Showing posts with label the structure of a romance story. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the structure of a romance story. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 16

The Structure of a Romance Story: Part Three

The Structure of a Romance Story: Part Three

Ever had a day where it feels like you need to do twelve zillion things? That’s the way I’ve felt for the past few days and, as a result, have probably accomplished less! SO, I’m going to give myself permission to post less for the remainder of the month.

I’m happy with the amount of writing I’ve done (my plan is to gather these posts together and put them in a book), so yea! And I’m going to continue in the same vein, though I need to accept that I can’t do a post a day. I need to take the weekends off to catch up on odds-n-ends.

What follows is the last post in a series on the structure of a romance story, the first part is here and the second here. Also, I’d like to reiterate that everything I say in this post has been inspired by these videos.

Act Three: The Midpoint

Everything is different now that the girl and the boy have been intimate. Speaking of which, if this is a spicy love story then the boy and the girl have a series of increasingly intense physical encounters.

 Whatever the spice level of the story their physical intimacy has made the girls problem even more difficult to solve. Why? Well, this could be because ...

  • the boy is an arsonist, the girl is a firefighter.
  • the boy is a forger and the girl works for a company that insures paintings.
  • the boy ruined her family’s fortunes.
  • the boy is a thief, the girl is a sherif.
  • the girl is on the trail of a killer and all the evidence points to the boy.

Whatever the reason, the girl decides that they cannot be together in any meaningful way. She realizes that they are doomed and that her terrible problem is farther than ever from a solution. Despite this, she loves the boy though she’s not sure how he feels about her.

The All Hope is Lost point arrives at the end of  Act Three (recall that I’m using a four act structure). What exactly this looks like, what form it takes, depends upon your story. If the boy is a thief then he might be arrested. If the boy is a duke then he will inherit his family’s estate and become a duke. Whatever happens it will divide the lovers forever.

The important thing is that, here, it must seem hopeless, the difficulties must become bigger and more formidable until they are overwhelming.

At the end of Act Three the lovers say goodbye. They say, tearfully, that they wish things could have been different, but this is the end of the road, the end of their story.

Act Four

The girl experiences a dark night of the soul. She has never been so miserable in her entire life. Similarly, the boy feels that, thinks that, all is lost.

The boy has an idea ... or maybe the girl does. The idea is for a new direction. A solution to the girl’s terrible problem has appeared.

The girl feels that the boy’s solution is remarkable. She can hardly believe it. The solution has cleared the way for the lovers to be together.

The boy is delighted. Depending on what kind of a romance story this is, he might ask the girl to marry him. The girl might ask him what changed his mind, because when she first met him he made it clear that he wanted to be a bachelor for life. To which the boy might say something like, “Our experiences together have changed my mind. I have discovered that I love you and I cannot live without you.”

And the boy might cock an eyebrow at the girl and say something like, I thought you had no interest in being a duchess? To which the girl might reply that her recent experiences, as well as the time they spent together, had changed her mind. She has discovered she loves the boy and can’t live without him. Therefore marrying the boy will make her happy even if she has to be a duchess.

They join hands, walk off into the sunset and live happily ever after.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’d like to recommend Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. From the blurb: “Story Engineering starts with the criteria and the architecture of storytelling, the engineering and design of a story--and uses it as the basis for narrative. The greatest potential of any story is found in the way six specific aspects of storytelling combine and empower each other on the page. When rendered artfully, they become a sum in excess of their parts.”

The end!

You’ll notice that I haven’t carried through the theme from yesterday, which was intended to be a kind of blueprint for the creation of a rough draft. I do want to pick that theme back up, later.

Honestly, I’ve started doing something I should have begun years ago. I’ve started diagramming books I’ve loved. When I started writing the post on Tuesday about the structure of a romance story I began diagramming Laurell K. Hamilton’s first book, Guilty Pleasures. I LOVE Guilty Pleasures and it is fascinating laying the bones of the story bare.

I guess I never did this before because I thought it would be a bit tedious and dry; it’s anything but! And it is incredible to me—amazing—that I didn’t notice any of this before when I read the book for pleasure.

But that’s how it works, isn’t it?

The best structured stories are just so fun to read the story sucks one in. One is inside the story, the events unfolding in the mind’s eye, and one never notices what happens behind the scenes.

That it! I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I’m going to go back to writing about key scenes.

How’s your writing coming along? Myself, I’m a bit behind. Still, even if I don’t write 50,000 words this month I’m going to be happy because I’ve been able to get a considerable amount of work on my book done and that’s the main thing. :-)

Word count so far: 20,754
Word count for today: 1,100
Total words this month: 21,854

Tuesday, November 15

The Structure of a Romance Story: Part Two

The Structure of a Romance Story: Part Two

Okay! It has taken me an exorbitant amount of time to write the following 1,200 words, but I did have to do some research—which I loved because it involved re-reading some of my favorite books! I know, I know, it's a hard life.

What follows is a continuation of my post, The Structure of a Romance Story. In that post I go over the first act, so if you haven’t read it you might want to or the current post won’t make a heck of a lot of sense.

Act Two

Circumstances have forced the protagonist and antagonist to spend a lot of time together.

In Guilty Pleasures, someone, or something, is murdering vampires. The police don’t care about the case and aren’t anywhere close to solving it, so Nikolaos, the head vampire of St. Louis, asks Anita to take the case. Anita tries to refuse but ultimately agrees when she realizes the alternative is having her mind stripped away. Jean-Claude, Anita’s only ally, protects both himself and Anita. This ensures they are thrown together at various places in the story, regardless of how either of them feels about the other.

In Dead Until Dark, Eric Northman uses his position as sheriff to acquire use of Sookie’s unique telepathic ability to discover who is embezzling from him.

What shall we do? Let’s say there’s a brutal serial killer turning nice, decent, hard-working citizens—some of them human, some of them vampire—into piles of body parts.

Anita was of unique use to the master of the city in Guilty Pleasures because of her skills as a vampire hunter and sleuth. Anita was also of unique use to Jean-Claude because, by virtue of their bond (one she didn’t consent to!), she could keep him nourished even as he was being starved, tortured. Sookie was of unique use to the vampire sheriff in Dead Until Dark because of her ability to read another person’s thoughts.

Lily Anderson is of unique use to the Big Bad (provisionally, let’s say the Big Bad is the head Vampire of the US) because of her telepathic abilities. There is a vigilante group targeting vampires and their human sympathizers. Perhaps it looks to the police and the Big Bad like Damien is behind this vigilante group. Unfortunately, Lily can’t read Damien’s thoughts, he’s too powerful.

Keep in mind that the more folks she reads the more difficult it is for her to stay sane (I introduced this in the first post). The fewer people she has to read the saner she’ll be.

The boy is really angry about having to spend time with the girl.

Dameon is upset that Lily is so unreasonable. He has offered her money, power, a good position in society, but she looks at him as if he’s a monster. It is as though she doesn’t care about money or what it could do for her, how it could improve her life. She makes no sense, he can’t figure her out, and that makes him angry. Angry with himself, angry with her, angry with life.

The girl is really angry about having to pend time with the boy. Additionally, she wishes she didn’t find the boy attractive.

Lily is angry too. Damien tries to boss her around. He can’t see that money is a means to an end: happiness. But if you’re already happy, who needs money beyond what’s essential to live? True, she’s never been to a world class restaurant, or the opera, or worn designer clothes, but Lily tells herself she isn’t interested in those sorts of things. Her version of happiness is curling up with a good book over a hot cup of cocoa.

The boy wishes he didn’t find the girl attractive. Nevertheless, he can’t stop thinking about her. She drives him crazy. The boy tells the girl she is ruining his life.

Damien's arguments are solid. Rock solid. Or so he tells himself. Repeatedly. Still, he can’t stop thinking about Lily. This irritates him. Sure, she is very attractive, but it goes beyond that. He’s met attractive girls before but they’ve never turned his thoughts against him. He hates that he feels happier when she’s around and sadder when she’s not.

The girl forces the boy to rethink his entire existence.

A moral dilemma presents itself to Damian. Before Damian met the girl he wouldn’t have hesitated to do what was best for his business, best for himself. Now, though, his first thought is about Lily, how the matter will affect her.

The boy forces the girl to rethink her entire existence.

The girl has a business opportunity. Before she met Damian her first thought would have been about how the business, what it does, fits in with her worldview. Now she thinks about Damien and whether he would say it was a good financial opportunity!

The boy is convinced that the girl is a dangerous person.

Lily is bad for him. Dangerous. She makes him pause over decisions that should be reflexive. That’s both bad for business and bad for his standing in the family, especially now that there are whispers about him being the one who has been embezzling.

The girl is convinced that the boy is infuriating.

