What Makes You Swoon?

It is Valentine’s Day, and while I don’t subscribe to the flowers, candy, jewelry, or even coupled-part of this so-called “holiday”, I am certainly all about the swoon! So for today’s topic, let’s discuss what makes a great swoonworthy romance in fiction, and list some of our favourite examples.

Obviously individual’s mileages will vary when it comes to what he or she finds romantic, but for me, I tend to like subtlety in romances. By “subtle”, what I mean is when a romance in a book sneaks up on you, shanghais you onto its ship, and sails away, all before you’ve realized what’s happened.

Often this is achieved by making romance the B story in a novel, but there are definitely some novels where the romance is the A story that I still find “subtle”. One of my favourite swoony books is Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in twelfth century Ireland. Yes, the romance certainly drives the story, but it is a slow build. A slow, agonizing, but ultimately rewarding build. Both the heroine and the hero are broken, but in each other’s presence, they begin to discover the wholeness of themselves. As they help each other become whole, they fall in love, but it is such an understated, intense simmer of a romance that by the time they do declare their feelings for each other, it feels like someone left a coal burning in my stomach.

I like books that sometimes trick or deceive me into rooting for a couple. On a personal level, I’m not much for lingering descriptions of a character’s physical attractiveness because often times “Character is Hot” can be shorthand for developing an actual relationship that feels authentic. And many of us discover attractiveness in our partners after we’ve fallen in love with them. The hero of Heart’s Blood suffered a stroke as a teenager, disfiguring his face and one side of his body. Yet he is beautiful to the heroine, not just emotionally, but physically as well.

I also like it when there aren’t many lingering descriptions of actual romantic feelings. Yes, yes, I realize that sounds a little counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Another thing Juliet Mariller does so well is showing how characters feel for each other, and why. In another book by Juliet Marillier, Daughter of the Forest, the heroine is under an enchantment that does not allow her to speak. Yet the hero understands her and cares for her, and the connection between them is not in words or feelings, but the things they do. (Let it be said that I think Juliet Marillier knows how to write the swoon.)

There are, of course, tropes that I am a sucker for, and tropes that I could do without. I am personally not into what some call The Mysterious Loner Dude, but if there’s a trickster or a rogue? SIGN ME UP. I’m also fond of the Emotionally Clueless/Emotionally With It pairing, especially when a lady is the Emotionally Clueless one. (Um, there may be some autobiographical elements at play here.)

So what are your favourite swoonworthy reads? What do you think makes a great romance? Leave us a comment below!


6 Responses to What Makes You Swoon?

  1. Joni Feb 14 2014 at 8:30 am #

    One of my favorite swoon-worthy-reads (and I’m sure a favorite of others) would have to be ELENOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell. I just think that the relationship was portrayed in such a real, imperfect, rawly-honest way. And a way that is sometimes completely adorable. ^^

  2. Alexa S. Feb 14 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    I really like a subtle romance as well, though I’m not averse to romances that follow typical tropes (good-bad, poor-rich, etc). One of the most swoon-worthy romances I’ve recently encountered is between Elisa and Hector in the Fire & Thorns series. It’s beautifully done, and the development of their relationship is so organic!

  3. Stephanie Scott Feb 14 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    I tend to prefer romance as a B plot, but I’ve read more straight-up romance the past two years after joining Romance Writers of American (figuring I needed to be up on the genre given I was now a member). I found there are some tropes I gravitate toward. I love totally opposite pairings and unique settings/occupations. I was really surprised by a Candis Terry novel where the main character worked for a home reonovation reality show that upturned small towns to make them better. Her love interest: the guy who’d lived there his whole life who took over his deceased father’s hardware store. The whole story was built around the town, changing attitudes, and how that played into their romance. It made the trope less trope-y because it was so ingrained in the book, like set in Stars Hollow where our beleove Gilmore Girls lived.

  4. Kyra-Lee Martin Feb 14 2014 at 6:27 pm #


    I think that romance should be about loving someone for everything about them, even if they are disfigured, or have terrible burns (like my character Lissie, in my novel-in-progress).

    Having a story mainly focus on the relationship of the characters can become boring if the writer is not watching how the story is being writing. The B plot idea for romance is the best choice, that way you’re still working on the relationship, but you’re also working on the other things around it. It works through everything the story should be about. This way no one’s drowning in the overuse of romance.

    Beastly by Alex Flinn kept me captivated for an A plot novel. It’s also another take on Beauty and the Beast modernized, but the key point is, I liked how Alex took the main character and showed him how to love someone who isn’t all that beautiful. The story made me feel everything at once. Although, my all time favorite story (not a book, but a show) would have to be Once Upon a Time’s story of Beauty and the Beast. They took the story of Rumpelstiltskin and turned him into the beast while Belle still remained Beauty. I loved the twist. Gaston was still a jerk though. 😛

  5. Patrick Stahl Feb 14 2014 at 8:49 pm #

    I like the C plot romance in I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells and B/C plot romance in Mr. Monster (its sequel).

  6. A Backwards Story Feb 16 2014 at 11:42 pm #

    I adore this book so, so much. My favorite by Marillier! I wish people knew it as well as they did her other titles!

    HEART’S BLOOD is the most “realist” of her books, and oh, the swoons!!! Thank you for featuring it <3

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