1. The right supporting cast
A hunky leading man alone does not a contemporary romance make. If he’s not surrounded by cast of richly drawn friends, enemies, and background townspeople, he and the leading lady won’t be very convincing. The other characters in the story do wonders to establish the setting and tone of the novel, plus the supporting cast is integral to fleshing out the leads and adding dimension to the stories.
2. The great outdoors
Who ever heard of a action-oriented hero who stays inside? Romantic leads are connected to the outdoors by their nature, and it’s very common for leading men to have their own special outdoor places that they particularly love. I love showcasing the natural beauty of the American West in my books. It’s a great place for a man to go to clear his head, think about his future, or just decompress in his own domain. It’s a natural element to a story set in the west!
Once the leads in a romance meet, they are almost never fast, easy companions—no matter what drove them together. In fact, they usually have plenty of reasons to stay away from each other (but not quite enough, of course!) and a fair amount of conflict. And that conflict? It’s great. Tension is great. Building those things up and exploring them before the story climaxes makes the romance richer and more rewarding in the end.
4. External conflict
No matter how important the leads are to the story, no matter how much their romance draws you in, the story needs more than that. It needs problems rooted in the environment, the people around them, and the circumstances of the time. Those problems aren’t strictly external, of course— they’ll bleed into the lives of everyone in the story, including the leads.
Having all of these things swirling around a central relationship amplifies enriches the romance. Any good story needs a certain amount of background and context, and these are the particular, yet general, needs of a contemporary western romance.