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Get Inspired: 44 Sad Romance Writing Prompts for Your Next Love Story

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The Golden Rule of the romance genre is found in the HEA, otherwise known as the Happily Ever After. As long as the two protagonists end up happily together by the end of the book, it counts as a romance novel. And yet, some of what we consider the greatest love stories of all time are notoriously lacking in the HEA department (hello, Romeo and Juliet). Tragic love stories and sad romances have fascinated us and graced the literary canon for hundreds of years. If you’re ready to write your own tragic (or at least somber) love story, check out these 44 sad romance writing prompts. 

44 sad romance writing prompts for your next love story

Why Readers Love Sad Romances

Like many of their protagonists’ relationships, sad romances are contentious. Romance novel fans and publishers usually refuse to acknowledge love stories without HEAs as belonging to the romance book genre.

Fortunately, there are other genres sad love stories can easily fit into. Depending on the nature of the story, it may be considered literary fiction, women’s fiction, fantasy, dystopian, historical fiction, mystery, or general fiction. Just because it’s a love story that doesn’t fit into the romance category does not mean there isn’t a market waiting to read your compelling story. 

Romance writers must sew everything up by the end and assure readers that everything worked out for the happy couple. While this type of book can be fun to read—especially when you’re seeking escapism and want to focus on uplifting vibes—they’re not always what we’re looking for. 

Sometimes we want to read books that more closely emulate real life and the human experience, with its full spectrum of emotions. This is a good thing. The greater the diversity of experiences we read about, the more we’re able to reflect on the universal human experience, evaluate situations and people in our own lives, develop our capacity for empathy, and cultivate a sense of gratitude. 

Cheryl Frazier wrote in the Winter 2016 issue of the Florida Philosophical Review,

“Having the opportunity to interact with tragic works of fiction allows us to have a safe experience that is as close as possible to the real thing without actually being [in] said situation. It is so addictive precisely because it causes us to feel the pain that we would feel in our everyday lives, while still providing a means of escape from the situation (since we can easily turn off a movie or close a book, thus ending the experience altogether)…Through experiencing fictional situations, we get a sort of emotional catharsis…that elicits positive emotions (such as relief, reassurance, and a feeling of belonging) and a desire to revisit the experience whenever the same catharsis is needed…I contend that the crying itself is also pleasant, on a different level than the work as a whole. It often feels good to cry over something that I know won’t actually cause me to suffer, as it gives me the opportunity to have an emotional response or release without the actual experience itself.”

Sad Romance vs. Tragic Romance: Are They the Same Thing?

While both sad romances and tragic romances explore themes of love, loss, and longing and are marked by ill-fated relationships, there are subtle distinctions between the two subgenres. In sad romances, obstacles and challenges typically stand in the way of the lovers achieving their HEA. For example, a couple may drift apart, someone might have a relationship-ending affair, or a societal/cultural issue might come between them. The story is still sad because the characters (and readers) don’t get the happy ending they crave, but it’s not necessarily tragic. 

In tragic romances, as the name suggests, the love story is usually cut short by a tragedy caused by external circumstances, misunderstandings, character flaws, or some combination of these. One or both of the lovers typically pass away in some type of catastrophic incident. 

There does seem to be some overlap in what people refer to as sad romances and tragic romances. For example, many titles in which one of the lovers passes away are frequently mentioned on lists of both sad and tragic romances. While definitions of these terms vary, there seems to be a trend in so-called sad romances to have some sort of fulfillment, closure, or positive outcome for one or both characters either before or after the relationship ends. 

This is less prevalent in so-called tragedies, which usually don’t leave the opportunity for closure or positive outcomes. The character(s)’s mistakes or flaws cause great harm to themselves or others and generally rob one of the opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes. 

Both sad and tragic romances allow readers to experience a full range of strong emotions including happiness, sadness, longing, joy, gratitude, hope, desperation, despair, and dismay. 

