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View Full Version : Plotting a romance - some big ?'s to ask



Susan Gable
05-05-2006, 11:10 PM
Okay, something I need to remind myself of, so I thought it might be helpful to others, is about some of the biggest questions that form the base of a successful romance plot.

#1 - What brings them together? What makes them fall in love? What is it about him/her that makes them fall for them? (excuse the pronoun confusion there. <G>)

#2 - What keeps them apart? What's their conflict? Why is this person the LAST PERSON on the planet that she/he should fall for? Why are they wrong for each other?

You have to have really plausible, strong answers for both sets of questions, imho, in order to create a compelling romance.

For educational purposes, let's look at the Buffy and Angel romance to illustrate this. (If you don't know about Buffy and Angel, I am sooo sorry. You're culturally and television deprived. Go and watch reruns of Buffy and then come back later. <G>)

We'll look at #2 first, because in this case, that's the EASY one. Josh Whedon created the ultimate forbidden romance, the ultimate in star-crossed lovers with this pair. Angel is a vampire. Buffy is a vampire SLAYER. Her duty is to kill vamps. Huh. Conflict there, much??? :) They were totally wrong for each other.

So, #1 - what made them fall in love? What attracted them to each other in the first place? I'd argue that part of it, for Angel, was Buffy's strength. No shrinking violet there. She was fully capable of kicking his butt. That put them on a different ground than him with any other woman. What else? Despite the fact that they were completely wrong for each other, what made them disregard that and love anyway? (Okay, some would argue they're not a good example of an actual ROMANCE because they didn't end up together. They're a love story. <G> Still, for what I'm trying to discuss here, they work well.)

Thoughts? Comments? Questions?

Bueller? Bueller?

Susan G.

pepperlandgirl
05-06-2006, 01:37 AM
Well, I don't think Angel ever really loved Buffy for Buffy because...

Oh, you probably meant about plotting the romances.

Kasey Mackenzie
05-06-2006, 01:52 AM
I'd argue that part of it, for Angel, was Buffy's strength. No shrinking violet there. She was fully capable of kicking his butt. That put them on a different ground than him with any other woman.

I don't know how much I would agree with that statement. He was made a vampire by Darla and I'm sure she was fully capable of kicking his butt. *grin* But if you just want to look at other mortal women, then sure I could probably agree with that statement.

Cathy C
05-06-2006, 02:13 AM
Well, there are a couple of things (discussions about the characters aside... ;) ) that made them fall in love.


First is that there was an element of danger on both sides . . . always a powerful attractant. Angelis was the uber-bad guy WHEN he was a bad guy. He could also kick her butt. He was the one vamp who--on his soulless days--could take her out permanently. Same with Buffy when Angel was a good guy.

Then, there's a level of respect. You COULD kill me, but you don't. For whatever reason, whether it's because it's just fun to toy with the other person--leave them bloody but still alive for another day, or whether there would be a level of sorrow to lose the competition, they didn't ever finish the job.

Finally, I think there was a fear there too. On Angel's side, Buffy was the one person who could truly accept him, just the way he was. He didn't have to pretend, and Buffy didn't terrify him with her bloodthirstiness like the Scooby squad (on occasions.)

JMHO! Interesting topic, Susan! :) I'm working on the same thing myself right now--setting up the next book and figuring out the conflicts and character personalities. Thanks for some additional thoughts to consider and stick in... :Hug2:

Susan Gable
05-06-2006, 02:14 AM
I don't know how much I would agree with that statement. He was made a vampire by Darla and I'm sure she was fully capable of kicking his butt. *grin* But if you just want to look at other mortal women, then sure I could probably agree with that statement.

Oh, yeah, Darla kicked his butt all over the place, for sure. Hmmmm...so maybe Angel was attracted to that kind of woman. <G> (But yeah, I was talking mortals. <G>)

Hey, I'm all for any other examples! <G> I was just looking for something fairly well known and very easy to see. <G>

Susan G.

pepperlandgirl
05-06-2006, 02:39 AM
Well Angel first loved Buffy because she accepted him, I agree. Or rather, because Buffy was literally the embodiement of what was possible. For the previous 100 years, nothing was possible. He had no mission, no reason for existing.

That's why I never really liked Buffy/Angel, or thought they had a great love. At the end of the day, Angel loved what Buffy represented, and Buffy loved what Angel represented, but I don't think they really knew each other.

I think that becomes pretty clear in the first season of Angel when Buffy can't understand why he would help Faith.