The girl asks the boy what he thinks about the business opportunity that came her way. She did this only to be nice—it had nothing (NOTHING!) to do with being an excuse to see him. And, after that, he had the temerity to brush her off!

The boy notices that, despite their mutual feelings of antipathy, they work well together.

Damien is good at what he does, good in business, at anticipating and planning for crises but bad at handling people. Lily is good at handling people. Because of her, those she works with are happier and more productive.

The girl notices that the boy exhibits flashes of humanity.

Damien is polite and has impeccable manners, especially with elderly women who he invariably charms.

The boy learns that his friends think they are perfect for each other.

Damien’s friends have noticed that Lily has made him chill out, relax. He laughed out loud the other day.

The girl learns that her friends think they are perfect for each other.

Lily tends to rush into things without thinking. She pauses now to think things through. In general, she has made better choices.

Every time the girl starts to like the boy a teensy-weensy bit he does something outrageous that infuriates and alienates her.

Because of one of Damien’s decisions her best friend loses something important. Perhaps her friend's business, perhaps her friend's parent’s business. Perhaps her friend is fired from her job because of something Lily let slip and now her friend hates her.

Boy: I’m going to kiss you now.

At first the girl is shocked and enraged by the suggestion. “Don’t you dare!” But then they kiss.

If this is a spicy love story then Damien and Lily will have sex. If this is a sweet romance, the girl and the boy may just kiss or possibly hold hands.

Whatever intimacy the girl and the boy share makes the girl’s problem worse. (The girl has been attempting to tackle her terrible problem in various ways throughout the story.)

Perhaps, now, the girl can read some of the vampire’s thoughts. This not only is bad for her sanity but the girl has overheard something the vampire had very much wanted to keep secret.

Resolution: Damien and Lily can no longer contain their passion for the other and decide to throw caution to the wind.

While Damien regrets that their intimacy makes Lily’s problem worse he can no longer contain his passion. Lily feels more-or-less the same, though she does not tell him she has overheard his secret.

This brings us to the end of Act Two.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’m recommending two books. The first is Paula Hawkins book, Girl on the Train. I read it and enjoyed it, though not as much as Stephen King’s book, The Dead Zone. I've but The Dead Zone on my "to re-read" list, and not just because it’s a terrific book. It's also timely.

That’s it! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow. In the meantime, good writing!

Word count so far: 19,454
Word count for today: 1,300
Total words this month: 20,754

Sunday, November 13

The Structure of a Romance Story

The Structure of a Romance Story

As you probably know, I’ve been blogging about story structure more-or-less every day this month. My goal was to isolate around 30 key scenes that the overwhelming majority of well-structured stories contain.

And I still want to do that, but the fact is I’m running out of key scenes! There’s only two left: the Race to the Finish and the Wrap Up. So instead of trying to come up with additional Key Scenes I’m going to delve more deeply into the structure of each one.

Today, though, I’m taking a break. It might not make a great deal of sense to you why I’m blogging about this today. All I can say is that sometimes the muse wants what she wants. Go figure!

Today I want to talk about the structure of a romance story. True, recently I wrote about 6 Scenes Every Love Story Must Have, but this is different. This time I want to delve into the characters in a romance story and how their wants and desires shape events.

I’ve done something like this for mystery stories but not quite this way. I’m not sure what you’ll think of it, so I welcome feedback. This is an experiment. Would you like more posts like this? Would you like NO MORE posts like this? I want to write articles you like reading so please, let me know! :-)

The Structure of a Romance Story

Before we get started ...

  • In what follows I use a four act structure
  • In what follows the protagonist is a gal and the antagonist is a guy. When I write, “The girl has a problem,” this means the same thing as, “The protagonist has a problem.”
  • Everything that I say in this post has been inspired by these videos. Not JUST those videos, but they do a terrific job of laying the essential structure bare, and in a delightfully tongue-in-cheek way.

Act One

The girl has a terrible problem.

The girl doesn’t always have a terrible problem, but she often does.

Have you read Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books? If so, you’re probably wondering why I’m bringing those books up in this context since they’re classified as urban fantasy/horror! I don’t read Hamilton’s books anymore[1], the series morphed into something else, but in the first three books Hamilton developed a beautiful, brilliantly executed, love story between Anita and a vampire named Jean-Claude.[3]

Anita Blake has a problem: she’s a necromancer. Not only do her abilities freak out normal people, they terrify the monsters! And not just zombies. Blake is a licensed vampire hunter who, due to her kill rate, has earned the nickname The Executioner. (So, who do you think she falls in love with? Ding, ding, ding, that’s right! A vampire.)

