How to Create a Swoony Setting for Your Romance Novel

Abi Wurdeman
July 26, 2023

Oh, the power you wield as a romance novelist—arranging every detail of your characters’ lives to make their entangling inevitable, leaving your readers breathless, and probably getting yourself a little dizzy in the process.

Of course, this kind of influence doesn’t come easily. You’ve got to know how to craft a compelling story and create engaging characters.

You also have to know how to enchant both your characters and readers with a world that’s ripe for romance.

If you could use a little help with that last one, you’ve come to the right place. You’re about to learn:

  • How to create the right ambiance for every scene in your romance novel
  • The role the environment plays in your story
  • Tips for drawing out the romance in any backdrop
  • Tons of ideas for romantic dates and locations

I hope you’re ready, because it’s time to set the mood.

How to Create a Setting for Romance: The Importance of Ambiance

The feet of a couple standing face to face beside a lake at sunset.

I’d like to kick this off with a li’l tip that might make your life easier.

You do not have to come up with the most romantic setting imaginable to make your readers feel the swoon. Heart-stopping romances can take place anywhere. Bakeries, oceanside resorts, offices, hospitals, you name it. 

But that’s not to say the world of your love story doesn’t matter. The places where your characters live, meet, fight, and fall in love should add something to those moments. And if you’re inspired to write a romance novel that takes place in a magical location, do it!

All I’m saying is that you don’t have to shoehorn breathtaking vistas and snow-covered cabins into your narrative if it doesn’t make sense. As a teller of amorous tales, you know how to create romance anywhere. And ambiance is how you help your romance readers feel the spark.

How Ambiance Affects Mood

Ambiance is the atmosphere of a place. It influences the way your characters feel and, as a result, the way readers will feel.

Now, the ambiance of a space can change depending on the time of day, what’s going on in that space, and the energy its inhabitants bring to it. That’s convenient for you as a romance author, because you may need to juice different vibes from the same location over the course of your novel.

Let’s say you’re writing a contemporary romance that takes place in an office and your main characters are rivals at the beginning of the story. You’ll probably want to create that setting in a way that helps your readers feel things like urgency, anger, or anxiety.

But what about later, when they’re supposed to be falling in love? 

You might think about giving them a late night at work together, when the space is quiet and the lights are dim. Or trap them in an enclosed space—a supply closet or an elevator—where the lack of personal space forces the kind of intimacy they’ve been trying to avoid.

Creating the Perfect Ambiance

When you write a scene, consider the emotion you want to evoke. Then zero in on the details that will get the job done. Work with all five senses. 

For example, let’s say the scene takes place in a train car. If your character is stressed about the circumstances of their journey, how would they experience that space?

They’d probably be feeling nauseous from the incessant rocking of the car and the stench of someone’s egg salad sandwich. The sun might be glaring through the window into their eyes. There’s definitely a crying baby or a kid listening to “Baby Shark” without headphones.

Now, what if your main characters are falling in love on that train? They might be watching the sun set over vineyards, calmed by the gentle swaying of the car. Or they’re energized by the citrus scent of the orange gumdrops they share while they make up stories about the colorful characters surrounding them.

The trick is to write the most evocative details and keep the story moving. For more on how to bring a setting to life, check out this article

The Role of Settings in Romance Novels

A couple eats pizza in a small apartment kitchen.

The world of your romance novel sets the mood. But its responsibilities don’t end there. As you set each scene, also consider whether you want the environment to fulfill one of these other jobs:


Does something about the physical setting prevent your character from reaching their goal or make their life harder?

You see this in all genres, but man, does it come up a lot in romance novels, especially in the form of forced proximity—one of the more popular romance tropes. In this trope, your main characters are trapped in the same space when they absolutely do not want to be.

Usually this kind of “antagonism” from the setting forces the love interests to resolve their differences or finally give into the sexual tension. 


The environment can also serve as a catalyst, either kickstarting the entire story or prompting a character to make a new choice.

Maybe the carefree vibes of your heroine’s beach vacation inspire her to finally let loose. Maybe your love interests end up airing all their grievances after a too-long, too-hot day in a crowded amusement park.


The leaves of a palm tree blown by heavy winds against a darkening sky.

The world of your romance novel can drop hints about what lies ahead or shine a light on what’s already happening.

The sky darkens in the scene before the wicked ex returns. Or the plastic patio furniture in the living room sticks around as a stubborn symbol of the heroine’s reluctance to commit to anything of substance.

A Tool for Character Development

The setting can also show us something about the main characters or challenge them to grow.

In Something Wilder, readers immediately learn about Lily’s strength and resourcefulness by watching her navigate Utah’s rugged terrain. 

Sorry, Bro unfolds over the course of a month-long series of events in San Francisco’s Armenian community. Each event gives the main character, Nareh, an environment where she’s surrounded by her own neglected culture and challenged to live more authentically.

The Romance of Juxtaposition

Finally, your romance novel should have a solid handful of scenes set specifically for romance. We’ll get into several ways you can summon the swoon in just a sec, but first, I want to point out one classic strategy that rarely fails to set the mood: juxtaposition.

