Here's how to write tag lines for believable romance novels. The tag lines describe the dialogue, how the dialogue is meant to be experienced and perceived. Tag lines describe emotions, behavior, and gestures that speak the thoughts intended behind the dialogue. Tag lines make sure the dialogue is not empty or flat in tone, texture, and mood.
Tag lines portray eye, hand, or facial expressions and intent. Since in a novel you can't see pictures as you would in a play, comic book, or film, the tag lines help explain behavior so the reader can not only read between the lines and figure out the character's feelings, but also explain what the character means by the specific spoken words.
Writers of genre novels, including romance, romantic suspense, intrigue, romantic adventure, mainstream, historic romance, historic suspense or adventure, mystery, science fiction, adult, and all the other genres, playwrights, and biographers almost always ask how to write a tasteful, salable, and believable love scene.
When writing romance novels, in particular, the credibility of the love scene is important as the number of pages devoted to each love scene. In how many chapters would you place a love scene? Would you include love scenes at the beginning or at the end to make your book publishable? What do editors look for in love scenes? How do the characters drive the plot of the story through the love scenes? How many pages would you use in each chapter to describe romantic tension between two main characters in your book?
Writing the 14-page love scene in some romance novels using tag lines to show behavior and to make the words three-dimensional instead of flat. Tag lines keep the character's word from having another meaning from what you intend to for your character to say
Let’s work with the publishable romance novel and mainstream genre to see how the 14-page love scene is worked and re-worked with a goal of expanding the romantic tension and moving the characters forward so that they grow and change between the beginning and end of your novel, story, or play.
Put in a tag line with each paragraph that describes what each character does physically to show the emotion behind the gesture or stance. The tag line lends emotion or feeling to any objective act such as writing a list. While the person is carrying out the duty or job, he or she also is feeling a concealed emotion which is described in words by the tag line. Here are some examples of tag lines. You can also check out or browse this author's romance novel, The DNA Detectives: Working Against Time by Anne Hart, 2002.
Writing with tag Lines
Your first step is to write tag lines (lines of body gestures and emotions) before you describe any action or movement—what characters do as they work or live. Here’s an example of a tag line from this author's romantic suspense novel, The DNA Detectives: Working Against Time.
His smiling face shone in her eyes, glossy with tears she tried to control. “I know how embarrassed you must be to barge in on a strange man in a medical school’s forensic DNA lab. What if your card is in my files just as my card is in your pocket?” He braided her emotions. She felt her knees cave, twisted feelings of trust and suspicion folding in on each other like the double helix of DNA.
Note how the tag lines insert emotion and passion or feelings and reactions to mundane work chores. In the sample below, two scientists are discussing the routine activities of their jobs, but the tag lines lend an ambiance of passion, emotion, or feeling that is concealed within.
Only the reader is able to get inside the mind of each character to know how they feel, even as they go about their routine work chores. In the example below, also from my novel, The DNA Detectives: Working Against Time, (page 33) the tag lines work to reinforce the attraction and pull.
Romantic tension is illustrated specifically by the tag lines. The novel becomes animated, vivid, and alive by showing instead of telling. Tag lines show the hidden emotions as the characters go about their usual work routine. Here in the example below, the reader is able to experience how each character reacts to one another in this romantic tension interplay.
Jim put his arm around her shoulders, and her heart slammed so hard into the wall of her chest that she thought she had premature ventricular contractions and should stop drinking caffeine-laced beverages and run from stress. Did he put his arm on my shoulder to dominate me as an act of one-upmanship, she thought? Or is he attracted to me? Please touch me, hold me, hug me, she prayed. I’m so desperately alone and scared.
She laved her hands over his corded calves working her way up his walls of muscle as he watched her groping at his thighs, delicious to her eyes. He pulled her against his chest and scrubbed her full lips with breathless kisses, grinding his tongue, teasing her closed eyelids, her earlobes. As she howled, his mouth drowned out the sound as he covered her mouth with his. Then he pulled away as footsteps approached his locked office door.
“Go ahead. You’ll have your privacy there. You make the first move. I understand.” She heard yearning building in his husky voice.
Tim knocked on the door. “I have to talk to you.”
Jim opened the door. And she finished closing the lid on the materials he gave her to work on. She turned as she was leaving the two in the office glaring at her.
Tim stopped her in flight with a heavy hand on her shoulder. “Wait a second, young lady.”
“I must have worked somewhere else, for a huge government laboratory or a manufacturer in the biotech industry here.”
“No, I overheard you on the intercom explain what you thought you might have done as a buyer. It sounds as if you’re a finder. You actually were locating oligonucleotides. You’d get them from commercial suppliers. Sit down and look up that word online. See whether it rings a bell.”
Use tag lines when you want readers to experience what each character feels or to show the intended emotion, facial expression, gesture, or behavior
The tag lines are what make your romance novel salable. In other genres from mainstream to historical, adventure, time-travel, or science fiction, the tag lines also are used. It is a way of coloring your words to make them living structures based on showing instead of telling. When most editors are asked what makes a novel salable, usually they respond by reporting that believable tag lines are what they look for first in character-driven novels, regardless of genre.
In romance novel writing, tag lines can help a book to become character-driven instead of plot-driven. With mystery and thriller genres, characters may be more driven by the plot that unfolds and happens to them with speed and explosive velocity, but convincing tag lines are essential.
Keep your romance novels believable and your tag lines based on real emotions to which others can relate. The emphasis with romance-novel tag lines should be believability, commitment and universal values. When you write about peoples reactions to other people, keep it simple and universal—descriptions real enough that we all can experience and easily understand. Simplicity and commitment to real values make novels more salable.