Exploring the two main story Arcs in Romance

Return to Me

You’ve got Mail

Sleepless in Seattle

While you were Sleeping 

These are just a few of the wonderful favorite romances listed over the My Book Therapy discussion board.   And they all contain the 10 elements of a Romance I went over last week – here’s a quick review:  

Boy Meets Girl – An event, goal or circumstance occurs to bring our hero and heroine together 

Interest/Need – Something about their own situation makes their heart vulnerable to romance 

Why Not – Obstacles between the hero and heroine, and True Love conspire to separate them 

Wooing – Events or situations allow the hero and heroine to fall in love

Sparks – Dialogue and action create romantic tension

Kiss – Leading to sexual tension

Breakup – The biggest Why Not rises to push them apart

Why – The core reason they belong together saves the day

Big Gesture/Sacrifice – The Hero or Heroine are able to make the Big Gesture/Sacrifice to stay together. 

Happily Ever After– They find the love they’ve always longed for.

All of these components occur in a great romance…but not necessarily in this order.   What determines the pacing and flow of each of these elements?   The answer is:  the structure of your romance. 

Is your romance a Why/Why Not?  Or a Why Not/Why?

 What do I mean?  

There are two basic structures or story arcs to a romance – whether it’s a straight up romance, or a just a romance thread.   This structure helps you to know where to insert the different components of your romance.   

 The first is Why/Why Not:   

These are stories that have our characters falling in love in the beginning, with no major obstacles in their way, only to discover obstacles half-way or even later.  It’s not about how we as the reader see their journey, but how the characters see it. 

Return to Me is such a story.  The hero and heroine meet, and instantly hit it off.  They have a similar sense of humor, and they like similar foods and have fun together, even have some romantic sparks.  UNTIL…she discovers she has her boyfriend’s deceased wife’s heart.  Suddenly we’ve arrive at the Why Not part of the story.   

You’ve Got Mail is another example. The Why comes first – they love each other online, have similar interests, similar love of New York and books and business drive.  They are perfect for each other…until they find out they are enemies in real life.  Why Not. 

Let’s look at the other structure – the Why Not/Why stories. 

Like…Sleepless in Seattle.  These two have so much Why Not in front of them, it seems they’ll never get to the Why.  Again, it’s in the viewpoint of the character, not the reader, because from the beginning we can see that these two belong together.  Why Not – she’s engaged to someone else, they live thousands of miles apart, she doesn’t even know him, he think she’s loony (or at least among the strange women writing to him).  It’s not until the end that they realize they belong together.  The Why. 

Another great Why Not/Why romance is While you were Sleeping.  The Why Nots are glaring – he’s her, um, fiancés, brother.  And of course, she’s lying, but that only adds to the Why Not, until she’s revealed as a liar.  But by then, they’ve seen the Whys….and that is what causes the angst. 

As you’re beginning to plot your romance – even before you nail down the component elements, think through the structure of your story.  Do you have the Why first…and then the big Why Not?  Or is the Why Not glaring, until finally the Why is too big to ignore? 

In the early stages of my plotting, I often start with the hero and heroine.  Then I assemble in my head a few of the components – why they belong together, why not, what their sparks are, their happily ever after.  Nothing is written in stone, however.  Then, to get going, I nail down the story arc – Why/Why Not, or Why Not/Why.  Knowing what kind of story arc I’ll have helps me to know where to drop in the components.  For example, if I’m building a Why/Why Not story, I’ll have the interest, the wooing and why element, as well as the kiss, and perhaps even a glimpse of the happily ever after at the beginning.  (because they need to know what they have to live for!) Then, I’ll throw in the Why Not, with lots of sparks and the black moment.  

If I have a Why Not Structure, then I’ll start with sparks, a touch of interest, perhaps a hint of wooing, gradually leading up to the kiss,  before we get to the big sacrifice and the Why.

Think through your favorite movies – here’s some listed on the forum:

Kate and Leopold

A Walk in the Clouds

Princess Bride 

What are their story arcs?   (extra credit for PB)  Send me your answers at susan@mybooktherapy.com and I’ll enter you into a drawing for Sons of Thunder.

I’m a fan of analyzing story structure, so take your favorite romance, and figure out the story structure.  Then, see if you can pinpoint the components and where they fall in the story arc.  Finally, head over to Club Voices and share what you’ve learned.  Every Voice Counts!

(and, don’t forget to head over to the brand new Voices Ezine! And check out all the great articles on writing craft, the fiction features and info on the industry!)

See you later this week – we’ll be talking more about story arcs and how to fit in the story components!

Susie May





Check out the New Ezine!

Blog tomorrow, I promise!  In the meantime…

check out the VOICES EZINE!  

And, thank you to all who entered the contest!  the answer to “I ache for Grace” is…














And our winner  – Penny Lynn Moga!  She’ll get a free copy of Sons of Thunder! 

See you tomorrow when we talk about:  The elements of a great romance…our HERO!

signing off (as a storm rolls into the north…brr!)

Susie May

Great Expectations! (The essential components of a Romance)

Plotting my new book at a bistro in Prague!
Plotting my new book at a bistro in Prague!

Great Expectations!




Last summer, my husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage.  So, we decided, since I was doing a book tour in Holland, to tack on a trip to Prague.  If you’ve never gone, it just might be the most beautiful city in Europe. 


About four months before our trip, we got online and searched for hotels – found a beautiful hotel right on Old Town Square, facing the Tyn Cathedral.  We ordered Prague travel books and we hired a guide for a day.  My husband began Tivoing every travel channel episode he could find on Prague (which led to a day –long excursion to find the perfect apple strudel, thank you so much Samantha Brown). 


We were ready.  Or so we thought. 


