Choosing Your Plot
Now that you understand the different archetypes for plotting that are available to you, it's time to develop the plot of your own romance novel. If you haven't already decided on the type and format of romance you wish to write — single title versus category, contemporary romantic suspense versus sexy Regency-set historical, etc. — now is the time to commit. After all, knowing the word count and subgenre — as well as the likelihood of a prospective market — before you plot out your novel will save you a lot of frustration and rewrites later. (For a quick refresher on your romance subgenre options, refer to Chapter 2.)
If, for example, you've decided to write a 100,000 word single-title paranormal romance, you'll know before you start writing that you must have a plot with enough story and conflict revolving around a paranormal premise to sustain a large word count.
While many romance authors end up writing the type of romance novels they enjoy reading, few will actively read in their chosen subgenre while they're writing a manuscript. Reasons vary, although fear of inadvertent plagiarism figures high. Reading, however, is still the best source of inspiration for a writer. Therefore, consider switching your for-pleasure reading preferences to another subgenre while writing your romance novel.
Your Characters' Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts
So, who are your characters? What are their goals, motivations, and conflicts? Best of all, how will your hero and heroine complement — or clash with — each other on the pages of your romance novel? As will be discussed in Chapter 10, a smart romance novelist strives to create believable characters with quirks, fears, and insecurities that a reader can easily understand. A smart writer will also make sure that their main characters' individual goals must be in direct conflict. For one to win, the other must lose.
Or seem to lose, anyway.
Do I have to create my characters before I develop the plot?
No. In fact, some writers find it easier to create the plotline first and then develop the perfect characters to bring that story to life. Either approach is fine, as long as characterization, conflict, and plot are intrinsically linked in your novel. Find the method that works best for you and let your imagination fly.
With your characters and their conflicts in mind, choosing the right romance plotline becomes a matter of finding the scenario that would best exploit your hero's and heroine's weaknesses while playing up their strengths.
For your single-title paranormal romance, assume your characters include the following:
Heroine: Lisa is an inept apprentice witch whose spells never work right, which is probably why she doubts herself and feels more at home with her dusty scrolls than with other people, especially men. Still, she is always willing to try and make things right when she makes a mistake.
Hero: Darius is a by-the-book homicide detective who stopped believing in magic years ago, especially the kind that involves love. He only trusts what he can see, measure, analyze, and has little patience with those who believe otherwise.
Villain: Mordecai is a demon bent on destroying the world.
With those types of characters in place, certain plot points are a given:
The hero, heroine, and villain's lives will intercept.
The hero's disbelief in magic will clash with the heroine's belief.
The heroine must learn to believe in herself, and the hero must learn to trust things on faith alone.
The hero and heroine must fall in love, vanquish the villain, and have their HEA.
The next step is to combine the characters' background with the anticipated plot points and a possible plot. For example:
When Lisa's translation of an ancient text inadvertently opens the gate-way to hell, she realizes she may be an untalented witch but she has a gift for slaying demons. Good thing, too, since there is a particularly nasty one running amok, thanks to her. She can vanquish him, but how can she explain her new calling to hunky homicide detective Darius? (Especially since he thinks she's a beautiful distraction — if not an outright nut job — who is disrupting his search for a twisted serial killer.) Soon, though, it becomes apparent that they need each other to achieve their goals, although both realize they'll ultimately end up in direct opposition — Darius wants to bring the killer to justice while Lisa knows the only solution is to kill the demon. Falling in love is something neither anticipated.
Once the bare bones of a plot are in place, you can build the story by using one of the previously mentioned paradigms.
The Cute Meet
How do your hero and heroine meet? Will it be funny? Dramatic? Or just plain “cute”? The best way to choose your Cute Meet, which is usually the precipitating event in a romance novel, is to make it an integral part of the novel's natural progression.
Always bear in mind the tone of your romance novel when crafting your Cute Meet. After all, the term Cute Meet doesn't mean that the meeting itself has to be cute, or even funny. The first meeting could be gritty and dramatic if the storyline required it. The important thing is that it sets the romance in motion and sets up the conflicts of your story.
For the romance between Lisa and Darius, the “Cute Meet” might occur when Darius interrupts Lisa's attempt to vanquish the demon after he'd just committed a murder and she has to explain to a very skeptical cop just what she'd been trying to accomplish with a plastic bag filled with strange-smelling herbs and an ornate dagger. Not to mention the dead guy on the pavement.
How do your hero and heroine meet? How could it kick-start your romance?
The Dark Moment
The Dark Moment is when the worst thing imaginable finally happens to your hero and heroine. The key to choosing the right moment of crisis for a romance is to make sure that it relates to the main romantic conflict. Meaning, if the romantic conflict has always been the hero's inability to trust, the Dark Moment would come when the hero must trust the heroine … and fails. Naturally, having the Dark Moment be linked to secondary conflicts — for example, a suspense subplot — is fine also, but the primary focus must be on the romantic conflict.
Because romance novels are designed to elicit an emotional response from the reader, your Dark Moment should be as emotionally gripping as possible while still remaining faithful to the story premise. In other words, even a rollicking comedy could benefit from a tug of the heartstrings during the Dark Moment.
For Lisa and Darius, their Dark Moment might be when their romance ends after Lisa realizes Darius will not bend on his vow to bring the “killer,” aka the demon, to justice, rather than allow her to vanquish him.
Fleshing Out Your Major Plot Points
The final step will be to flesh out your major plot points, which are the points in your novel when the action turns in a new direction. Again, use the characters' conflicts, goals, and motivations to find what will work best for your romance.