While every romance novel is about the relationship between two main characters, that is not the same thing as the plot. A strong plot is the difference between keeping your reader turning the pages and abandoning the book, and the tips below will help you write an effectively-plotted romance.
The protagonists need to have goals and complications that work against their togetherness. There are two main ways to figure out those goals and complications and approach the plotting of your book. One way is to outline before you begin writing and the other is to simply begin writing the first draft and see where it takes you. Some writers who do this do not even refer to this as the ‘first draft’ but instead as the ‘discovery draft’.
Both methods have advantages and disadvantages. Some writers find themselves bogged down by writing an outline; they are simply unable to become inspired and envision their story in the outline form. However, for writers who can produce an outline, the advantage is that the first draft tends to be more polished and complete. The discovery draft method may allow more creativity and flexibility and it may be the only way some writers can work, but it can also be easy to get bogged down in a meandering manuscript that goes nowhere. The next draft also tends to need a lot of work. Discovery draft writers should also note that it’s usually helpful to go ahead and write an outline anyway once the discovery draft is complete.
Whatever method is used, plotting principles remain the same. You should begin with a general sense of the length your novel should be, and that will be based on the sub-genre; a historical romance is generally going to be much longer than a category or series romance for example.
Familiarity with your sub-genre is important as well. It can be helpful to read several books in it and take notes on where major plot points occur and what they are. You may detect a pattern that will be helpful in structuring your own plot. Every plot needs elements of conflict. There should be smaller conflicts along the way to be dealt with and resolved as well as an overarching conflict that rises to a climax and a resolution at the end of your book.
Once you’ve determined a rough word or manuscript page count for your novel, you can begin to divide your novel into sections. The opening should comprise approximately the first quarter of your novel. Therefore, for an 80,000 word novel, the opening will be about 20,000 words long. For a romance novel, here are the plot points a reader is going to expect in the opening:
- The characters need to meet.
- The characters’ goals that are separate from their romance need to be made clear.
- The main conflicts that keep the characters from their goals and their relationship should be established.
The middle section of the book will comprise a total of half the novel, so in an 80,000 word manuscript it will be roughly 40,000 words long. In the middle section, these plot points occur:
- The physical and/or emotional relationship between the characters intensifies.
- The characters reaffirm their dedication to their goals that are in conflict with the relationship. This occurs at approximately the midpoint of the whole novel.
- A dramatic turning point occurs that incites a crisis.
The final section of novel containing the conflict and resolution will occupy the final quarter of the novel:
- The climax includes what romance writers often call the ‘black moment’. This is when everything appears hopeless and the protagonists have lost everything.
- The resolution and reward should be short.
Within this structure, the different types of conflicts that arise will be grounded in the setting and type of novel. The characters may be kept apart by war, being in different social classes, misunderstandings and jealousy, machinations by other characters and more. Creating protagonists with opposing goals and desires can be useful because it gives each of them something they passionately want while setting up an automatic conflict between the two.
Do you have any tips to share about how to plot a romance novel?