or the structure of a romantic story and why it matters.
The basic form of a romance story is surprisingly simple. Boy being meets girl being, or more often girl being meets boy being, and after some complications they wander off under the light of the setting moon with a happy ever after ending. Or at least happy ever after, for now. With such a simple plot, one descended almost intact from Homer (the wily Odysseus overcomes many obstacles to be reunited with his faithful dog Argos. Oh and his wife Penelope), romance seems a trivially easy thing to write.
Romance may be trivial to write, but it’s not trivial to write well.
To start the heroine and hero must be introduced early in the story. Ideally at least one of them should appear in the first chapter, and the other should be introduced soon thereafter. Romance is not like Chekov’s gun, where the dramatic element sits, cocked, waiting to explode at the last moment. Pulling the romantic hero out of the hat in chapter 39 of 40 is a doomed idea. Romance focuses on the human, humanoid or whatever, interactions between the two beings as they struggle against the obstacles, both internal and external that keep them apart.
In order for the romantic story to work, the characters must be sympathetic. The reader must be cheering them on. This is, in some ways, the hardest part of writing. They can be selfish, evil, nasty brutes, but you have to like them and want them to succeed. Quite often, as an author, when I get stuck in what feels like terminal writer’s block, it is because I haven’t made the characters likeable enough. It actually helps if they have some flaws. The perfect hero, a handsome ripped ‘studmuffin’ who is also a generous billionaire with a Nobel Prize and Olympic gold medals, is probably not going to work. There’s no flaw, nothing for him to grow or change, and nothing for the heroine to sink her teeth into. At least not if I’m avoiding vampires or zombies. Similarly, a perfect heroine, buxom, beautiful, self-confident and rich, is boring. Who cares what they do? More importantly, who can identify with them?
So what works as flaws? It depends. In Regency romances, the hero can be jaded on females because he’s been pursued relentlessly, soured and shy because of a lost love, or grieving as a widower. The heroine often has financial or social problems of her own, the need to find a husband or avoid the dread label of ‘old maid.’ She could even be thought to be ‘too picky’ by rejecting a boorish, but rich and malleable suitor, only to discover too late that he had redeeming features. Features which only showed themselves in some external crisis.
The flaws don’t have to be emotional, though they should have emotional consequences. If I were writing a vampire knockoff, the hero might have food allergies which require that he drink only the blood from O(-) virgins. This, of course, brings him into conflict with the star football quarterback who has his eyes on the only available source for other reasons. Meanwhile, the real heroine, his allergist, is frantically working on a cure. But I digress.
Whatever the complication, the characters must act in a vaguely rational manner. Maybe not rational, but at least believable. Believable means believable within the context of the story. If Jenny, in a science fiction romance flies off with her dashing space captain and leaves the huge green blob she’s been living with behind (he or it has magical pseudopods), there has to be a reason. It could be that the blob has been slowly consuming her, or is too clingy, she’s tired cleaning up after its slime trail or there’s a tell-tail trace of purple on it from the blob next door. It just shouldn’t be “See you, been fun, bye Jenny.” Unless, of course, she’s the villain. Villains don’t need excuses.
About The Author.
International man of mystery, able to split infinitives with a single bound, faster than a speeding semicolon, and equally inept in several languages, including hieroglyphics, R. Harrison has taken a break from making the world safer for computers to write sweet romantic and historical fiction. A mild-mannered professor by day (hey, it’s a job), a dashing author by night, and an all around great guy, he writes his own biography. Some parts of which might be true. He’s written under several pen-names, but most recently his own and with booktrope.
You can find him on the web: