Romance novels are at their most central about the human need for physical and emotional intimacy. In romance novels the tension in the story derives from the characters’ needs for emotional connection and intimate physical connection and the characters’ inabilities to meet these two deeply important needs at the same time.
One way of looking at and working with plot is to look at the plot as more of an organizational binder for the story rather than as a simple chart of events or a string of turning points within the story.
When I think about writing I think of it as being a lot like juggling. When we are constructing a story we have many elements to juggle. There are the bits that form who our characters are…there are character goals some of which change throughout the story and some of which stay the same…there are the ways that the characters themselves change and grow and the ways that they stay the same…there are all the plot points that define the relationship journey…there is romantic tension, emotional tension and sexual tension which all have to be balanced. There are several kinds of conflict that need to be understood, linked, and used to fuel the conflict and the romantic, emotional, and sexual tension.
I am teaching a workshop on developing emotional and sexual tension in the romance novel this month at OIRWA. I posted a slightly longer and more in depth version of this post in the workshop on Thursday. One of the comments on the lesson was that it provided a good description of the turning points in a romance novel–and that it provided just enough of a sense of structure that the pantser could use it as a guide while retaining the fluidity of pantsing. That made me think that some of those who read this blog might find it useful also. So…here it is in a slightly altered form for the blog.
Stories are made up of scenes. Scenes are the building blocks of stories. Yet, in my years as an editor and as a writing teacher I’ve seen many, many, many scenes that didn’t work. One of the reasons that these scenes didn’t work was that the scene itself was an idea born of the need to show some specific aspect of the character…that she was afraid of heights…that he was deeply distrustful….that she didn’t believe in love…that he was afraid of dogs…or some other facet of his or her character. While scenes should show these things about the character not every one will. And a scene’s sole purpose for existing should not be simply to show a character is afraid of heights or that she is distrustful or that he doesn’t believe in love or that he is afraid of dogs.
On a recent day in a Yellow Highlighter Workshop I wrote the words – “Avoid words that distance the reader” in several places on at least three different excerpts. Many of the authors I work with are at a high level; several of them are already published or are under contract. What this means to me is that this is an area where even high level authors can drop the ball.
One of the biggest causes of creative blocks is the way we treat the creative part of ourselves. The way we treat our creative selves reminds me of the story of the farmer who killed the golden goose.
In essence, a story begins with a conflict…with something that is keeping the hero and heroine apart. When that thing and the secondary things that relate to it are resolved and the characters have made peace, forgiven, achieved personal growth sufficient to allow them to have simultaneous and lasting deep physical intimacy and deep emotional intimacy (basic description of romantic love) and they commit to each other then the story is over. Sometimes it takes two or three pages to achieve satisfactory resolution of the conflict in a short story. In a longer short story it might take significantly more words. In a novel it takes more.
Laurie answers Grace’s question about what needs to be in the middle of a romance novel and how to bring the characters together without losing tension.
There are some ways of thinking about the various pieces of ideas that your subconscious churns out that will help you understand how the pieces of the story will fit together once you begin the writing. Knowing at the outset how the pieces fit together and what job each idea and each part of the idea plays within the story structure is valuable because understanding these things will allow you to write with fewer starts, stops, and points at which you have to rip out whole chapters and start again.
If you fail to lay a good foundation in the planning of your novel the novel will be prone to shift, wander, and will often times be generally less focused. While it may start out well in the beginning cracks will begin to develop in the structure and the overall story will begin to suffer.
Have writing, editing, publishing industry questions? Not sure who to ask? Ask them here. Each month I will choose one person from among those who have asked questions and award that person a free 2500 word Yellow Highlighter style markup on the first 2500 words of their manuscript – or on another portion of their manuscript if they choose.