This might seem self evident, but a story is about something as well as someone.
As a romance writer and reader, I expect a couple of things from a story:
- A romance.
- Something keeping the parties in the romance apart
- A happily-ever-after ending. This includes the conclusion of the romance as well as removing and resolving whatever had kept the characters apart.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of stories with the first point but severely lacking in the second.
I may not be the average reader, but I need the “something keeping the characters apart” to be more than a misunderstanding a 5 minute conversation could fix.
Something bigger than “I forgot to tell you I wrote the letter”. Bigger than that “incident from ten years ago I had no control over and was no fault of mine but I still can’t possibly love again”.
Preferably, make it something important to the characters you made me love. If it is going to be something from ten years ago, make it so much more than something the character couldn’t control.
Perhaps that’s why I loved Finders Keepers so much. There was more on the line than hurt feelings. We’re talking about full-scale war between the Imperials, Conclave, and ‘Sco with the Imperials at a disadvantage if the ‘Sco and Conclave unite. An even bigger disadvantage if they can find a hidden back door. You feel the tension. There’s a lot riding on Rhys and Trillby.
And you care because you like Rhys. You want him to have a home to go back to.
There is so much more than “oh, there was a terrible accident, but I’m blaming my father without listening to him. Now I’m going to get even with my father by not having any kids and ending his line so I can’t marry you and live happily ever after”.
Um, yeah, which set of characters are you rooting for? Granted, my prejudice is clear in how I presented the scenarios, but you get the point.
Goes back to my character analysis on brooding heroes here and here. Introspection and learning from the past can make a strong hero and a good character arc. I can’t imagine living a life where you think you’re the ultimate stain, a result of your mother being seduced or raped. But I’d much rather read about a hero who turns that into an attitude of protecting women, children etc. from the same threat rather than a hero who abandons the heroine because he has feelings for her and he’s so unworthy.
Outside forces can be almost anything, especially if you’ve made me love your character and made this thing is important to the character.
It’s really up to the creativity of the author on how to use those outside forces and your characters’ needs to further the story of the romance. It’s all about how to get the characters together, keep the characters together, and give them the chance to fall in love. Yes, in a Romance novel it’s secondary to the Romance, but it’s still important.