We knew from pictures that it was beautiful, but when our taxi drove us into Old Town square, words failed us.  Everything from the dark grandeur of the gothic cathedral, to the storybook square, to the smell of the cafes and linden trees, to the sound of horses, their hooves clopping across black cobblestones – we’d been swept into a fairytale.  We expected to eat a pig’s knuckle, an sit in outside cafes and see castles, and linger on the St. Charles bridge, and learn about the city.  Our anticipation only whet our appetite, and the reality exceed our expectations.


A great romance does exactly this.  We understand the feelings of falling in love, but a great romance novel brings it to life and stirs in us feelings we may have forgotten.  But what sets a Romance apart from, say, a literary novel?  Or even women’s fiction? 


I’m teaching a seminar this year – three times, actually – with agent Chip MacGregor, about how to write commercial fiction.   (For more info, check out www.themasterseminars.com)  As I began to ponder the difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction, I realized it’s one simple thing…


It’s all about expectations. 


We expected to have a great time on our trip.  We’d done the research, the preparation, and had a list of expectations.  Thankfully, we weren’t disappointed. 


You know those times when you want to throw a book against the wall?  That’s because it hasn’t lived up to the promise. 


See, all romances have the same elements.  And yes, it’s a formula, but just like perfumes are formula, put together differently, they create a different scent.   But the wearer of perfume expects to smell great.  A reader of romance expects to fall in love, plain and simple.


So, what are those “formula elements” of a romance? 

Let’s take a quick look – we’ll be diving in depth to all these components this year, but for now use this as a check list to your current WIP:


Boy Meets Girl – An event, goal or circumstance occurs to bring our hero and heroine together

Interest/Need – Something about their own situation makes their heart vulnerable to romance

Why Not – Obstacles between the hero and heroine, and True Love conspire to separate them

Wooing – Events or situations allow the hero and heroine to fall in love

Sparks – Dialogue and action create romantic tension

Kiss – Leading to sexual tension

Breakup – The biggest Why Not rises to push them apart

Why – The core reason they belong together saves the day

Big Gesture/Sacrifice – The Hero or Heroine are able to make the Big Gesture/Sacrifice to stay together.

Happily Ever After- They find the love they’ve always longed for.


These components of a romance occur in different order, depending on the romance, but they must be there for the promise to be kept.  Leave it out and you’ll have a tour that has omitted the tour of the castle, or a taste of a pig’s knuckle  (really – very tasty!), and disappointed your reader.


Does your current WIP have all the elements in a romance?  If not, hang in there – we’ll be covering all of them this year.  But print off this list, and aim now to keep the promise to your reader. 


We want them to have a great time in Prague!   


On Monday we’ll be discussing the two main romance arcs.  Until then— the “I ache for Gracie.”  Contest is still open.  Name what movie that is from and send me the answer at susan@mybooktherapy.com and your name will go into the drawing for my new book, Sons of Thunder. 


Have a great weekend!

Susie May




Why Romance?



I love romance.  My boys are convinced I am a hopeless romantic, from the way I make them learn to dance (yes, I’m a firm believer that every boy should know a few foxtrot and swing dance steps) to the advice I give them on dating.  (What on earth has this world come to that kids don’t date anymore?  They…hang out.  Travesty). 

His and Her ornaments
His and Her ornaments





 I admit, that a small part of me lives in that happy world where people break out into singing, make grand gestures for each other and say deep, profound things.


(one of my favorite movie lines: “I ache for Gracie” – send me an email at susan@mybooktherapy if you know what that’s from, and I’ll enter you in a drawing at the end of the week for a copy of my new book, Sons of Thunder.)  


And I’m not the only one.   The romance genre continues to hold strong despite the recession. 


Here’s a quote from RWA annual Romance report:


“Not only did romance fiction generate $1.37 billion in sales in 2008, but also it remained the largest share of the consumer market at 13.5 percent. R.R. Bowker’s Books In Print shows 7,311 new romance titles were published in the United States in 2008 (out of a total 275,232 new titles). With 7,311 new romances published in one year, “no fiction category can rival romance in terms of sheer size.”(2)”


(read the full article at: http://www.rwanational.org/cs/the_romance_genre/romance_literature_statistics/industry_statistics)


I look forward to seeing what happened in 2009 – I know in the first quarter, Harlequin revenue rose revenue rose 13.5%.  Personally, I continue to see sales of my romance titles increase.


See, people still want to believe in love and happily ever after, even in the bad times.  Maybe especially in the bad times. 


It behooves us then, as writers to consider romance as we write our novels. Whether we’re all out romantics who want to write a full-out romance, or romantic suspense writers who write half and half, to women’s fiction, fantasy or thriller writers who just put in a smidge, there’s no doubt that a great romance makes for a great story.  C’mon admit it – even the men like a little romance.  (I have a growing list of male readers who swear me to secrecy!) 


A great romance is a story we can escape into, explore a world or a profession or a life situation that intrigues us.  We want to tap into those delicious feelings of falling in love, and for a short time, believe wildly in happily ever after.  A great romance relieves stress and gives us hope. 


And let’s not forget, God is all about romance.  He created it, He models it, He wants us to enjoy it.


So, how do you write a great romance?  We’re going to learn at MBT this year.


 A great romance is comprised of loveable heroes, and heroines we want to root for.  It’s about tension and sexual sparks (even in inspirational romances).  A great romance woos the reader with dialogue and creative scenes (not unlike dating!).  It has a black moment and an epiphany, and especially a happily ever after. 


We’ll be covering the components of a romance in the first half of the year – and then we’ll put it together into structure the second half.  It’s a year of love at My Book Therapy!


To get the fun started, head over to the My Book Therapy VOICES forum and tell us – what is YOUR favorite romance (book or movie!) 


Let us hear your Voice!  See you Thurs!


Susie May