Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dressing Up Your Romance

We continue with our story about Dick, love-interest Sally, bossy Jane, jealous Ted, and the meteor streaking toward Earth. If we select the Romance skeleton, the focus is on Dick meeting, possessing, or losing the object of his affection: Sally.

The meteor, Jane, and Ted present obstacles to this goal.

Let’s look at different ways to dress up your plot skeleton.

You can add the Contemporary Romance jacket. This is defined by the time period. The obstacles to their love occur post World War II to modern day. It is often combined with, or related to, the term women’s fiction. Ted wants Sally, or Jane wants Sally. Jealousy and rivalry keep Dick from achieving his goal. The impending meteor strike adds an element of anxiety. At the final turning point, Dick saves the day and wins Sally's heart forever. Sally and/or Jane saves the day if you want to add a feminist touch.

If you add the Historical Romance mantle, it means that the obstacles to love occurred prior to World War II and may feature elements of mystery or damsel in distress. In this instance, Sally is directly threatened by Jane or Ted while the impending meteor strike provides atmosphere and heightens emotion. We learn a bit about the history of astronomy along the way, but not too much.

If you choose the Romantic Suspense trench coat, the meteor strike is a Thriller and Suspense subplot. The setting could be contemporary or historical. The couple’s relationship is tested by the race to save the planet. Will they live to love or will the meteor obliterate them? Ted is foiled. Jane is mollified. Dick and Sally live happily ever after.

If you select the Paranormal Romance cloak, one or all of your characters could be vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, or witches. The focus is on the romance and the paranormal elements as the characters attempt to thwart the meteor strike. The different species may have different agendas. In the end, Dick and Sally wind up together, the normal world is saved, and they are happy about it. Except for perhaps Ted, or Jane, or Ted and Jane.

If you prefer the Science Fiction Romance jumpsuit, the setting becomes the future, perhaps on a remote lunar outpost. A rocket may circumvent the tragedy, taking out the antagonistic Ted along with the meteor, leaving Dick and Sally to love uninterrupted in their space capsule as Jane waves forlornly from the control room.

If you adopt the Romantic Fantasy cape, your story features dragons, wizards, or fairies working to repel the meteor heading for them, preferably with magic. Perhaps the near miss with the meteor was foretold in a prophecy naming Dick The Chosen One, which tests his relationship to Sally. Dick and Sally hold onto their love in the face of fantastic odds.

If you assume the Time Travel uniform, some or all of the cast must travel through time to solve the meteor strike problem. Perhaps Dick travels to the past, leaving poor Sally in the present. Will their relationship survive the distance? If Dick changes something in the past, will Sally still be in the present anxiously awaiting his return? Or will he return to find her happily (or unhappily) paired with Ted? Perhaps Jane sees her chance with Dick now that Sally is out of the way. In the end, Dick and Sally are reunited and it feels so good.

If you don the Erotic Romance robe, you’ll need to add steamy sex scenes in specific chapters. The impending meteor and Ted and Jane's interference fuel the fire.  As long as they fog up the windows while fighting for their lives, you're good to go. In the end, the meteor misses and Dick and Sally wind up in bed, thankful to have dodged the celestial bullet. Ted and Jane may end up in bed together as well, even though they pretend to hate each other.

Whatever costume you choose, your romance should satisfy the reader by answering the question: “Will they or won’t they?”

The answer should be, “Yes.”

If your reader is titillated and satiated by the story’s end, they will love you for it.

Next time, we'll take the story for a Thriller ride and explore how the different sub-genres affect the trajectory.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Oh, Diana, what a way you have of summing up book-loads of insight in compact and clever form. It borders on poetry. And just in time for me to check my WIP against the templates. It's either a Romantic novel with a Mystery and Suspense subplot or a Mystery with a Romantic subplot. In any case, it has love and murder throughout.

    There's an old saw in marketing--which I first heard from a publisher--that if you target the union of two market segments you can get the intersection. In plain English, the readership for Romantic-Mystery could be only those few who like both Romance and Mystery. Do you think this is true in practice?

  2. Such a nice post, Diana! We're always explaining sub-categories to writers, and you put it so well.
    Thank You!

  3. Larry, that depends entirely on the reader. I prefer more sleuthing than snogging in mysteries. Some prefer the snogging over the sleuthing. The important thing is to make certain your "promise" is clear up front (i.e. in the synopsis or cover blurb). Tell the reader it's a romance with a bit of mystery or a mystery with a bit of romance. It's all about the central conflict. The goal is to not mislead or disappoint your reader. People are far more likely to complain about something they didn't like than to compliment something they liked!

  4. Hey, what if the meteor hits and the world becomes a post-apocalyptic hell-scape and ... wait a minute ... wait a minute ... yeah ... Dick, Ted, Jane and Sally must start a new society while fending off the flesh-eating mutant zombies ... but in order to deepen the gene-pool, it gets pretty kinky, and ... oh, gotta go take my medication now.

  5. Christopher, I think you're onto a new television series. : )

  6. What a terrific explanation of how to use setting to advantage. I am going to pass a link to this on to some of my editing clients. Thanks, Diana.

  7. Thank you for defining in such a succinct way how to tweak a manuscript depending upon the major genre and sub-genre elements. Really looking forward to the thriller genre post and it's sub-genres coming up!

    Jordan Ireland
    Homicide Detective & Criminal Profiler
    The Jordan Ireland Series
    by Kat McLaughlin

  8. Juicy, Diana! I actually choose my cozy mystery reads because they have a good dose of romance in them. Romantic thrillers are good, too, although sometimes the thrills are a bit too intense for me.

  9. Thank you for explaining the various aspects of romance! Very interesting! I think nearly every novel needs at least an element of romance in it.

  10. Larry, per agents/editors/authors I've spoken with: If you're writing romantic suspense (or romantic mystery), the rule of thumb is you solve the mystery/deal with the suspense threat BEFORE you let hero and heroine have their HEA.

    I read both romantic suspense and mystery, so I'm an audience for both genres. (And just so happens that's what I write, too. Hmmmm... wonder why)

    Terry's Place

  11. HEA? Is that like RITH? ;)

  12. Dani, I keep forgetting the editorial focus of this blog. Should have spelled it out: Happily Ever After.

    Terry's Place

  13. Hahaha. Mine is Roll in the Hay, in case you wondered. Pronounced like "writhe" which is just too close to "write" as far as I'm concerned. LOL.

  14. Diana, I'm sure I'll be sending many clients here over time for this clever and extraordinarily clear tutorial about the romance genres. On their behalf; thanks!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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