Twelve Steps to Plotting the Perfect Romance
Okay, Gals, as you well know, there are a million and one books on how to write romance. There are a billion and one rules on what you shouldn't do as a newbie. And there are a trillion and three things to better your chances of getting published. Personally, I can't count higher than that, so I decided that I'm going to poke a little fun at US. Yup, me too. After all, this is my dream as well. I just want us to remember that this is--way deep down beneath our ambitions and fears--the thing we love to do. So, lean back and don't be a Russell Crowe who can't laugh at himself!
Step One: Buy a book on plotting.
(What, you thought I was going to do EVERYTHING for you?)
Step Two: Dig deep for a couple of characters.
(Or, just use "Bob" and "Elaine" like everyone else.)
Step Three: Open the book to the Table of Contents. This should read as follows:
(Now stackable as Legos, mix and match at will!)
1) CHARACTERIZATION: "Bob and Elaine: Making characters who connect!"
2) INTERNAL CONFLICT: "Like, what is Bob's problem, anyway?"
3) EXTERNAL CONFLICT: "Elaine: How to make a hot, gutsy, fearless heroine-on-the-run out of a sexless librarian with no friends"
4) SUPPORTING CAST: "Beyond Bob and Elaine: Making secondary characters we don't care about, but can still be milked for a sequel"
5) PLOT: "Why are they running?"
(otherwise known as "why not?")
6) EMOTION: "Making Bob sensitive: Why it's okay to make a strong man cry"
7) SEX: "Love scenes: Reinventing sex until it's so good YOU can't get it."
(Includes a list of reasons why a hot chick who has been clutching her virginity like a magic cloak for thirty years would suddenly give it up in ten seconds to a hot guy with dimples and a roguish smile!!!)
8) BLACK MOMENT: "Bob and Elaine--Is this the end?: Why no one in romance can tell the truth until it's too late to do anything but break up"
9) EPILOGUE: "Happy Endings: Making Bob and Elaine last forever!"
Step Four: These are all you will need to plot the perfect romance. That and the following roman numerals: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X. If you need more than that, you aren't writing romance, you're writing the Odyssey.
Step Five: Write the names of your characters.
A truly perfect plotter will already have character cards, complete with photographs of the cover models, age, weight, blood type, height, worst pet peeve, favorite veggie, and any possible allergies for the writer to avoid. Then start on the below:
a) (yes, we will be using the occasional english letter, just to mix things up) Bob
I) Where does he live?
II) What does he do?
III) Why do we like him?
I) Where is she?
II) Why is she in trouble?
III) Why does she need Bob?
I) How do they meet?
II) Do they like each other?
(This is particularly important because it defines whether they will argue with sexual tension or if this is a buddy story that evolves into a romance)
Step Six: INTERNAL CONFLICT
Most romances have women in trouble and a big, strong, silent type to get her back out of it. Thus, the strongest internal conflict (Technically defined as the thing that holds the character back mentally. Casually defined as the reason he can't/won't commit) is generally given to the man. What with him being strong and silent, it works well. Especially as it gives the heroine the opourtunity to "accidentally" trample over his insecurities. (ie-- Julia Quinn's "The Viscount Who Loved Me" --AMAZING BOOK!!!--has the Hero's father die as a result of an allergic reaction to a bee sting. So what happens? You BETCHA!! The heroine is stung before his horrified eyes. Trample, trample, trample.)
There are cases of the Heroine with the stronger internal conflict (She is hiding his secret child beneath his nose; she took money from his father to disappear and to support his secret child; his mother sent her away in shame when as a teen she came for help about his secret child. Oh, and the occasional, she lost his secret child years ago, and can't bear to tell him) but if she gets a stronger conflict, plot in more space for the male to recover from the massive blow to his ego because...well, ever seen a man with a cold? Now imagine that whining, complaining slob trying to recover from anything more difficult. I rest my case.
