Saturday, January 28, 2012

Romantic Subplots, Part 1

“And now I’m looking at you,” he said, “and you’re asking me if I still want you, as if I could stop loving you.  As if I would want to give up the thing that makes me stronger than anything else ever has." (Jace Wayland; The City of Glass by Cassandra Clare)

This topic has been on my mind for a long time. Thankfully, I started writing this post early in the week. I kept writing...and writing...and writing...and realized that I've got a lot more to say than I can possibly fit into one post. So let's just call this Part One in a series of five (?). 

We could call it Subplot Saturday. Or Saturday Smoochies. Or even Saturday Steaminess... 

Yeah. So I'll keep working on that.

I'm going to share one rule a week with you for the next five weeks. Five weeks may seem like an unbearably long time to wait. But never fear. By the end, you'll be able to write a love story that people will tumbl about for years.
Caution: Music will start if you click on this link!!!

What is your idea of the perfect love story?

I suppose the answer to that question is different for everyone. Personally, I don't like the love story to be the key element of the plot. But although I want the love story to take a back seat to the action, make no mistake: I read books for the romance. And I'm not alone.

Take the bestselling series The Hunger Games as an example. Katniss's fight to protect her family and keep herself alive should have completely overshadowed  the love triangle between Katniss, Gayle and Peeta. But in the days before Mockingjay came out, what was everyone talking about?

Rule #1:  An exciting story should drive your plot, not the romance

“Really? Are you going to ask him to be your partner?" Isabelle asked. "It's like a cotillion, this partner's business, except with killing." 
"So, exactly like a cotillion," said Simon. (From The City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare)
I'll read hundreds of pages for one paragraph that makes my heart flutter. In fact, I submit that the hundreds of pages are a necessary component. This isn't the "Wow, you're hot. All we need is a good excuse to make out," romance. The kind of love story I'm talking about is the one that says, "I know everything about you--your strengths, your weaknesses. We're already an amazing team, and I want it to last forever. And by the way, you ARE hot, and I've been waiting way too long for a good excuse to make out."

My first attempt to tell a story like that was a bit of a failure. That's because I got so caught up in the whole love story that I let it take over. It's a perfectly valid basis for a book, and it was a lot of fun to write, but it's really not what I was going for. What I want is a story that would be worthwhile and fun even without a hint of romance. The romance is the icing on the cake.

If I was a math geek like Maryann, this is the place where I would build a really scientific looking graph showing the fragile relationship between the exciting story going on in your character's lives and their emerging feelings for each other. In the beginning, the driving action has nothing to do with the romance. As with every other sub-plot, the goal is to lay the foundation, so that the reader is not pulled out of the story when things start heating up. As the book progresses, the ratio between action and romance will start to shift, but the action still propels the plot. If anything, the romance complicates it.

When you've stretched out the getting to know you phase as long as you can, and its  finally time to get to the romance, there's nothing like a little adrenaline to make a romantic scene shine. Don't believe me? Watch this:

Of course, your characters don't have to be in a battle to the death when they declare their undying allegiance. They can wait until after, if you want.

*This is my daughter's tumblr. Although she doesn't tumbl about one specific love story, she follows several people who do. My favorite is odair-in-the-underwear.


  1. One of the best love scenes I have ever watched is from the movie Last of the Mohicans. Hawkeye tells Cora: "You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you."

  2. Saturday Sizzle?

    I'm excited to keep reading more on the topic, since I've always been uncertain about how to go about adding romantic elements to a story. It's true that a story with an excellent romance in the middle of an even better plot will draw me back more than one lacking romance (or only about it).

  3. I've never seen tumblr before. It looks addicting.

  4. I love a good romance subplot too, and I agree that there needs to be more to the story than just the romance.

    But if you are going to do a romance subplot, you really need to do it right. I've read so many epic fantasy when all of a sudden two people are in love. I'm left wondering, when did that happen? So I really appreciate it when it is done right.

    Looking forward for the rest of the series. :)

  5. Oh, I'm not sure if I could ever describe romance through scientific graphs even if it's a romantic subplot in a novel. Way too advance stuff for this math nerd. :)

    I liked your explanation.

  6. Great post. I like the idea of a series... Now you're on the hook :)

    I struggle with writing the kind of romance you described so eloquently, where the two people know each other inside and out. I'm such a realist.. I always feel like there's no way people had enough time to really feel the way they seem to feel about each other in books, and I'm always struggling with making the characters find real reasons to love each other, not just share an attraction.

    I thought Outlander was incredible at that. *I* fell in love with Jamie through lots of little details over the course of the book, so it wasn't hard to believe that Claire did, too.

  7. In my novels, I usually come up with an interesting action packed scenario, and then spend way too long focusing on the teenage angst of "Does he love me or not?" That's one of the things I'm working on.

    I think with romance, the reader will get there long before the character or the writer will.

    All you need, is a likable character interact with someone of the opposite sex. Boom! The reader will supply all the angst you'll need. I think if you have a likable character interact with someone who has a discernible pain, or need, that the likable character can fix/fill, then you will have me hooked without any making least not until the end.

    Great post. I'm looking forward to the next one in the series.

  8. Oh, thank you, thank you for this series. I feel like I'm the angsty teen when I try to write romance - does it look alright, is it coming on too strong, what should my characters say, are they looking/glancing/gazing too much at each other? It's jr. high dances all over again.


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