or is it — b-o-r-i-n-g?
What your middle should do for you or what you should put in your middle:
Give depth to your characters — Use the middle to reveal more details about each character's backstory, relationships, dreams, vulnerabilities, more insight into their thought processes. Use your dialogue, actions and situations to bring out the best and worst in your character, to help them get to know each other and to learn more about themselves.
Obstacles — escalate tension by adding obstacles, increase the severity of the problems and emotions.
Raise the stakes — As the characters become more involved and their feelings become more intense for each other, the higher the stakes become if they don't achieve their goals.
Layer in conflict — use subplots and secondary characters to build extra layers of conflict and problems for your characters. Give character's added conflict with a family member, past lover, their job, the setting, etc.
Build romantic tension and deepen emotions — as the characters fall in love, they should face small turning points. Emotions become deeper, fears greater. Your middle should include — The first kiss, the interrupted love scene (where the characters almost make love but the moment is stopped because one or both characters pull back.), and more obstacles. As characters get more emotionally involved, their secrets build in importance as does their fear of loss of self and love.
In a mystery/suspense plot, use your middle to add clues and lead the reader astray with red herrings.
Add romance — readers read romance for those tender emotional moments between the characters. Build up to the love scene, and make it emotional, not just about sex.
Build to the black moment — once a character overcomes one obstacle, toss another in his path. Let the problems escalate until they snowball out of control.
Plateau of happiness — this is the shortest part of the book and should come directly before the black moment. Here, give your reader a glimpse of how wonderful it is when these characters finally get together — then of course, pull the rug out from under them with a dramatic moment!