Some examples of sad romance stories include:

  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • One Day
  • Me Before You
  • Love Story
  • A Walk to Remember
  • Eleanor & Park
  • The Notebook
  • Five Feet Apart

Examples of tragic romances include:

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Titanic
  • Anna Karenina
  • The Great Gatsby
  • West Side Story
  • Tristan and Isolde
  • Doctor Zhivago
  • A Star is Born

Sad Romance Writing Prompts

This section is divided into two parts. The first includes prompts designed with sad romance stories in mind—they’re dark, doomed, and melancholic but not necessarily tragic. The second section focuses more on prompts with calamitous endings. Jump in wherever you feel most inspired and use this list of sad writing prompts to kick-start your next sad or tragic romance. 

Just a note before we start: as with all our writing prompts, these are merely seeds of ideas to get your creative juices flowing. You can use them as is, combine them, or change them up in any way that suits you. We have used gendered pronouns here for illustration purposes, but feel free to change these as desired to fit the goals of your story. 

You can also customize the prompts by playing around with different periods, genres, settings, and circumstances. At the end of this post, you’ll find some suggestions for solemn settings that work well with sad romance themes, but you can probably think of many others.

Brainstorm and play around with different combinations of locations, periods, socio-economic positions, etc. Ask yourself how each option would support your overall story and choose the one that provides the best backdrop for your protagonists’ romance. 