The quiet balcony at the raging party. The warm, dry tent in the middle of the rainstorm, lit with the soft glow of a single lantern. The secret rooftop refuge with the stunning view that makes this ordinary little town suddenly seem special. 

Yours Truly even manages to create magic in a supply closet as the main characters make it their shared safe space in a chaotic ER.

Let the world of your romance novel be messy. Then give your lovers a haven that’s theirs alone.  

Romantic Ideas

A couple sits in a living room playing guitar beside a dog.

Now that you’ve got some hot tips on writing any scene in your first romance novel, let’s go deep on the scenes your readers care about most. How do successful romance authors make sure those lovey-dovey moments get the atmosphere they deserve?

Play With the Lighting

Dim the lights. Let your heroine see her crush’s face in the flickering glow of a candle. Or go the opposite way and show your romance readers the bold streak of sunlight coming through the window as your lovers wake up to a new day and a new love.

Let the Weather Help You Out

There’s no rule saying you can’t write a romance novel without a downpour at some point. But there’s a reason rain is popular in love stories—as are snow, thunder, blue skies, and fog. Whether you’re going for joyful, cozy, or dangerous, let the weather help you set the mood.

Give the Place Extra Meaning

Is this the secret spot your protagonist uses to escape the world? Is one character showing the other a special place that holds important memories for them? What does it mean for these two people to come together in this environment? 

Inspire Wonder

Romance writing is all about taking your reader’s breath away. While it’s most important that you pull this off through your characters’ relationship, let the environment do some of the work, too. Sweeping vistas, miles of sparkling city lights, the novelty of a midnight dip in a crystal clear ocean… it’s all fair game.

Use All the Senses

A lot of writers (myself included) tend to get caught up in the visuals of the world we’re describing. But don’t forget about the scent of honeysuckle or the unrushed melodies of an Ella Fitzgerald record echoing through the alleyway.

(Quick tip: we have show, don’t tell worksheets that can be a huge help in romance writing.)

Romantic Places

A couple sits on a bench in the mountains overlooking an alpine lake.

Let’s say you’re not looking to find the romance in an advertising office or outdated apartment complex; you want to give your characters an environment that makes it impossible to resist falling in love.

Here are a 20 ideas to get the wheels turning as you write a romance novel:

  1. Secluded cabin in the snowy mountains
  2. Enchanting castle nestled in the mountains
  3. Beach in Malibu with a private bonfire
  4. Remote countryside manor with sprawling gardens
  5. Bustling street market in Marrakesh
  6. Cozy bookstore
  7. The cobblestone streets of Old San Juan
  8. Hidden waterfall in a tropical rainforest
  9. Rooftop terrace overlooking a glittering city
  10. Intimate café in a picturesque village
  11. Scenic train ride through the mountains or along the coast
  12. Bamboo grove in Japan
  13. Lakeside cabin nestled deep in the woods
  14. Bed and breakfast in a coastal town
  15. Hidden garden oasis
  16. Hidden cave on a Caribbean beach
  17. Historic library with towering bookshelves
  18. Old growth forest with towering ancient redwoods
  19. White sand beaches and turquoise waters of Zanzibar
  20. Villa on an Italian vineyard

Romantic Date Ideas for Your Characters

A couple eats together at a little table in a field of wildflowers.

Now, suppose your romance novel is set someplace, you know, regular. What can you do to create a little atmosphere for your love-struck characters and your devoted romance readers?

A romantic date is a good start! Here are a few date ideas to work with while you’re writing:

  1. Afternoon at a museum
  2. Day-long tour of the city
  3. Hike in the mountains
  4. Picnic on an overlook
  5. Picnic under the stars
  6. Outdoor movie night
  7. Hot air balloon ride
  8. Long walk on the moors
  9. Evening at the carnival
  10. Ice skating
  11. Cooking class
  12. Art class
  13. Dance class
  14. Boat ride
  15. Comedy club
  16. Farmers market outing followed by a homemade dinner
  17. Spa day
  18. Scenic bike ride
  19. Game night
  20. Karaoke
  21. Volunteering for a cause that’s important to one or both characters
  22. Sports event
  23. Someone else’s wedding 
  24. Walking tour of a historic city
  25. An obligation or errand that turns into an adorable date just because these two characters can make anything fun when they’re together

Bring the Romance to Life

An older couple sits together on a picnic blanket reading a book.

Hopefully, the ideas are starting to flow. But if you could use a little more guidance, there’s certainly more to say on this subject—and we’ve said it right here:

  • Check out this article with more tips for building a fictional world.
  • If you write fantasy romance, this guide will help you build out the magic systems that define your setting.
  • Then there’s this one to help you name that fantastical universe.
  • We’ve even got the historical romance writers covered with this article.

Then, when the time comes to turn all this article-learnin’ into actual story writing, I highly recommend Dabble for keeping your ideas organized. The Story Notes feature in this comprehensive writing tool makes it easy to create a worldbuilding bible that’s only one click away as you draft and revise your first romance novel.

And that’s only the beginning. Dabble is packed with clever, intuitive features that make the entire writing process easier, from your first brainstorm to your final revision.

The best part? You can try Dabble for free for 14 days—no credit card required! Just click here to sign up and start planning a romance novel your readers won’t be able to put down.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.