All readers of romance agree on one thing. If the ending doesn’t include the couple coming together and staying together, at least for the foreseeable future the story doesn’t qualify as romance. The question for writers becomes; How do we write unforgettable romances with that HEA (Happily Ever After,) or HFN (Happily For Now.) Easy, just add some Snap, Crackle, Pop™.
As romance writers, we need to understand expectations of our readers. Here are eleven must-have elements to enhance your plot and/or subplot for a truly unforgettable, keeper-shelf worthy, must re-readable a thousand times romance. Which, of course, is the goal of every writer. Right? All kidding aside, the first there elements can and should be used in all types of fiction writing, not just romance.
- The Fiction World Defined – In the first few paragraphs of a story, reader want to know about the fictional world we’re asking them to take navigate with us. They want to understand the society your characters live in. If it’s a historical romance, readers need to see, feel, hear, taste and smell the time period. If it’s a paranormal romance with vampires, werewolves, dragons and other sexy creatures, yes, even zombies can be sexy the reader wants to understand the rules of the world. Not all vampire hate garlic. If your story is fantasy with witches and warlock and fairies the reader needs to know the law of magick. Same applies for shifters. Where does the clothing go when a shifter shifts? Remember readers hate surprises.
- The Meeting of Two Lost Souls – *Snap* Boy meets girl, boy meets boy, girl meets girl Boy meets girl and boy, (we do live in the twenty-first century after all.) Whichever scenario you choose, it has to happen with instant heart-stopping, breath-stealing, all-consuming attraction. Readers expect to fall in love with the hero/heroine at the same time as your lovers do on the page. Use whatever you have in your magick stash box to make it memorable.
- The Barrier or Conflict – *Snapping faster*- This is the one or ten things, depending on the length of your story, that keeps our lover apart. To use a universal example, think Montague’s and Capulet’s. Both families kept the young lovers apart because the families were in constant competition. They despised, envied, distrusted each other, (depending on the cliff notes you read in H.S.) so much so that their hatred eventually drove the young lovers to drastic measures, resulting in the untimely death of both Romeo & Juliet. Believing there was no other way to get out an arranged marriage to Paris, Juliet fakes her death. She trusts Romeo would get the message informing him of her plan and come to her They would live HEA. Sadly, we all know how that worked out. BTW, for the record Romeo and Juliet is not a romance, it’s a tragedy.
Not all conflict has to be hopeless. More examples could be anything keeping your loves apart. Internal beliefs or fears are good. Personal flaws like trust or self-esteem issues. External sabotage from a frenemy or family member can all create tension in the relationship. The list of possibilities goes on and on. Pick one and amp it up to the max. Use anything and everything to keep them apart all in the form of barriers and conflicts. But, one word of caution, don’t make conflict something that cannot be overcome or unforgivable. If the hero kick’s her cat, she better rip his heart out with her teeth. Just saying :).
- The Attraction – *Crackle* This is the WOW factor! The soon to be lovers have to have a strong attraction and develop feelings almost right away, even if one or both don’t want to admit it. One of them could even think the other is an obnoxious, big headed, bully, but underneath it all, he really has incredible warm cerulean eyes and sexy smile. So what he heck, give him a chance. Oh, did I mention his hard muscular physique, which she can’t keep her hand off of every time they’re close?
- The Declaration – *Crackling Some More* At this point in the story one or both realize how they feel about the other and declare their love. If you use the example of “Pride and Prejudice”, Mr. Darcy declares his love for Miss Bennett early on. She doesn’t reciprocate his feeling thinking him a callous, selfish and prideful man. Later on, after she witnesses all of his selfless actions, including saving her younger sister from ruin, she makes her declaration known and they get their HEA.
- The Point of Ritual Death – *Pop* No, no, no. Someone doesn’t really have to die. Not unless you want them too. *Evil sneer* Joking aside, some writers call this part of the story The Big Black Moment. The black moment usually has to do with an external force, as in another of Jane Austin’s novels, Emma. When Emma learns that her good friend has carried on with Mr. Knightly and that same friend has fallen in love with him, Emma’s heartbroken. She loses all hope of ever being Mrs. Knightley a dream she’s had for some time. Of course, we all know what happens next. The friend misunderstood Mr. Knightley’s kindness and Mr. Knightly has only ever had eyes for Emma. The point of ritual death can be summed up as the time when the romance seems doomed forever, and ever, and ever with no hope of a happy outcome. We want our readers to feel the forlornness, angst and heartbreak along with your hero/heroine.
- The Recognition – *Bigger Pop* This is usually due to some internal change that has happened in a short period. As in the case of Mr. Darcy. He recognized his feeling for Elizabeth almost immediately. Or, it can happen over a longer period of time as with Miss Bennett. The hero/heroine realizes he/she wants to be with the other regardless of past beliefs. They see the good in the other person and can’t live without them. The best way to put it is simply this: the internal conflict that’s been building over time is resolved. The hero or heroine or both, change in some life altering way and all the reasons/conflict don’t matter anymore and things are worked out or worked through.
- The Betrothal – *The Ultimate Pop* This is where lovers hook up and make a firm commitment to be together. In historical or regency romance this is Happily Ever After (HEA) with a marriage proposal however in most other genera’s like contemporary, paranormal, young adult romance, and to chick lit it often is a Happy For Now (HFN), the immediate future.
Make your romance unforgettable with a sizzling ending that resonates with readers long after they finish, and added to their keeper shelves. Remember to tie up loose ends and add one or more of these elements to your story.
- The Wedding, Dance or Celebration – Show life after the betrothal and the beginning of a long-term relationship between your lovers. In “Emma” we see the new Mrs. Knightly dancing with her husband at his annual harvest celebration. With Darcy and Elizabeth, they kiss after their wedding night.
- The Scapegoat Exiled – Any character in your story that has tried to keep your two lovebirds apart should fly the coop, never to return. Leave your lovebirds cooing with no fear.
- The Bad Converted – Say you had a character that told lies about one or both of your lovers to keep them apart. Those lies and rumors got out of hand and caused a great deal of heartache and pain for both your hero and heroine. This character can redeem himself by coming clean and giving a heartfelt apology.
By including these common expectations in your plot, you will fulfill not only the romance readers desires, you will fall in love with your characters, craft and story each time you write.
Have a question or comment? Don’t be shy we’d love to hear from you.