So you’re writing a romance novel. How hard could it really be? Girl meets boy, kissing happens, some fighting happens, they make up, and then they live happily ever after. Easy peasy romance arc. Simple. Right?
We all love reading romance, that’s why we’re here. We love love. We adore seeing someone fight for and receive their happily ever after, no matter how many struggles they had to overcome to get there. And I bet that just by reading romance, you can point out a few of the commonalities between our beloved romance books.
This is not a coincidence. These are there for a reason. The romance arc is there for a reason.
Now, if you are like me, you will just start writing and keep in mind the vague plot points you remember from your favorite books. A meet cute, maybe? The first kiss. The black scene that maybe you don’t even realize is a black scene. You shove it all in there. And then, when you’re finished, you realize that the pacing is off, and you’re missing the pieces you need to propel your story forward.
That, my romance writing friends, is where the romance arc comes into play.
My favorite source to help keep me on track is Jami Gold’s Romance Beat Sheet. Fill in your word count goal, and it will show you where your plot points should hit. I never write without my beat sheet pulled up in the corner of my screen.
Key Components of a Romance Arc
Now, what use is a beat sheet if you don’t know what know what it’s all about? Relax, friends, that’s what I’m here for.
The Opening Image/Hook
This is the start of your book. You introduce your character and tell the readers what is wrong with the character’s life. Pinpoint the protagonist’s struggle (interior or exterior) and get the readers invested.
The Meet/Inciting Incident
I love a good meet. In Jasmine Guillory’s, The Wedding Date, her characters meet in an elevator that has gotten stuck. They flirt, they share cheese, and they create a chemistry that leaves the readers begging for more. It’s a tease. It shows us how good they could be, but they just aren’t there yet. You’ll notice in a lot of romance, especially contemporary, this meet happens early in the book, usually in the first chapter.
The End of Act One/The Turning Point
The turning point in the book forces your characters together (at approximately the 25-percent mark). This is the point where something externally (maybe) and/or internally (definitely) shifts with your characters, and their goal becomes clearly defined. It’s where your protagonist decides to go on their journey.
There should be a pinch point before and after your midpoint (approximately 35 percent and 65 percent). Pinch points provide new information to the plot and act to further the story. They can help foreshadow a major event and should affect the direction of their relationship. These can seem innocuous, but are a key part to your story. Without pinch points, the story can drag between the turning point and midpoint.
At the midpoint (approximately 50 percent), take your stakes and give them steroids. Amp them all the way up. Show us the commitment between the hero and heroine. Something should bind your characters together here. Externally they might seem all in, but internally they are still showing signs that this relationship is going to fail.
Crisis/Second Turning Point
This usually happens at the end of the second act (approximately 75 to 80 percent). Just as your characters are getting close to their goal, something happens that pushes all of their doubts and concerns to the front of their mind. Your character will know at this point that their relationship cannot succeed.
There’s really no other way to describe this except that the dark moment breaks your characters (85 to 90 percent). Let them bleed on the page. Show us how your character is hurting and let us hurt with them. Everything should seem lost at this point.
Wait! All is not lost! Through the heartache or breakup or disaster that came with the dark moment, your character has confronted demons. You character has overcome their doubts and are now at peace with themselves. Your heroes commit to each other and get their happily ever after (or happily for now).
Now go forth, my romance writing beauties! Invest us in your characters, and take us on a journey to Happily Ever After.