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With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I thought I’d share today the magic formula to writing successful romance novels.
While it might be a magic formula, it’s not really a secret formula, because…well let’s face it – aren’t all sappy love stories pretty much the same?
Anyone who reads enough romance novels, or even perhaps watches enough sappy romance movies, can tell you that most love stories all follow a basic formula and plot structure, much to our chargrin.
Love stories might be terribly predictable and cheesy, but it’s what publishers believe their readers want – and they have the sales data to prove following this formula is what consistently sells well over and over again.
If it seems like every romance novel is the same, it’s because it’s a story structure that just works!
The Romance Novel Plot in 10 Chapters I’m sharing here is a classic love story plot that you can follow and customize as you like. Each chapter is a “beat” – which is the part of the story where something happens.
You of course have total freedom to change and adapt this outline as you like or even spread some parts over additional chapters, but if you want commercial success, you will likely not want to stray too far off the track.
And, if you hate this structure, no worries! It just probably means what you want to write might not actually be a romance novel.
Lots of fiction stories often have a love story as supporting plot, especially cozy mysteries, fantasy novels and more. If you hate this plot, check our our Hero’s Journey Beat Sheet – that might be more like the adventure you are looking for!
Chapter 1: The Set Up
This is where you introduce your main character + their ordinary, boring, loveless life.
Our main character is either convinced they will never find relationship, they are in a terrible relationship they hate, they’ve sworn off having a relationship ever again due to trauma from a past experience, or they are so busy/driven in their career or life its not even on their radar that they want a relationship.
In this chapter, the person they will eventually fall in love with is introduced. The main character is typically either clueless, disinterested or completely turned off by this person when they first meet.
Chapter 2: The Resistance
Our main character gets to know and spends a bit of time with the person they are destined to be with, but they want nothing to do with that person.
They have either one very GOOD reason or a whole list of reasons why they don’t want to be around this person.
The reason could be their own fears and insecurities or it could be a character flaw of the other person. In some romance novels, it could be forbidden relationship (think Romeo and Juliet) or something that would jeopardize their career.
In this chapter, our main character resists the idea of love and dismisses any idea of this person as a potential love interest.
Chapter 3: Too Many Coincidences
In this chapter, no matter what the main character does or where they go, they cannot get away from this person. It’s like the universe is plotting to put the two of them together in the same place all the time.
This is that classic point in a cheesy love movie where the person keeps showing up – rescues them out of a ditch, runs into them at the store, ends up volunteering for same project, etc. etc.
Chapter 4: Spending More Time Together
After enough running into each other, our main character is actually kind of starting to like the person, or at least are interested in hanging out with them. They might even go out and have a really nice time together.
Chapter 5: Falling in Love Isn’t So Bad
Our characters are both aware they are falling in love, and it seems like all is well and great. Our main character is hopeful for the future to include a long term relationship with this person.
Of course, our main character and their love interest may also be kind of wary of the relationship at this point. What about all those reservations they had in the beginning of the story?
Chapter 6: The Big Screw Up
In this chapter, the person our main character is falling for and enjoying spending time with does something really stupid + dumb that jeopardizes the entire relationship.
There’s usually some element of lying or hiding something from the other person, but could be anything really.
Chapter 7: The Break Up
This is the main character’s turn to do something dumb. They swear they are done with the person – they’ve screwed up way too much. It’s the last time! Except…
Chapter 8: The Realization
The main character realizes the person is the right person for them, even if one of them screwed up. The main character comes to the realization that they also screwed up.
Chapter 9: The Fighting For Love
This chapter shows one of the characters going to the lengths to fight for the relationship. It can be either the main character or the person they are falling in love with who does the fighting/chasing/pursuit.
Chapter 10: The Make Up
The two characters make up. All is well in the world and their love is stronger than ever for each other. The story ends with a happy ending, and love always wins.
Now that you have the basic understanding of a romance plot, you are ready to customize it however you like! And if you need some ideas for your next love story, be sure to check out my post of Romance Story Ideas for writing prompts to get your started!
Have any questions about writing a romance novel? What resources and tools could I share with you to help you on your romance writing journey? I’d love to help so just let me know in the comments below!