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Romance Skeleton

Last week, we examined Romance subgenres. This week, we look at the building blocks that make up the romance skeleton.

The overall story problem is a relationship between two people.

The reader asks: Will they or won't they?

The characters overcome obstacles that keep them from finding each other, connecting, or staying together. A Romance can be mixed with other genres. The framework of this structure is that boy or girl meets, possesses,  or loses the object of their affection and must win, keep, or reclaim them.

In Romance stories, the protagonist is the person looking for love in all the wrong places, has found love and lost it, or is trying desperately to hold onto it. The love interest is the other main character, a co-protagonist of sorts.

The antagonist is the person most intent on keeping the lovers apart. It could be parents who object on religious, societal, or ethnic reasons. It could be an ex-boyfriend or a second person vying for the protagonist’s or love interest’s affection.

Other stories involve an inequality in income, status, ethnicity, etc. that stand in the way of their  romance. There are difficulties with differing family traditions and beliefs based on ethnicity, religion, geography, even rural versus city. They are complicated by pride and misunderstandings.

Romances examine the question of how to effectively love and live with a partner. Two characters can mean well, but take actions that are counter to their partner’s well-being.

A happy ending is expected in this genre. People read these stories to feel good about the potential of relationships. They want to see a couple make it. This plot resonates with our need to be loved and fulfills our desire to live happily ever after.

The girl can find out guy A isn’t what she wanted after all because she has found guy B (her friend), but this is not the genre for an “I’m okay on my own” ending. That story belongs in the Literary aisle. Romance readers want passion and fulfillment and will be very disappointed if they don’t get it.

The difference between a Romance and a romantic subplot in another genre is the overall story problem. In a Romance the relationship is the focus: will they or won't they? In other genres the romantic entanglement is a complicating factor to the genre's overall story problem.

External Conflict scenes focus on the central question, moving toward and away from the two lovers coming or staying together. The protagonist is actively working to solve the overall story problem: the quest for love. These scenes directly involve the protagonist and the love interest. The verbal camera is zeroed in on conflicting and sweet moments between the two of them. There will be moments when the prospects look bleak. There will be moments when the prospects look promising. The protagonist engages in activities to win the girl, or whatever twist you are placing on the traditional love story. He buys her roses or hires her favorite rock band for her birthday party. These are the grandiose gestures, the gestures that fail, and the fight and make-up scenes. This is the type of scene where the protagonist proposes, is rejected, and proposes again. 

Antagonist Conflict scenes focus on the person or forces most invested in keeping the lovers apart. The protagonist has dinner with his girlfriend’s father who tells him he isn’t good enough. His rival trips him up and he misses a date with the object of his desire. These scenes can involve the antagonist, protagonist, and/or love interest depending on the point of view you are following. Most should involve the antagonist or antagonistic forces and
protagonist or love interest in direct conflict or competition. They can show the antagonist wooing the girl behind his friend’s back, depending on the POV. 

Interpersonal Conflict scenes focus on the people who are meddling in the relationship. The protagonist’s mother tells him love is worth fighting for. His coworker tells him his love interest was a centerfold. His sister tells him to drop his loser friends and keep the girl. These scenes can be divided up between the protagonist and love interest interacting with other characters or secondary characters working to thwart them or aid them. These scenes can be the secondary characters reacting to the external conflict scenes or following their own subplots depending on the point of view used. There is often a secondary couple, i.e. the best frenemies, whose romance has complications.

Internal Conflict scenes center on the protagonist’s, and potentially the love interest’s, personal dilemma. The protagonist is cycling in the park debating whether to keep his frustrating job. The love interest is sitting at someone’s baby shower wondering if she is really ready to commit. If the viewpoint shifts between the protagonist and his love interest, you can divide these scenes between them to express their inner turmoil over the relationship. These scenes can involve secondary characters but the focus is on their internal decision making. They can be the reaction scenes to the external conflict scenes.

Next week, we look at the importance of points of connection in a Romance.

To learn more about plotting the Romance, check out the recently released Romance Build A Plot Workbook available in print and e-book.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

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