I realized my last post was about the plot outside the romance in a romance novel. All the things happening around the characters so they can’t just focus on what they feel for each other. We don’t want to make it too easy on them, now do we? Of course we don’t!
And while no one falls in love in a vacuum, I also thought I’d take a moment to discuss the plot of the actual romance.
Yes, I think there should be a plot, a progression to the romance. Even for the soul mates trope. Even for the love-at-first-sight trope.
Think about this for a moment. You see a handsome guy at Starbucks. You are instantly attracted. He comes over to you and you start talking. What’s your first reaction? Whoohoo, let’s jump in bed together? I’ve never known anyone like that, but okay, maybe it is. But are you then instantly in love with him? Ready to spend your life together? Ready to give up everything for him?
How does your heroine know she just pledged the rest of her life to Sir Lancelot and not Charles Manson?
Is this the kind of heroine a reader is going to care about? Or is she the kind of heroine a reader hopes you’re going to kill off by the end?
Yet, I have read this over and over again. One night and the hero/heroine is in love, ready to do anything, give up anything for that love. And it is completely unbelievable.
The romance is an integral part of the plot. It should grow throughout the book. Perhaps the characters even say they love each other midway through the story. That’s fine, especially if there’s going to be things that test that commitment, and through the challenge, strengthen it.
In really good romance novels, the non-romance plot helps drive the romance. It keeps the characters working together when they wouldn’t otherwise. It provides time and opportunity for the characters to fall in love. Perhaps even a few challenges and pitfalls.
This brings me to another point. In a really good romance, the heroine also won’t settle for a jerk.
If you don’t believe me, think back to Pride and Prejudice. I remember my first read through being shocked when Elizabeth told Darcy off after he professed his love for her. And then I was ecstatic. Yes. He deserved being told off. He was being a jerk. Why would she want to marry that? Spend the rest of her life with his condescension and derision?
Yet, in books written 200 years later, I’ve regularly been reading heroines settling for worse than Darcy. Heroes who’ve let them down when they needed them most. Heroes who used them and cast aside their feelings like McDonald’s wrappers. Heroes mentally or physically abusive. Really? Why do authors end their story with their heroine stuck with one of these guys? Jane Austin knew better 200 years ago.
Am I saying characters can’t start out as jerks and then learn and grow through the story?
Can an author convince me a truly selfish jerk suddenly becomes Mr. Perfect?
Depends on the crucible of the plot that author just put him through. The nastier the character starts, the more he has to go through to make his change believable. That makes the author’s job harder, but when done right, it also makes the reward for the reader that much sweeter. Best of all? The reader doesn’t get yanked from the world the author built when they roll their eyes.