Want to create a romance readers actually care about? Give them characters they want to root for. Your character’s lie/fatal flaw/misbelief/internal struggle, whatever you want to call it is what’s going to to propel your story forwards. Because look, a story–romance or not, is going to be boring if our characters are perfect. When we take a flawed character we relate to that because we can empathize with imperfect characters, making imperfect decisions, on an imperfect journey to find what they need, while going after what they want. It’s super quaint, I know, and I love it. So we take our flawed character, trying to find their place in the world, and we introduce them to another flawed character also trying to find their place in the world, and we thrust them together, push and pull, and eventually, and probably even reluctantly, they experience character growth and vulnerability, hopefully due in part by one another, and experience something on the tail end of that called, love. I’ve oversimplified yes, but that’s the gist of it. So how do we achieve this?
Create characters people are going to root for
The characters who are going to fall in love should have their own struggles, goals, wants, needs, misbeliefs to make them feel real. Give your character a flaw (that needs to be fixed), a want that is not only tangible but that your character is pursuing, and a need which is the thing (the life lesson) they’ll need to learn that will truly make them happy (because the want isn’t going to cut it). Your romance will revolve heavily around each individual character’s journey, struggle, and goal. Even without the aforementioned romance plot, you still have a story, which is key. Therefore the additional romance layer is going to make our character transformations even more worthwhile once they start to take shape.
Internal conflict that’s unique to each character
Conflict really does make the creative writing world go round, but if we’re not making our characters suffer what are we even doing this for? In all seriousness though, it’s true that the internal struggles/inner conflicts/misbeliefs will be the driving force for our characters and in turn create new conflict when it encounters romance with the other character. I know, that’s a lot, but it’s what’s going to make your relationship so much more worth it.
Outline a structure that incorporates the romance beats into your story
Set Up Act 1
Act 1 is all about the catalyst of what brings our two lovebirds together and their fighting, learning, and waning resistance to that attraction.
Push and Pull Act 2
Act 2 is the push and pull of this relationship, doubt, and eventually the rock bottom.
Accepting Love Act 3
Act 3 is our character transformations after hitting rock bottom and the eventual grand gesture that will allow our two lovebirds to be together/or not, that’s up to you!
If you know me, it’s no surprise I’m a big fan of the Save the Cat! Story Structure, so of course by association I’m also a big fan of Gwen Hayes’ book Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels. You do not need to understand Save the Cat! to incorporate the romance beats into your creative project but you should have a good handle on the 3 Act Story Structure. I highly recommend knowing the basics of the Save the Cat! structure (subdivides the beginning, middle, and end of a story into 15 “beats” or plot points) because it’s fantastic, easy to use, and I incorporate it into my own writing. To make it easier for you, I’ve shared the Romance Beat Sheet I used on my Patreon, you can view all 3 acts in great detail down to every beat.