Before I begin I should say you don’t have to plan if that doesn’t work for you, I never do. You can intend to add a romance to your story or it can appear as you write, that’s fine too. In this article we’re going to look at questions we can ask before we start writing, that don’t require full outline length answers, or that we can ask ourselves when we’re refining that romance that appeared as we were writing.
The big question we have to ask is ‘why these people?’ it’s a question that applies to however many people are in a relationship, what gender they are and whether or not it’s a sexual relationship. Why do Character A and Character B fall for each other? This doesn’t have to be a long complicated answer, it doesn’t have to be a deep examination of their psyches, or the complete story of how they met. It can be as simple as ‘they met in a line while getting coffee and started talking’ or ‘they have a similar sense of humour’. Answering this question, however vaguely, can help us anchor the relationship in our minds.
It can also help us if we ask ourselves ‘why not this other character?’ if there’s a potential rival. Once again this can be as vague or detailed as we like. It could even be as simple as ‘Character A met Character B first’. This doesn’t mean we won’t get readers want what a different combination of characters, if our plot is about romantic rivalry then it’s often most effective if the romantic rival is appealing as the love interest because the readers might start thinking ‘Why is Character C even in the picture?’ (We’ll look at triangles more closely later in this series)
This doesn’t mean we can’t have an unappealing rival, one of the biggest films recently, Beauty and The Beast, had Gaston the ‘romantic rival’ be completely obnoxious. The important distinction here is that although he is dubbed the ‘romantic rival’ only he sees himself as one, Belle, the heroine, is repulsed by him. So, although we say ‘romantic rival’, we might mean it more as ‘romantic antagonist’, who is constantly trying to break the relationship up for their own gain. In the case of Beauty and The Beast Gaston also serves in the role of ‘antagonist’, I make this distinction because in some stories we might have a ‘romantic antagonist’ attacking the relationship but me might also have an overall ‘antagonist’, particularly in books where the romantic relationship is a subplot. It is entirely possible if we have both that we can have the ‘romantic antagonist’ on the same team as the heroes against the overall ‘antagonist’.
The problem we sometimes fall into is that we’ve been told so often that romance fiction is formulaic we try to follow the ‘formula’. The truth is that romance fiction and romance plots are no more formulaic than any other fiction. As we’d discussed previously, there are only so many overall plots and they often boil down to action and crisis and crisis averted. Romance fiction and subplots might have a lot of happy endings, though not always, but so does any story where the world is saved and the protagonist achieves their goal and not everyone dies at the end.
NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. Check back tomorrow for the next part.