Romance may be the single most complex genre of fiction there is.
A romance author has to juggle five different arcs:
- Story (plot) arc
- Character arc for the heroine
- Character arc for the hero
- Relationship arc
- And within that relationship arc, both the emotional arc and the physical arc of the romance
That’s at least double most other genres, which have a plot arc and character arcs for only one or two characters (and sometimes no character arc at all).
To make things even tougher on the romance writer (though easier for the reader), some of those arcs should line up, sharing common turning points. Let’s do a hypothetical example:
Our Heroine wants to open a bakery in the perfect location in her little town. She has a character flaw, though. She hates confrontations and backs away at the first sign of conflict.
Our Hero wants the same spot to open a mobile phone franchise. He’s a good guy, but he’s very competitive.
Turning point #1: Their meet-cute at the retail space they’re vying for.
The woman renting the space asks them to submit applications with credit histories and business plans and says she’ll get back with them.
Assuming there’s an instant attraction (and, let’s face it, there’s always an instant attraction in romance), this is the inciting incident for the plot arc, the relationship arc, and both character arcs.
The next turning point is at the end of Act 1–what Jenny Crusie terms the point of no return.
By now, our heroine has told all her girlfriends about the hot guy who wants to rent her bakery space. Even though she thought he was cute, his aggressiveness was kind of a turnoff.
And our hero has spent a fair amount of time thinking about how pretty the baker was.
The landlady tells them that their business plans and credit histories checked out. The tie-breaker will be their explanation of what Littletown, USA has to gain from their businesses.
Heroine brings her would-be landlady adorable cupcakes iced to look like Shih-Tzus, the landlady’s adored pooch. Hero brings her statistics showing that more people own mobile phones than own a toothbrush and 60% of bakeries fail within two years.
Landlady agrees to rent to him.
He then turns his charm on our heroine and offers to buy her a consolation dinner. Because she doesn’t like confrontations, she tells him she’s busy. Because he’s so competitive, he doesn’t hear “no,” just “now now.”
A million different things can happen from here on out, but the balls that need to stay in the air are:
- Story arc–Her desperate efforts to make a success of her bakery (now against greater odds, with less money to fall back on).
- Relationship arc–As a result of their mutual attraction, they become a couple. They may quickly hop into bed (bad idea) or drag it out for some valid, believable reason (because sexual tension is great fuel for a romance novel), but this will not necessarily proceed at the same pace as their emotional arc.
- Character arcs–The book will be filled with ever-escalating opportunities for each of our lovers to address his/her character flaw, which they will ignore/evade/refuse because they have that flaw for a reason, darn it. Their relationship will eventually founder because they haven’t addressed these issues. Because it’s a romance, they’ll finally have that see-the-light moment where she finally tells him off and he finally realizes that sometimes to win, you have to be willing to lose.