Rekka needed help today! Hard to create a romance-writing Valentine’s Day episode when Rekka is about as unromantic as possible, and squirms at the concept of the slightest peck on the lips. Swanning in to save the day is Alex Rowland, who publishes under Alexandra Rowland.
Alexandra Rowland first appeared on The Hybrid Author in Episode 63 so if you want to hear more after listening to this episode, check that out. Also you will live to regret it if you do not check out Be The Serpent, a story dissection podcast that Alex co-hosts with Jennifer Mace (who spoke with us last week) and Freya Marske (who will appear on HAP in two weeks).
Romance Stories pit the involved characters against some obstacle before they can achieve the romantic involvement they (consciously or unconsciously) seek.
We don’t spend a lot of time on it, but it’s important to mention that in the Romance genre itself, you are committing to Promises That Must Not Be Broken. Happily Ever After (or at least For Now) is not optional. Shakespeare would have failed HARD in the modern romance market.
Finding That Perfect Someone
In romance books, a successful romantic pairing is most satisfying when the characters compliment and balance each other. The romances in books might in fact be horribly codependent and toxic if they were to exist in the real world, but these stories are highly satisfying in fiction.
Enemies / Friends to Friends / Lovers
This trope has plot built into it: Why are they enemies? How does this change? How do they come to respect each other?)
The characters begin as rivals or straight-up enemies, and are forced together by circumstance (some very convenient, am I right, Alex? There’s only one bed in the inn!) and have to get over their internal obstacles in order to uncover the ideal love that is glaring them in the face.
If you have obstacles, you have stakes and if you have stakes, then something is interesting and compelling and it creates tension and mystery to pull the reader through the story.
Popular examples of this are Romeo & Juliet, X-Men’s Gambit and Rogue, and Pushing Daisies. Often these stories are tragedies, but just as often they come up with ways to be together (see also: full body condoms in the case of Pushing Daisies).
These plots are pretty straightforward. The lovers will stop at nothing, and risk everything, to be together. If there is a curse of some sort, it will either be enacted (tragedy) or avoided (happily ever after).
Give Your Characters Friends!
Alex would love to see more communities of friends in genre fiction with a romance in the book. Romance should be bracketed by emotional support communities, rather than the potential love being the only relationship in the story. Those friends should be involved in the main characters’ advancement through their relationship and determine how it is framed.
Those friends can also influence the MC’s actions (“Come to this bar with me, I don’t want to go alone!”) and complicate the plot or reveal the undercurrent of emotion and thoughts going on.
Physics and Gravity – Objects in Space
The characters will have a moral core, but the advancement toward the romantic relationship may change something that they thought was important as they discover something about themselves.
When the characters are pulled together by internal forces, their obstacle will be external. When the characters are placed together by external forces, the obstacle will be internal. Begin with small manifestations of the conflict, during which each of them will begin to change and shift through a raised awareness. They’re set off balance. Progress toward a larger event that tests one or both of them and forces a compromise. There should be some recognition that things have shifted and that they’ve “lost” a confrontation. A moment of connection occurs where they find themselves in agreement on something important that increases respect (or attraction). Here, the internal draw begins to bring them together. At some point, they need to kiss and be thinking too hard about the connotations of that.
At the three-quarter mark, there’s an all-is-lost crisis point which would have definitely killed the romance at the beginning of the book. In genre fiction, from here you solve the rest of your plot and then resolve the relationship to wrap it all off.
Your two characters might fall away due to one character saying something that is what they believed at the start of the story, as with Alexis Hall books. Then the characters realize that they no longer believe that, and need to come back and not only apologize but manage to make up for saying that.
There could be a more classic miscommunication, such as a voicemail or text message (or whatever technology exists to distract and complicate in your story) that is misunderstood by one half of the hopeful romance, and needs to be clarified (and probably also someone owes someone else an apology).
In Band Sinister by K.J. Charles, Person A may be true to themself in reaction to an external force in a way that frustrates the other half of the relationship. Person B goes off and reflects to recognize that Person A’s truth is something they appreciate and comes up with another solution that doesn’t ask Person A to change.
One or Two POVs?
Two POVs allow you to explore the character growth from both sides. Most of what we’ve discussed above is from the perspective of writing with two POVs.
One POV needs to communicate both sides’ struggles to the reader but not to the POV MC. “You have to make the reader understand without making the character understand.”
For the reader, the fact that the POV isn’t understanding what happens (which the reader can see and understand) needs to be true to that character’s personality or arc. Don’t just conveniently have that character ignore what small signals they would otherwise notice (according to their competence within the story).
As with mysteries, you need to place the clues for the reader in a One POV story so that it all makes sense when you reveal that they were meant to be together.
You can use the romantic relationship story for relationships that don’t end in romance. These plots work with any level of personal relationship.
Books / Media Alex and I Reference:
- Pushing Daisies
- Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian
- Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit
- Alexis Hall
- K. J. Charles
- Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat
- X-Men‘s Gambit and Rogue (hard to go back to, but there it is!)
- The Fifth Element
Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland (Saga, 2018)
Do you like a little bit of romance, or just the consequential boxes of clearance candy? Please let us know in the comments or on twitter!
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