The trick to Internal Conflict is making sure that no matter how reasonable or likely or even important it might be, the Hero or Heroine can NEVER reveal it until he or she has made an utter disaster covering it up (You know, like when your kids have broken the priceless vase and have hidden the pieces while sweating profusely and hoping you aren't noticing the big gaping empty place on the mantle?) or someone's life depends on the revelation (and do hold out as long as possible. They'll want to make sure the person is REALLY dying before trying to save them).
Step Seven: SUPPORTING CAST
Every H/h need confidants. Someone they can turn to for help or for advice. These can be matchmakers and are often comedy relief. Just make sure not to plot them better-looking or on more pages than H/h.
Step Eight: PLOT
This is optional.
By that, I mean you can have a GOOD plot: H/h have a "sensible" reason to interact. (She's a federal witness, he's protecting her, bad guys abound and attack, H/h find hidden evidence and put bad guys away forever. Sprinkle with attraction, interrupted revelations, stolen kisses, sex and occasional loss of secondary character life.)
OR, you can have a LAME plot: otherwise translated as "leave your believablity shoes behind". (She's his neighbor, but they don't know it until after they have a one-night stand which occurred because they were "feeling an irresistable lightening bolt of attraction". They realize their unusual situation later, then procede to ignore each other and the uncomfortable living quarters--not to mention the still irresistable attraction that causes them to speak when they shouldn't (as well as other things)--until they realize she's pregnant. Now he knows he loves her, and must marry her--but for SOME reason, she's reluctant to believe he wants to marry her for her, and not cause it's the right thing to do. Liberally dose with unfinished sentences, rampant love scenes, awkward moments illogically leading to sex and finish with a near miscarriage where Heroine overhears Hero claim he will love her, baby or not. Save Baby, happy ending at wedding with baby in the procession.)
(Note to self, write this next week!)
Step Nine: EMOTION
Plan lots of emotions. If you like, also add it to III: a), II: b), I: c), and all of IV. It should fit nicely there. OOOOOH, and VII: c), III: b), VI: d)!!! I mean, if it's not there, you might as well hang up the feather pen, baby!
Step Ten: SEX
Very important part of Romance. It's the culmination of all the emotions you made sure to plot in the outline. Now, you can have as many love scenes as you want, provided you follow these rules:
1) Their first time should be detailed more than any other in the story. It's the first emotional climax for the reader (If you're REALLY good, you'll get MULIPLE ones!) They've been building up to it, and they deserve it. Let the reader enjoy it.
2) Emotions should be detailed, even more than the actions, throughout the scene, no matter how short it is. If the reader only wanted sex, I'm sure there's a video store with a porn section in the back for far cheaper than your five dollar book. MAKE IT MEANINGFUL!!!
Step Eleven: BLACK MOMENT
It always happens, and the reader always knows it won't be black forever. How? 'Cause, silly, you plotted it with a whole chapter or more before the end. The usual catalyst for this bleak moment in every romancer's book is the TRUTH.
In reality, the TRUTH will set you free.
In Romance, the TRUTH will break your heart and wreck your contraception. That might not be the golden rule, but it's certainly the guilded one.
Step Twelve: EPILOGUE
Some books don't technically have these. They have "Happy Endings", basically resolving everything as neatly as possible. (Bob doesn't REALLY have an illegitmate child. It's his dead brother's child, whom he's raising. Elaine already loves it and can make room for it in her life with no problem at all, as long as she and Bob can be together; Bob's ex-fiancee has finally realized big boobs and dropping necklines will not triumph over true love, so she goes to find herself a man with REAL money--quickly done--and feels she owes it to Elaine to tell the truth--that Bob loves only her.) Happy Endings don't require a large number of pages.
If you really want to leave the reader glowing, add a pregnancy or a newly hatched kidling to the happy family. 'Cause, like, EVERYONE knows waking up at godforsaken hours to nasty diapers, projectile vomitting and colic make you deliriously happy.
And VOILA! You've got yourself a best seller, gals.
Well, as soon as you actually write it.