This post originally appeared on Romance University, May 2016
It had to be her.
In 2002, Susan Elizabeth Phillips released a funny contemporary romance starring a party-girl heiress who inherits a pro football team, only to butt heads, and finally win the heart of the team’s chauvinistic coach.
“It Had to Be You,” was the first book in Phillips’ long-running “Chicago Stars” football series. Not only is it one of her biggest books, it launched a new type of romance.
Today, sports romance has exploded into one of the most popular subgenres. Not only are there contemporary sports romances, but fans of NA, YA, multi-cultural, LGBTQ and even historical romance can find books that feature athletes and the games they play.
Why do we love it?
Let’s start with the obvious reason—athlete heroes!
They’re big, strong, and in perfect physical shape. They’re larger than life superstars. Many are fabulously wealthy. In short, they’re the perfect Alpha heroes, which make them irresistible to romance heroines—and readers.
But as the author of a sports romance series that bends the rules a little, I don’t think it’s the only reason.
The inner qualities which help athletes succeed– dedication, courage, commitment, perseverance and mental toughness– aren’t just for heroes. They’re the backbone of strong heroines, too. In my novel “Pairing Off,” an American pairs figure skater refuses to give up her dream of competing in the Olympics, even after her career is destroyed by a scandal of her ex-partner’s making. Her last chance at gold means moving to Russia, though she doesn’t speak the language, and knows no one besides her demanding coach, and handsome new skating partner. Carrie’s courage and determination, as well as her talent, put her dream in reach—and help her find new love with an old flame.
There’s also the sport itself, which provides a compelling backdrop for the romance, and takes readers behind the scenes, into the locker room and out on the field. With team sports, there’s a built in tribe of friends, and often foes. There are rivalries, drama, career ups and downs, and to borrow the classic phrase, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
With so much to love about sports romance, it’s no wonder more authors are writing them. If you’re interested in writing sports romance, how do you begin? And how do you choose which sport to write about?
According to a poll by Heroes and Heartbreakers, hockey romances were the favorite among readers, followed by football, MMA and baseball. Hoops, soccer and golf were further down the list, while motorsports and the Olympic sports didn’t make the cut at all.
So obviously, hockey and football are the best sports to write about, correct? But what if you don’t know a puck from a ping-pong ball?
Take heart. And if you’d rather write about fencing…or figure skating… than football, go for it!
As with any setting, the sport in your sports romance must ring true. Writing about a sport you love will help you avoid cringe-worthy mistakes that can pull genuine fans out of your story. Know the correct terms for positions, equipment, scoring and whether games are divided into halves or quarters, periods, innings. As much as I love “The Cutting Edge,” it always bugs me that the Doug and Kate’s competitions are skated on darkened rinks, under spotlights. That’s how it works for Disney on Ice, but not U.S. Nationals or the Winter Olympics.
Another way to find great details that bring your sports romance to life is to write about a sport you’ve played, even if it’s not at a professional level.
I’m only a recreational figure skater, but I can describe the peculiar feeling of stepping onto the ice for the first time, and the unique aroma of rink stink. Unlike the skater hero in my new release, “Getting It Back,” I’ve never done a quadruple Salchow, but I have taken my share of falls, and know what it’s like to wake up sore and bruised the next day.
Another bonus of writing about a sport you play or follow, is that you may have an opportunity to talk with athletes and former athletes, which can make the sports details you do use that much more authentic.
But like chili powder and lip gloss, a little goes a long way.
Just as you wouldn’t load your story with minutia about the job of a pilot hero, or tax accountant heroine, you don’t need to do so with an athlete, either. Exhaustive details about rules, training and even drawn out play-by-play scenes, aren’t necessary and can bog down your story.
Your sports romance is first and foremost a romance, which means the focus belongs on the relationship between the leads. Nor does your story have to be all about the sport. Athletes have lives off the field, and its fine to center your story on other things, such as family issues, or to write about an athlete who is no longer competing because of injury or retirement.
In Turning It On, a former ice dancer turned male stripper struts his stuff on a steamy reality TV show, and finds love with a shy heroine, who sees the good man beneath the sexy swagger.
The best way to understand what sports romance is all about is by reading it. Sport by sport, I’ve listed some suggested reads. If the book is part of a series, in most cases, I’ve listed book #1.
It Had to Be You- Susan Elizabeth Phillips
The Perfect Play- Jaci Burton
Rush Me- Allison Parr
Simply Irresistible- Rachel Gibson
Body Check- Deirdre Martin
Pink Pucks & Power Plays- V.L. Locey
Double Play-Jill Shalvis
Calling It- Jen Doyle
The Winning Season- Alison Packard
Causing Havoc- Lori Foster
Knock Out- Michelle Mannon
Olympic sports, motorsports, and more
Chasing Perfect- Susan Mallery (cycling)
Pairing Off- Elizabeth Harmon (figure skating)
Crossing the Ice- Jennifer Comeaux (figure skating)
Flat Out Sexy- Erin McCarthy (NASCAR)
Knowing the Score- Kat Latham (Rugby)
Running Interference- Elley Arden (women’s football)
So dive in and play ball. Here’s hoping your sports romance knocks it out of the park!
Elizabeth Harmon loves to read and write romances with a dash of different.