Saturday, February 4, 2012

Romantic Subplots part 2

Welcome to Sizzling Saturday! (While I think that is a brilliant bit of alliteration, Sabrina, it still makes me blush to write it.)

To be honest, this piece of the romance puzzle takes work, and things are still light on the sizzle. That's next week. However, I have artfully added some sizzle to this post, just to keep you reading. :)

Last week, we talked about rule #1: An exciting story should drive your plot, not the romance.

Rule #2: For their love to be believable, your characters need a genuine history. In fact, your characters need memories with each other that the reader doesn't share.

Taylor Swift's music video You Belong With Me is a perfect example of the way backstory, exposition and scenes from your story can work together to create a swoonworthy romance, and she does it in 3 minutes and 48 seconds. Pure genius.

  • Backstory

Perhaps your characters have known each other since they were tiny. Or perhaps they've interacted a few times before the story starts. If you are lucky enough to be in this situation, you need to make sure the reader knows about it. You might choose to share whole pieces of their backstory, or you might just hint at them.

From Linnet by Sally Watson:

Linnet began using stories as a bribe. Not until everyone had made enough progress to suit her would she curl up with Persephone purring raucously in her lap and begin a tale of ancient Greece-or of her own home and family, and Giles, which to the flock was just as fabulous and unreal as any myth. They took a particular fancy to the mischievous Hermes-and to Giles!
 "Well, they aren't a bit alike!" Linnet informed them rather tartly. "Giles doesn't approve of mischief, and he's always trying to prevent me from having adventures."
 "Mayhap 'e just don't want yeh ter 'ave all the fun wiv-out 'im," suggested Peg shrewdly. "'E usually goes along wiv yeh if 'e's around, don't 'e?"

From this short exchange, you realize that Linnet and Giles already know each other very well, and that Lark might have some misconceptions about Giles to overcome if they are ever going to get together.

  • Exposition

By exposition, I mean giving information that helps the story to move along. It helps if there is something your characters have to do with each other repetitively.  Developments in their relationship can be easily hinted at.

"As they travelled, the nights got longer and cooler, and she grew accustomed to sitting on a horse for long stretches of time. Jasper smiled the first time she managed to stay in the saddle when the horse decided to jump over a stream, but he didn't offer to buy her drinks until the decision of whether or not to jump became her own--not the horse's."

Or an example from a real book (It's A Mall World After All, by Janette Rallison. I know it's a funky title, but she's a drop dead hilarious author):

"Colton is the only person in our study group who remembers I like diet soda, but not Diet Coke."

  • Scenes from the story
Love should transform your characters.
(Chuck and Sarah, I'll miss you!)
Backstory and exposition can only get you so far. In the end, your characters have to get to know each other, and to change each other, right in the middle of your story. Creating actual scenes that give them a history can be challenging and fun-and hopefully your plot will give you some great ways for them to spend time together. If not, bad things must happen to your characters. It's the only way.

It helps if your characters both have strong value systems. For some reason, the moments when these value systems clash are the times that make their future love seem more believable.

The television show Felicity is about a girl who has such a huge crush on a boy who barely knows her that she follows him across the country to college. Her reasons for romance are extremely believable. She's been watching Ben from a distance for years. Ben's reasons for romance seem non-existent. He is attracted to a friend of hers, and you can't overlook the creep factor-Felicity is way too up front and honest about why she is there.

If they want us to believe that these two characters could ever fall in love, the writers of the show have a tough job in front of them. How do they begin? First of all, Felicity gets her own life. She pulls away from Ben as she realizes how unlikely their relationship ever is. They get some friends in common.

And then they are victims of a home invasion. Suddenly they have this shared memory. One of the few things Ben knew about Felicity was that the necklace she always wore had belonged to her grandmother. So when one of the thieves grabs it off her neck, Ben tries and fails to stop him. For days afterward, he can't sleep, and he starts calling her and visiting her in the middle of the night. She's angry because he won't go to the police station to identify the men who did it. He buys her a new necklace to replace her grandmother's. This shared experience changes the whole dynamic of their relationship.

Felicity was not one of my favorite TV shows, but I had such an a-ha moment when I watched this part. Every love story needs at least one Home Invasion crisis, when the characters learn to see each other in different ways. Ben finally stops seeing Felicity as a stalker, but as someone vulnerable, who cares about things other than just him. Felicity learns that Ben is fallible, and is perhaps not the super-hero she'd built him up to be in her head. From that point in the story on, they have a history that includes both of them.


  1. Great tips! I think the backstory gives the writer a chance to show the characters as genuinely likeable and compatible.

  2. This is great, thanks! I've been working on a WIP that's at a crossroads--the story could either go on as an urban fantasy with a romantic subplot or as a straight up paranormal romance. I've been leaning toward the UF, so this subplot series is REALLY helpful :).

  3. These are great tips. I love sizzling Saturdays. Keep it up, Melanie. :)

  4. I love this series you're doing. What great advice and examples.

  5. I think Taylor Swift is an amazing songwriter. I love how fearlessly she writes about her love life, and heartbreak, and everything. She's brilliant.

  6. Glad to be a cause of embarrassment yet again. :D

    Love all the advice; can't wait for next week.


Got an opinion? Use it! Remember... be silly, be honest, and be nice/proofread.