Not all romances are the same . . . just looking around the world will show you that. The same goes for romance in fiction. As much as I wish that there was a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter formula for romance, there really isn’t. However, I can tell you that there are some tried and true methods that do make romances work. Think of these more as guidelines than hard-and-fast rules.
1. Hero and Heroine are often at odds. Whether it’s something major like opposing careers, or something seemingly small like teacher vs. parent, they begin at odds. This could last a page, or it could last the whole first act. That depends on how integral the opposition is to your story. If it’s something major, prepare to carry their “at odds” feelings toward each other for several chapters. But not too long, or readers will grow antsy. They’re reading for the romance, so you need your Hero and Heroine’s opposition to funnel into . . .
2. The Spark. Whether this is your inciting incident, or something further into Act 1, there is a spark that opens up the possibility for romance in the future. The opposition may still be alive and well, but an event/word/action creates that window in your Hero and Heroine’s heart, making their views shift just enough. Maybe they don’t have to be enemies anymore; maybe they could . . .
3. Respect. The spark makes room for respect to grow, despite their differences. At this point, they believe that, if nothing else, they can appreciate certain qualities in each other—maybe qualities they find lacking in themselves. Usually the spark is the event that leads to respect. Did your Hero witness your Heroine doing something brave, when he otherwise thought she was weak? Did your Heroine see your Hero act tenderly toward someone, when her opinion of him was brash and unsympathetic. If they’re not careful, respect will turn to . . .
4. Friendship. With the windows in their hearts cracked open, your Hero and Heroine will witness more and more of each other’s positives, and the negatives will begin to matter less. Opposition may still be a barrier that keeps them from getting together, but their friendship is motivating them to fight against that opposition in the name of camaraderie.
**In fact, as a side note, it’s imperative in a romance to have an over-arching reason why the Hero and Heroine can’t be together . . . if there wasn’t, then what’s stopping them from getting married now and heading off into the sunset, ending the story in chapter 2?
5. Realization of Love. Friendship develops into that magic moment when they realize they love each other. Whether this is brought on by something traumatic, or sweet, or the fact that they realize they can’t be together, they come to the conclusion that they don’t want to be apart again. Now they must . . .
6. Fight to stay together. Tension ratchets another notch higher. All the cards are stacked against them. Now that they’ve realized what could’ve been theirs all along, they must gather up everything within themselves so they won’t . . .
7. Lose love. As with most stories, everything must crash and burn. What was going so well in point #5 must now be blown to smithereens. Why? Because our characters are human, and they must learn those final lessons that will make them stronger individuals as well as a stronger couple—that is, if they can . . .
8. Defeat the beast and win love back. In general fiction, this may or may not happen. Not every story has a happy ending, but I’m of the opinion that if you’re writing a romance, it will. Readers are waiting and watching for the Hero and Heroine to get together—especially if you make points #6 and #7 strong! Here, they’ve counted the cost, they know what it’s like to lose love, and they stop at nothing to win love back. Their love will never be the same because of point #7, but it’ll be stronger, able to stand the test of time and tragedy.
And if all goes well, your readers will reach THE END with a sigh, maybe wipe a few tears, and carefully set the book aside (or hug it for a while) because you’ve taken them on an unforgettable emotional journey.