Besides, everybody knows that the real great loves in that world were Spike/Buffy and Angel/Wes :D ;) (You know, if you ignore things like attempted rape, kidnapping, attempted murder, betrayal...)

Lady Cat
05-07-2006, 02:36 AM
I think Buffy and Angel did have a great romance, and who knows where it might have lead if he hadn't had to move to Los Angeles for his own show.

With Buffy and Spike it was just physical. Spike was obsessed and Buffy had an itch to scratch.:Ssh:

sunandshadow
05-10-2006, 09:23 PM
Why is this person the LAST PERSON on the planet that she/he should fall for? Why are they wrong for each other?

I think this might not be quite the right way to look at it. In many cases the strength of the conflict in a romance is that somebody thinks the two people are perfect for each other and somebody else strongly disagrees. It could be:
Lover favors, Beloved opposes
Lovers favor, Family opposes
Emotional side of Lover favors, Political/strategic side of Lover opposes
Politics or Magic compel, Lover rebells

Susan Gable
05-10-2006, 10:08 PM
I think this might not be quite the right way to look at it. In many cases the strength of the conflict in a romance is that somebody thinks the two people are perfect for each other and somebody else strongly disagrees. It could be:
Lover favors, Beloved opposes
Lovers favor, Family opposes
Emotional side of Lover favors, Political/strategic side of Lover opposes
Politics or Magic compel, Lover rebells

If they're things that make them wrong for each other, than how can my way of looking at it (asking what's keeping them apart, why they're the last person on the planet they should be falling in love with) be the wrong way to look at it?

There is no one RIGHT way of looking at anything when it comes to writing. There's no, it's my way, or the highway. There are many ways. Don't listen to people who tell you there is only one way. They're full of it. And most often full of themselves, too.

Take what works for you. Disregard anything else.


Let me offer up another plug for Debra Dixon's book, GMC:Goal, Motivation & Conflict, available from www.gryphonbooksforwriters.com (http://www.gryphonbooksforwriters.com) . This book, IMHO, is a must-read for aspiring novelists. I couldn't work without these basic building blocks for my stories. Deb Dixon is one person who SHOULD be "full of herself" when it comes to helping people understand things about writing. This book is amazing, IMHO. (And no, I don't get a kickback from Deb, but dang, I wish I did. <G> )

Susan G.

sunandshadow
05-10-2006, 10:39 PM
Hmm. Well maybe it's just my perspective that what makes two characters 'right for each other' is by definition their personalities and appearances, whereas social and political factors have nothing to do with true compatibility but make great false reasons to keep the lovers apart or force unsuited lovers together until they get their butts in gear and stand up in defiance of social prejudices to seek true happiness. I mean, I suppose you could write a romance where people overcame truly incompatible personalities to make a political marriage work, but would that really be _romantic_? There may not be one right way to write a romance, but there definitely is a consensus in our society about what is generally considered romantic.

Susan Gable
05-10-2006, 11:59 PM
Hmm. Well maybe it's just my perspective that what makes two characters 'right for each other' is by definition their personalities and appearances, whereas social and political factors have nothing to do with true compatibility but make great false reasons to keep the lovers apart or force unsuited lovers together until they get their butts in gear and stand up in defiance of social prejudices to seek true happiness. I mean, I suppose you could write a romance where people overcame truly incompatible personalities to make a political marriage work, but would that really be _romantic_? There may not be one right way to write a romance, but there definitely is a consensus in our society about what is generally considered romantic.

Oh, I don't know that I agree with that. <G> And I think it might depend on if you ask a woman or a man what's considered romantic.

The whole point is to make your characters EARN their HEA's. In a romance, the fact that the two people will eventually end up together is a given. So you have to provide conflict that makes the reader wonder if, perhaps THIS TIME, the lovers won't get together. (Even though they know they will, you have to make them wonder. ) That's the mark of a strong story. When you make the reader really wonder if this pair will get their HEA.

Someone's got to change. Someone's got to sacrifice. They have to earn it. Characters should also grow. So that "incompatible personality" may change. Someone may grow and change so that things are NOT so incompatible as they seemed.

To give an example, in my second book, the heroine had lost her only child, and thus, she was afraid to give her heart to my hero, and especially to his medically-fragile child. She also had a phobia about hospitals that was tied to the loss of her child. She was NOT the right person for my hero. They were, seemingly, incompatible. But the point is, she grew. She changed. She discovered love could give her strength that she didn't really know she had. She had to earn their HEA by facing her worst nightmare and overcoming it.

