The Romance Formula

Hey Lovelies,

Last week recap: You suffered through my rant about the romance genre. I brought up my issues with it, which mainly dealt with the romance formula and how this can limit the exposure that romance writers get and how they aren’t seen as worthy writers. With that being said, if this is the type of fiction that you’d like to write, then I’ll help break it down for you and give some tips on how to take it outside of the formula. (Disclaimer: taking things outside of the genre may not get you published unless you go through self-publishing. I still suggest taking it outside of the formula.)

The formula for a romance novel/story:

  1. Boy meets girl (Or whatever your sexuality or gender preferences are).
  2. They either date or fall into a relationship.
  3. Sex generally happens (Though not in young adult fiction. Don’t have sex in that. Parents will kill you.)
  4. They have some sort of fight.
  5. They make up from the fight. Two option form from this: The characters either go about life happily while one character plots a proposal or they go through an external crisis (i.e., disapproving parents, death of a loved one, natural disaster, etc.).
  6. Depending upon above: the one character proposes and is accepted (Yay!), or they get through the traumatizing event, and then there is a slightly spontaneous proposal that is accepted.
  7. Happily Ever After!

This is the basic formula for a romance novel or story or film. There can be variations in this structure, especially if adding in a bit of sci-fi to the plot or it’s a mystery romance. Honestly, if you need a better break down than this one, YouTube has some good, but dry, videos for you to look at. I’m more interested in breaking this formula and making it new and exciting.

Ways you can disrupt the formula:

  1. Have it, so it’s not just male-female. Add in LGBTQ+ stories. They have a right to be heard, and they’re going to have different challenges than a typical heterosexual relationship will.
  2. Don’t have a happily ever after! Not all relationships end with the two main characters being together. Sometimes it’s a great fit between the two of them, but they can’t work it out. This is why we love/hate Nicholas Sparks (Best of Me/Walk to Remember – Why Sparks why?!).
  3. Have it so your story doesn’t end at the proposal. Have your story go beyond the proposal into what their lives are like after that moment. Do they stay together? Do they have kids? What goes wrong? What goes right?
  4. Don’t have them meld into a comfortable relationship. Yes, this can happen in real life, but it’s rarely smooth. Have dates, but have them be awkward at the same time. Better yet have them go out on a date and not have them click, but years later they finally do. Have a friends-with-benefit relationship that works out. Have them use dating apps! They don’t have to meet at the bar.
  5. Basically, things need to be awkward. Maybe your characters are virgins. Have one of them freak out because the other person touched their breast (I know I definitely freaked out when that happened for the first time).
  6. Don’t be afraid to play with the timelines and structures to your stories. Have it all in letters or text, for instance. Or have the story jump from the past to the present or future.
  7. Add in the hard stuff and don’t gloss over it. Add in sexual assault or domestic abuse, but make sure you do your research into these subjects and issues and don’t gloss over them. The thing that ticks me off about authors having a character being sexually assaulted is that as soon as they meet a new person all that goes away and doesn’t affect them ever again. It doesn’t work like that. It stays with you for the rest of your life.
  8. Have your characters be of different body types and stereotypes than what you traditionally see in literature. They can be real people and are more enjoyable when we can see people we know or have known in them.
  9. Challenge gender roles.

I can probably think of more ways to make it new and fresh, but these are some essential ones that usually frustrate me when I’m reading a romance novel.

If all else fails, my last suggestion is for you is to go out there and do some research. That means heading over to your couch with a romance novel or queuing up all the chick flicks on Netflix. Just notice the different tropes that are used and how the stories are set up, and it will help with writing your romance novel or story.

Before I forget, next week I am giving a bonus post on Valentine’s Day, so pop on in on the 14th for that. Until next week.



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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


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