So, for our example protagonist, in honor of Anita Blake, let’s make her a vampire hunter and (tip of the hat to Sookie Stackhouse) a telepath. I’ll call her Lily Anderson.

What’s Lily’s terrible problem? She’s being driven slowly insane by the steady onslaught of other people’s thoughts. The only solution is to withdraw from society, become a hermit and live in the woods—but Lily feels that’s just another kind of death. Still, she doesn’t have a choice, not if she wants to stay sane.

The boy either refuses to help the girl solve her problem or he lacks the ability to. Furthermore, his very existence makes the girl’s problem worse.

Again, let's follow Hamilton’s lead and make the antagonist a vampire. I’ll call him Damien Morton.

How does Damien’s very existence make Lily’s problem worse? Damien wants Lily to use her powers to help him with a problem he’s having. But using her powers brings Lily to the edge of madness and that’s something she’d like to avoid, thank you very much.

The boy has a unique quality that makes him catnip for most women.

We could explain this by saying that whatever it is that transforms a human into a creature of eternal night refashions the body to make it inhumanly gorgeous.

Or we could say that vampires have certain standards and only turn the spectacularly attractive.

Or we could say that most vampires are no more good looking than most humans, that they only appear attractive because they use their powers to glamor weaker minds into seeing them a certain way. In other words, they use mind control.

I like the last one.

Also, the boy is obscenely rich.

The girl has no interest in this unique quality.

Due to Lily’s mental abilities she is immune from vampiric thought control. She doesn’t see the illusion Dameon projects, she sees him as he really is.

Lily isn’t interested in the boy’s money. She believes that everyone with money, especially if it’s old money, is an insufferable snob. (Not that she’s prejudiced or anything! ;)

The girl finds the boy irresistibly attractive. 

Lily sees Damien as he really is and finds him irresistibly attractive.

But Lily’s attraction to Dameon is based on more than the physical. There is something about him, something she can’t quite articulate. She feels as though she knows him even though they’ve only just met.

Lily can’t stop thinking about Dameon. To make matters worse, she has started dreaming about him, odd twisted dreams filled with blood and death.

What is the boy’s problem? What is the thing that makes the girl’s ability very attractive to the boy?

In the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Bill Compton, the first vampire Sookie Stackhouse ever met, was sent to find out everything he could about Sookie and her unique ability. Her other love interest, Eric Northman, routinely wants Sookie to use her telepathic abilities to give him an advantage in business negotiations.

What’s Damien’s problem? Let’s not reinvent the wheel. Damien runs the business interests of a very old, very wealthy, vampire clan. They have a spy in their midst, someone another very old, very wealthy, vampire clan planted. He needs to find out who. His job, his standing, is on the line. He needs Lily to read the minds of his employees and reveal the culprit.

The girl wishes she’d never met the boy because he has made her problem worse.

When Lily uses her ability it takes her to some very dark places.

The boy is not interested in most girls. He intends to stay single forever.

Dameon is a vampire so he can’t date humans—the temptation to suck their blood is too strong—and he despises other vampires. Other sorts of magical critters exist but they aren’t seen much these days. The fey, for example, have fled to another dimension. Some humans have psychic abilities but these abilities are usually so weak that they’re just humans to him. He realizes he is doomed to eternal loneliness and busies himself with work and various charitable foundations.

Even though the boy is committed to the single life, he is attracted to the girl on several levels. This surprises him. He never dreamt he could be attracted to someone like this. The boy’s attraction to the girl makes him feel completely out of control. He doesn’t recognize himself anymore. This makes him angry.

Sure the boy is lonely, but he’s been lonely for a long time. It’s not like he’s never happy. After all, this is the life he chose. It’s the life he made for himself. He’s attached.

Put it this way, his life is a bit like a ratty old bathrobe that has hidden charms for its owner but everyone else looks at with mild disdain.

My point is that the girl makes the boy look at his life in a new way, he feels its defects. She makes him see the old bathrobe through other eyes.

This makes the boy profoundly grumpy. Everything was fine before the girl came into his life. If only she would leave, things could go back to normal.

The girl sees that the boy is angry and doesn’t understand why.