Sad Romance Story Ideas with Bittersweet Endings

  1. Write about a young woman who is in love with the brother of her best friend but can’t do anything about it because her best friend reviles anyone she perceives as using her to get to her brother. Perhaps they finally get their chance to be together when the best friend passes away but find they are unable to do so without dishonoring her memory and so choose to go their separate ways. 
  2. Write a story about two childhood sweethearts who lose touch when one of their families moves away and their family member conspires to extinguish contact between them. 
  3. Two young professionals fall hard for each other the first time they meet and commence a relationship. Unfortunately, he’s betrothed via an arranged marriage and, though he desperately wants to, he’s unable to turn his back on his fiancée or his family’s wishes.
  4. Two good friends carry a torch for each other for years but are always too scared to say anything. She finally has the nerve to tell him how she feels on the eve of his wedding to someone else. He tries to go through with the wedding but his fiancée finds out and calls it off. The friends try to make it work with each other but she can’t get over the nagging feeling she was his second choice. 
  5. Write about high school sweethearts from a small town who try to succeed in a long-distance relationship after one of them moves to a city for work. How do their conflicting priorities conspire to keep them apart?
  6. Write about a woman who sets her good friend up on a successful blind date even though she’s madly in love with him. 
  7. Write about young lovers who meet on a business trip and are convinced they’re meant to be together but can’t find their stride when they try to pursue their relationship in their everyday contexts. 
  8. Write a short story about a young couple who are torn apart by the woman’s immeasurable grief at the loss of her mother. 
  9. Write about a man who loses his wife because he’s consumed with jealousy over her relationship with her childhood friend. 
  10. Write a story about an interracial couple who are unable to overcome the cultural differences in their relationship. You might give your story added emotional depth by layering it with each of their families’ cultural expectations of them. 
  11. Write about a couple whose relationship falls apart after the loss of an unborn child. 
  12. While working together on a big project at work, a man falls for his colleague and relentlessly pursues her until she agrees to date him. After building a promising relationship with her, he starts wavering when an ex-girlfriend comes back into his life and wants to try again. 
  13. Write about a couple who lose their way after one of them gets injured and has to give up a budding professional sports career while the other’s star continues to rise. 
  14. In a fantasy world where using magic can drain your life force from you, a heartbroken girl must choose between saving her lover’s life or her own.
  15. Write a story about a couple who gets physically separated during a natural disaster. Although they are both alive, one of them hears a false rumor of the other’s death and forces themself to move on and start over while the other continues their search. 
  16. A man meets a woman at a coffee shop and they hit it off. Their relationship progresses and though they sometimes talk of marriage, he resists taking that step. The woman thinks he is not in love with her, but it turns out he is hiding a terminal illness from her. He finally confides in her and she convinces him to marry her anyway, but he passes away before they’re able to.
  17. Shortly before deploying to a foreign country for a tour as a medical technician, a man hears from his conniving friend that his fiancée has had an affair and is pregnant with someone else’s child. Instead of talking to her, he leaves quietly, dedicates himself to his work, and forces himself to get over her. He avoids his hometown and everyone in it for years. After his so-called friend finds him and confesses that he made the story up, the man tries to track his former love down but when he does, he’s shocked by the state he finds her in and is unable to attain her forgiveness. 
  18. During the Victorian era, a young woman is sent to live with her aunt after her birth parents pass away. Before she leaves, she shares her first kiss with a young man for whom she has harbored feelings and they promise to write each other weekly letters. After keeping their promise for over a year, one of them suddenly stops receiving replies. Write the story from one or both perspectives or try writing it partially or fully as an epistle: a story told in letter form. Perhaps the letters have been found by a grandchild determined to unravel the mystery. 
  19. Write a story set in a dystopian world that has strict rules about who is allowed to date whom. Create two characters who fall in love despite the rules—perhaps they’re from different classes, belief systems, or tribes. What are they willing to sacrifice to be together? Will it be enough? Will it be worth the price they pay?
  20. Write a story about a person trying to navigate a relationship with someone struggling with mental illness.
  21. Write a story about an online relationship that goes awry when the two characters meet in person.
  22. Using a dual timeline, write a story that shows a couple falling in love and starting their life together, and their lives after they separate.
  23. Write about academic rivals whose love story begins when they’re competing to get into the same school and ends when only one of them does.
  24. Write about an older woman who tracks down her first love after learning she has a terminal illness. Give them a second chance at love in her final days and explore the bittersweet beauty of their time together marked by their mourning of all the time and opportunities lost. 
  25. Write about a time traveler who falls in love with someone from an earlier time but then realizes they cannot remain in the past without causing major havoc on a worldwide scale. 
  26. Write about two strangers who develop a romantic relationship after rescuing an abandoned baby together but who are torn apart after someone comes forward with claims to the child. 
  27. Write about a defense attorney who falls for her client and goes to extreme lengths to win his exoneration, only to find out after he’s free that he was actually guilty. 
  28. Write a story about a middle-aged married couple who have worked together their whole married life, perhaps running a farm or an independent publishing house. When their business runs into financial trouble, cracks in their relationship start to deepen. Show how the deterioration of their union mirrors that of their enterprise and the growth they experience as individuals as they reflect on and evaluate what they want for the next stage of their lives. 
  29. Write a short story in which social media is both the catalyst for a new relationship and a significant factor in its demise. 
  30. A mysterious stranger appears one day in a small town, as if from nowhere. He knows nobody and mostly keeps to himself. A local bookseller establishes a friendship-turned-romantic relationship with him over their shared love of literature. When a jealous neighbor starts digging into the man’s past and asking too many questions, he vanishes overnight without a trace. His distraught lover searches fervently for him but turns up nothing. Gaslit by her neighbor, she begins to question whether he was ever there or if she is delusional. 
  31. Two strangers have a meet cute in the heart of a busy city. Their connection is instant and they spend one magical day together, exploring the city, getting lost, and running into a bit of trouble. They plan to meet again the next day, but in their haste, they forget to exchange contact numbers or last names. An emergency comes up and one of them doesn’t show up for the second date. Desperate to find each other again, they go to great lengths searching the city for each other. 
  32. Write a sad romance set in a post-apocalyptic world where few people remain and all are fighting to survive. Make one or both of the protagonists leaders within their community and give them the burden of caring for others while also being completely willing to sacrifice for the sake of the community’s survival. To heighten the conflict and emotional experience, you could create a scenario in which one of them has to choose between saving their lover and saving other vulnerable people.
  33. She’s a private investigator. He’s been on the run for years. Will she risk her job for love or can she do what it takes to put him behind bars?
  34. Two people from completely different places meet on a vacation. Though they know the summer will only end in heartbreak, they can’t help but fall in love. The movies say that one of them will surprise the other with a move to their hometown, but life doesn’t work like that…