Also, though you might not find it romantic, I can assure you that editors are looking for strong conflict in the books they buy. I'm working on revising a synopsis now because the editor (rightly!) said the conflict needed pumping up, and the hero's character needed some pumping up, too. In the first case, I had the hero sort of along for the ride. He was already "smitten" (his word, not mine <G>) with the heroine. Where's the conflict there? Well, there really wasn't. (Even though the heroine some conflict with HIM.) So the eds asked me to revise it so that there IS more conflict between them, more reason why they shouldn't get together. (In fact, it was probably that revision request that prompted me to post this thread in the first place. <G>)

Susan G.

Gillhoughly
05-11-2006, 05:24 AM
The Buffy/Angel thing just wasn't going to happen unless he got over that bursting into flame thing. He had a soul, and that was a factor, but I never bought that they had anything that wasn't going to be mutually destructive.

For me the big tragic, totally wrong romance of the series was Buffy/Spike--who apparently fell for her before he got his soul back.

That was wrong on so many levels, but we kept tuning in to see what happened next. http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/wink.gif I loved it!

But for romance plotting--I've done a few and went against type by having the characters right for each other, but taking their time figuring it out. Not every book has to be an opposites attract with them hating each other at first sight. Books with that in the plot/theme just don't do it for me, so I leave them on the racks and search for something else.

In one I wrote the girl had her heart bruised by another man, so she's sworn them off. (At least until she gets over being mad at the whole gender.) However, circumstances forced her to work with the guy and nature took its course. (That is a HIGHLY simplistic version!)

The big questions I ask are:

What do the characters want?

How far are they willing to go to get it?

Each character has a life and drivers in place long before they meet their True Love.

For an offbeat take on the theme try One For the Money by Janet Evanovich. The girl is a bounty hunter and the guy she's determined to bring in is the first man she ever fell for. Despite her feelings she's more than happy to arrest him to get the bounty money. Though it could have been written angsty-tragedy the writer went for screwball comedy and now has 11 books in the series!

It's more mystery than romance, has a huge dash of comedy, and the characters are absolutely priceless. The girl has a (complicated) life before the guy comes crashing into it, and that life has a lot of influence on her actions.

By figuring out Evanovich's technique on the theme I'm now better able to plot my own stuff out. She's saving me from inventing the wheel because now I've got a clear picture of what one looks like and how it should work. All I have to do is carve out my own and see how it rolls.

Hope that helps! http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/smilies/wink.gif

Susan Gable
05-11-2006, 05:06 PM
Not every book has to be an opposites attract with them hating each other at first sight. Books with that in the plot/theme just don't do it for me, so I leave them on the racks and search for something else.



Having conflict doesn't mean they hate each other. I can't stand those books either. "I hate you, no wait, I love you, no wait, I hate you." Blech.

Susan G. - who adores Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series! But yeah, those are mysteries, not romances. Even though Janet got her start in romance. I think she said something to the effect that once she got to be a certain age, she wasn't interested in writing love scenes, she wanted to kill somebody. LOL!

Gillhoughly
05-11-2006, 08:33 PM
Hee-hee! I'm at that certain age, too!

My next WIP will have a killer in it along with the romance. I like crossing genres.

Have you tried any of the Elizabeth Peter's mysteries? She also began in romance, but is making her big bucks in mystery with her Peabody series.

One thing I learned from a highly experienced writer was to read outside the genre you're currently writing in. It prevents what she called "Literary Incest."

Kasey Mackenzie
05-11-2006, 11:36 PM
That's one reason I read across several genres, and dabble in nonfiction when something catches my attention. That, and I'm just addicted to books! =)

I don't care much for the whole we hate each other one moment, we jump in bed the next types of stories. Sure, really well-done ones are all right, but in general I just find it a bit cliche. (My own personal opinion, nothing against anyone in particular!) My current WIP features a lot of external conflict on the characters, but I do plan to beef up the internal conflict when I finish my first draft. They don't hate each other, but the heroine DOES distrust the hero initially because of the circumstances behind their meeting.

sunandshadow
05-12-2006, 12:39 AM
I have read a few good hate/lust erotic romances, but I think it only works well in darker steamier kinds of stories. Like where the lovers are master and slave, or bully jock and bullied outcast. If they hate each other before they screw, they should still hate each other afterwards, although maybe be more confused about it. But the ones where the characters hate each other just because of a stereotype or misconception, characters like that just strike me as immature and melodramatic.