In her mind, everything she has done is reasonable. She can’t understand why he doesn’t like her, why he’s always grumpy with her.

Something bigger than the two of them forces the boy and the girl to work together even though neither of them wants to—or maybe only one of them wants to. 

We haven’t yet talked about what brings the boy and the girl together, what forces them to work with each other even though neither of them really wants to.

In Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, Jean-Claude knows about the various supernatural communities in the city and can get people to talk to her. He helps her catch killers and, in so doing, saves lives. But having contact with Jean-Claude is dangerous for Anita. He is seduction incarnate. He is the dark side whispering sweet nothings in her ear.

Even though she knows Jean-Claude is dangerous for her, even though each time she sees him she feels a bit of herself slip away, she has to consult with him in order to solve crimes and save lives.

I wouldn’t say that Jean-Claude behaved like a lunatic, but he is certainly not thrilled about having such a gifted vampire executioner in town. He would like to bring her under his sway, but he knows that is one thing Anita will never allow. And it does drive him a little bit crazy.

How will this work for Damien and Lily? Well, let’s borrow Hamilton’s essential setup only we’ll twist it a bit. Damien wasn’t born a vampire, he was made one by the head of a very old, wealthy, family. That means he’s not really family. Sorta, kinda, almost, but not quite. Nevertheless, Damien has a head for business and under his leadership the family has done well, so they’ve given him free reign with their money. As a result, if anything happens in the city chances are Dameon knows about it or he knows who will know and, if he likes, he can put Lily in touch with them.

As I’ve mentioned, Lily can read thoughts. She has been invaluable to the police. The problem is that her ability is driving her insane. She has tried to quit but the police keep coming to her, begging her to help. “Only you can catch this guy and save another girl from a fate worse than death.” They don’t say, ‘Or madness’ but she feels it hanging in the air between them. She goes back, she always goes back.

There’s only one person she can’t read: Dameon. His mind is like a tall cold glass of water on a hot summer day. The problem is the silence feels good. Too good. It’s addictive. And he knows this. Dameon wants to control her and use her ability for his ends. She’ll let the police pull her back in so she can save lives (as well as the chief’s career) but she won’t let herself be used as a chit in the high stakes games Dameon plays in the underworld.

The boy behaves like a lunatic whenever he is together with the girl. He bosses her around and interferes with her life. For his part, the boy sees many things in the girl he could improve, or would like to see improved. The boy thinks the girl should be grateful for his interference in her life. Because of this the girl begins to hate the boy.

Dameon is pragmatic. If he had Lily’s gifts he could make ever so much more money, but that’s just the beginning. He could have power. Real power. He could break away from the family and begin his own dynasty. It’s not like he would stop Lily from helping the police, if she really wanted to do that. He honestly can’t understand why she refuses to work for him. After all, being around him keeps her sane! But, no. She would rather help the police and go slowly mad instead of helping him make a better life for them both.

For her part, the girl thinks that the boy is a horse’s ass.

Lily thinks that Dameon is an undead calculator. He has no imagination, no heart. And he doesn’t have an unselfish bone in his body.

The bottom line for the girl: He is making her terrible problem worse.

Dameon makes her crazy. Literally.

At the end of every article I post I like to pick a book I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share my favorite books with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

Today I’d like to recommend a book that I've written! The Structure of a Love Story.

From the blurb: "Love is love, but there tends to be a certain pattern to how it progresses, both in fiction and real life. I go over three different kinds of love stories and pivot to examine six scenes any romance story must have."

That’s it! You’ll notice I’ve only talked about the characters and their dilemmas, I haven’t said anything about what happens in scenes and sequels, I haven’t talked about a Call to Adventure, etc. I’m saving that for later. What I’ve done here is intended to be something like a Zero Draft; writer’s jazz. We’re just playing, making word pictures.

Tomorrow—unless you tell me to stop!—I’ll follow this post up with Act Two.

How’s NaNoWriMo coming along? I’m a little behind at 19,454 words. I had hoped to be at about 26,000 by this point.

Talk to you tomorrow, good writing! :-)


1. I loved the first three books in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series and unreservedly recommend them. I stopped reading the series around 2010 because (and this is just my own opinion) Anita Blake was no longer the same character I had been introduced to in Guilty Pleasures. Neither was Jean-Claude, and a great deal of the appeal of that series was the changing, tumultuous, visceral, relationship between those two characters.

3. Regardless of their primary genre many stories have a love story as the B-Story.