Romantic Writing Prompts on the Slightly More Tragic Side

  1. Write a story about a young adult whose partner falls into a habit of recreational drug use and is unable to save them. 
  2. Write about a couple who bond over their shared affinity for sailing. They decide to enter an elite sailing competition together and spend months (or years) preparing for it. Weeks into the competition, they hit a terrible storm and one of them dies trying to save the other, who then has to finish the mission by themselves while also starting to process their loss. 
  3. Try doing a retelling of a classic tragic love story set in a modern world with new characters. You might consider working with Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Anna Karenina, or Tristan and Isolde. Map out the major plot points from the original story and how they will translate to the story beats for your next love story. Examine the factors that kept the protagonists apart and brainstorm some modern-day equivalents. 
  4. Consider writing a tragic love story with a ghost as a main character. Perhaps you have protagonists who were childhood friends until one of them passed away and now the survivor finds himself falling for the ghost of his old friend. Or maybe the ghost is not one of the protagonists but the former lover of one of them, intent on preempting their beloved’s new relationship. 
  5. Write about a Greek god falling in love with a mortal. The god gives up his immortality, unbeknownst to his partner, hoping to spend the end of their days together. The end comes a lot sooner than expected when the mortal begs the god to run into a burning building to save a beloved possession, thinking that he cannot die.
  6. Write about a man who can see the future. He learns that he will meet the love of his life in twenty years and have a long happy life with her. Impatient, he decides to take matters into his own hands and tracks her down hoping to start their lives together earlier. Unfortunately, in doing so, he alters the course of her life and a year after he meets her, she dies in a motor vehicle incident during a road trip she never would have taken in her original timeline. 
  7. In the midst of a war, two people from opposing nations fall in love after one of them saves the other’s life in a forbidden act of mercy. The one who saved the other’s life is given a choice: take their beloved as a prisoner of war or be outcast from their army. They choose the latter and are taken in by the opposing army who manipulates them to extract secrets and eventually sets them up to take the fall for war crimes committed by others.
  8. Write a story where a man and woman fall for each other and have a whirlwind romance, becoming closer in months than most people do in years. Then, have a major natural disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake hit their area and have one of them sacrifice their life to save the other. 
  9. Write a love story in which one of the main characters suffers from an abundance of pride. Have him or her make a simple mistake such as forgetting to pack an important medicine when asked, not taking the car for servicing on time, or not getting the furnace checked after someone noticed a whiff of gas. When their lover asks if they took care of the thing they said they’d do, their pride leads them to lie and say they did it. Sadly, the lie has major consequences and leads to a catastrophe. 
  10. Create a protagonist who becomes addicted to gambling and, in an act of great stupidity, desperation, and pride, stakes their lover’s soul in a bet. And promptly loses. 

Solemn Settings for Your Sad Romance

Setting is a vital story element you can use to enhance your readers’ experience of your story. The setting is key in establishing context (the where and when of your story), but it also sets the mood or tone of each scene, deepens the exploration of themes, enhances the reader’s experience, and sparks emotional reactions. 

When writing a sad romance, consider including some scenes set in solemn, lonely, or isolated places that reflect the mood and tone of the character. 

Somber settings include:

1. Abandoned or decaying buildings such as churches, old houses, and estates that have fallen from their former states of glory. See Kate Morton’s The Clockmaker’s Daughter and The Secret Keeper. 

2. War-torn landscapes such as London during the Blitz or other European cities under German occupation. See Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale or The Women or Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner. 

3. Natural Disaster Zones where devastating events such as earthquakes, wildfires, or hurricanes have recently occurred. See This is Not the End by Chandler Baker and Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone and The Four Winds. 

4An isolated village or town struggling with economic decline or social unrest could provide the perfect context for a star-crossed love story. See Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. 

No matter where you decide to set your sad romance story, take the time to research the setting you plan to use and think about how it might reflect and enhance your characters’ story. 


Writing a nuanced love story that explores a wide range of human emotions is a great way to challenge and stretch yourself as a writer. Whether you want to focus on sad romances or true tragedies, we hope these sad story ideas and creative writing prompts inspire you to take your fictional characters on an emotional roller coaster ride. Do you have some favorite sad romance writing prompts from the list above? Let us know in the comments or share one or two of your own. Better yet, feel free to share a small excerpt of the writing you’ve done based on one of these prompts. We’d love to see it and cheer you on!

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