Ten Beats of a Romance Novel: Part One*
Susan May Warren
Susan May Warren
Every genre (including romance) has key elements—things that we expect from that type of story. Because of this, people might say a romance is predictable. But the author has license to change up these elements, putting them in a different order.
And of course, they are bringing their own voice to the romance—telling it in a way only they know how. That is why we enjoy remakes of old films—because even though it is the same story, it has a different take, and we love that—and frankly, we love seeing the new voice applied to the old structure!
Every romance, regardless of the order these components fall in, has the same ten components. For our series, we’ll call them beats.
Let’s start with the first component:
Beat 1: Boy Meets Girl: In this component, there is an event, goal or circumstance that occurs to bring our hero and heroine together. Usually this happens in the first chapter, but it definitely needs to happen by chapter three. In Titanic, the ship brings the hero and heroine together.
As you sketch out your novel, start by defining that Boy Meets Girl moment. Once you have your Boy meets Girl moment, you can move on to the next beat:
Beat 2: Interest/Need: Something about their own situation makes their heart vulnerable to romance.
In Titanic, Rose hates her life, feels suffocated and longs for freedom and adventure. Jack is a vagabond, and when he sees this beautiful woman who loves him, he is affirmed. She believes in him!
It’s very important for you to figure out what it is about your characters that make them ready or vulnerable to romance. Often this element is revealed though a conversation they have with their friends. Or is a part of inciting incident.
Remember, right now, you’re just building the components—you can move them around to fit the story.
Which brings us to the next beat…
Beat 3: Why Not: These are the obstacles between the hero and heroine that conspire to separate them.
I break these down into two different structures—why/why not, and why not/why.
The why not/why is when the obstacles appear first, and the why (they need to be together, which we’ll get to in a moment) appears second.
Or, you may have a why/why not book where they fall in love first…and then realize why they can’t be together.
Again, these are just components you need to have—they can occur in different orders.
Here’s an example of a Why Not: Sleepless in Seattle: She lives in Baltimore, he lives in Seattle!
The key is, you MUST have why nots in a romance. Because without the WHY NOT, there is no conflict and the story is…boring. Or not a story.
So—as you’re building your story think about the WHY NOT that you will keep them apart.
We’re going to skip over the WHY right now (but we’ll be coming back to it) and move onto the next component:
Beat 4: Wooing: Events or situations that allow the hero and heroine to fall in love. This is the fun stuff—all those “dates” or events they have that make them fall for each other. As we get deeper into building our romance, we’ll talk about the nature and purpose of each of these wooing dates, but for now, let’s just identify them.
One of my favorite is in While you Were Sleeping—moving the sofa!
It’s important to create scenes that will engage the reader—something sweet, and things the reader would like to do. You can be creative about the wooing moment—I’ve had motorcycle rides, hockey, a trip to the library, a snowmobile ride…think outside the box. Where would you like to go?
For every romance, I try and plot at least ONE great date scene, and a couple smaller scenes.
Ask: Do you have any wooing scenes?
These are the first four beats of a great romance. But they are just the beginning. Next week, we’ll talk about the element that makes a romance great: SPARKS!
*Article series first appeared on Book Therapy Voices blog in October, 2010. Used by permission.
To learn more about Susan, visit her website. Her latest release, Point of No Return, is a romantic suspense. Here's the blurb:
An American boy and a warlord's engaged daughter have disappeared—together—in an Eastern European border country. Only one man can find them in time to prevent an international meltdown—Chet Stryker. But Chet is taken aback when he realizes the boy is the nephew of Mae Lund, Chet's former flame. When Mae insists on rescuing her relative herself, Chet knows he has to protect her from the enemy on their trail. Yet can he protect himself from falling for Mae again?