Saturday, February 25, 2012

Romantic Subplots Part 5

A Hodgepodge of Thoughts About Romantic Subplots:

All the rules (and their links)in one place!

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.
Rule #3: A story without internal and external conflict isn't really a story at all. To make a love story sizzle, forces should combine to keep your characters apart, BUT other forces should combine to compel them to be together.
Rule #4: Create romantic tension.

Rule #5: A genuine respect/friendship

At first, I thought I'd covered this pretty thoroughly with Rule #2. But then I realized that your characters could have tons of history with each other without having a genuine respect or friendship. Somewhere from the time they meet until the time they fall in love though, they need to learn to respect each other, and they need to become friends.

Enough said.

In my last post, I asked for some suggestions about things I might have missed in my Romantic Subplot Rules. I got a few very interesting thoughts, and I'd like to share them with you.

In the comment section last week, Maryann said, "Romantic hoping or suspecting someone might feel for you what you feel for them, but not sure enough to admit how you feel. That analyzing their every word, every look, every movement and trying to piece it all together while at the same time trying to be encouraging, but not too encouraging back just in case they aren't into you." I thought that was a perfect definition.


Sarah shared a complicated, but fascinating blog post by David Baboulene that you can find here:

The word 'subtext' really threw me. I couldn't say I'd ever thought the word in conjunction with my own writing before. Here's what I've discovered:

What is subtext?  
1. An underlying theme or implied relationship between characters.  
2. Thoughts not directly in the text, such as tension or emotions..
3. The hidden meaning of words or actions in the story.

As I thought about subtext, while simultaneously beginning to read The Hunger Games again, I came up with another thought about romantic subplots, to be used at your discretion.


Readers have been trained to bond with the first romantic love interest that shows up in a book. You can use this to your advantage in so many ways. The most reasonable way is to make sure that the intended love interest is the first person your readers romantically bond with. If there has to be someone else first, you've got to metaphorically sweep him/her under the rug by matching them up with someone else, making them unredeemable, or at least uninteresting, moving them away, killing them off...whatever strikes your fancy. Otherwise, you will create a love lambda J or a love triangle, whether you mean to or not.

Gale and Peeta are my case in point. Peeta gets chapters and chapters devoted to him, while we rarely get a chance to see Gale. The readers first chance to bond romantically is with Gale, and we are a loyal bunch. Once our minds are made up, it takes a lot of effort to change them. Some of us never do.


Last week, Carl Duzett likened romance in literature to a mystery. Your characters are given all sorts of physical and conversational clues and they have to figure out what the other people are thinking and feeling. When you think about romance this way, it opens up a lot of fun sidetracks and blind alleys for your characters to go down, as they decide whether or not to trust each other.


You'll notice that in 5 weeks, I have never mentioned kissing or any of its associated trappings. That's because while I think kissing is great, and I hope your subplot has some J, it is not an essential piece of the true romantic puzzle. Of course it will happen eventually, but it doesn't HAVE to happen in the story to make a romance believable. On that note, I'm going to end with a spoiler for Howl's Moving Castle. It's one of my favorite romances, with nary a kiss to be seen. If you haven't read it yet, don't read the next paragraph! Instead, rush to your public library and check it out!

**Spoiler Alert!**
Howl said, "I think we ought to live happily ever after," and she thought he meant it. Sophie knew that living happily ever after with Howl would be a good deal more eventful than any story made it sound, though she was determined to try. "It should be hair raising," added Howl. 
 "And you'll exploit me," Sophie said. 
 "And then you'll cut up all my suits to teach me," said Howl... 
 "Sophie," said Martha, "the spell's off you! Did you hear?" 
 But Sophie and Howl were holding one another's hands and smiling and smiling, unable to stop. 
 "Don’t bother me now," said Howl. "I only did it for the money."  
"Liar," said Sophie.

Good luck with your writing! 


  1. I'm thoroughly enjoying this 'Romantic Subplot' series. Since I'm writing YA romance, they have been most helpful! :) You've definitely given me plenty to think about to better my work!

  2. Hmm, I haven't read Howl's Moving Castle so I didn't read the last part of the post :) I'd agree that kissing isn't part of the real romantic puzzle, but I still like too see a little payoff for the hero and heroine :D

    That's a great point about bonding. It took me a long time to stop rooting for Gale in The Hunger Games and I'm sure that was why. Another thing about setting readers up in the beginning is if a romantic hero is going to emerge later in the book, I think it's important to manage the reader's physical image of that character early on. Sometimes I imagine a character as unattractive, or the wrong age, or something else is off in my mind, and then when suddenly the heroine realizes she's got the hots for him I can't change that physical picture and the whole thing is ruined.

    Wonderful series, Melanie!

  3. Melanie, I have absolutely loved this series.

    I totally agree with everything you say. Very insightful. I did bond with Gale when I first read the Hunger Games. I thought he was going to be the main love interest.

    I think that the romantic lead needs to be sign posted well, so the reader knows who to root for. Like Sarah, I have made the mistake of not realizing that a character was the love interest. I had to rearrange my view of the character. It definitely pulled me out of the story.

    Anyway, thanks for doing this. Really, it was an awesome series. :)

  4. This series has been so fabulous. I never really thought about bonding until you mentioned it, but I think you're absolutely right.

    Also, love, love, love Howl's Moving Castle. The movie is good, too, if you don't expect it to be more than passingly similar to the book and just consider it a nearly completely different story.

  5. What a great series, you must have been researching this forever...

  6. Why yes, Sheena. Yes I have. Hours and hours with my nose in a book, followed by some intense netflix experiences, and then a few rather treacherous excursions on google. Thank you for noticing. :)


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