Updated: Dec 24, 2022
Does it seem like all the bestselling Young Adult Fantasy books nowadays have romance at the center of their plot?
If you're anything like me, you might be like, Annoooooying. My genre is Fantasy, NOT Romance, so why are all these romance writers in disguise making it at the top of the epic fantasy lists?
At the end of the day, I think we do have to admit that romance is important, especially in *young adult* fantasy.
Do you have to have romance to make a fantasy novel work? No, but I think more often than not, it'll increase your chances of breaking out if you can create a compelling couple.
After reading a few books on writing romance (I felt like a traitor to my own fantasy genre!), I've learned that a romance subplot has its own plot points the way your fantasy main plot does.
To save you time, here're what they are in four acts (I looove using a four act structure, but feel free to tweak as needed):
ACT I: Star-crossed lovers (or enemies).
Intro protagonist and love interest in a compelling way.
Ideas: Both your protagonist and love interest should have roadblocks that are keeping them from committing to a deeper romantic relationship in their present lives. What are those roadblocks/wounds, and how can you show them early on in your story?
Have a dramatic meeting.
Ideas: Sexy, totally embarrassing, intense, playful - decide on the mood!
Demonstrate why it *seems* like the love interest just isn't the right person.
Ideas: Does your protagonist walk in on love interest flirting with or kissing someone else? Is your love interest just so despicable that your protagonist swears never to see them as anything more than an enemy?
ACT II: I think I'm falling for this person.
Both characters demonstrate for a second time why they just can't fall in love.
Ideas: Remember the character roadblocks you came up with in Act I? Bring out those roadblocks again, and even though both lovers show physical signs of attraction, they are their own biggest obstacles to admitting their feelings.
Actually, what if this can work?
Ideas: Your protagonist or love interest shares something so intimate about themselves - ahem, think about the root source of their romantic wound - which opens them up to vulnerability. Their lover starts to see and feel for them differently now.
Wow, I think I really want this person.
Ideas: With the latter point, now they've crossed a line and can't go back. They're REALLY starting to feel for each other... and they start to show obvious signs that they want each other.
ACT III: Forever together... or so they thought.
Midpoint: the characters get together.
Ideas: It's finally out - your protagonist is totally in love with the love interest... and even better news, it's mutual! Hooray! Have a major high.
But things aren't as great as they seem.
Ideas: Signs everywhere suggest that the love interest isn't really who the protagonist thought they were. Are they a bad person? Are they doing questionable things in secret? Or worse... are they cheating on your protagonist?! But still, things are going great, and maybe it's just in your protagonist's mind...
Told you so.
Ideas: Some massive wedge comes between them that confirms their beliefs about romance (their romantic roadblocks/past wounds) are true. They get in a massive fight and split.
ACT III: Forever together... or so they thought.
Dark night of the soul.
Ideas: Just as your protagonist should be going through a "dark night of the soul" here in the main plot (the very lowest of their lows), their romance should also be at a low point around here. Things totally suck without their love interest in your main character's life.
Sound the horn - rise and fight!
Ideas: It hits your main character that they just can't go on without their love interest. And this entire time, they saw things the wrong way. They need to hurry off and redeem their love interest and convince them to come back!
ACT IV: Hurry, hurry, make things right!
Busting into the marriage ceremony scene.
Ideas: Here is the part where, in pure romance novels, your love interest is about to get married to her childhood friend who she doesn't really love, but your protagonist breaks into the wedding ceremony and yells, "Stop! I object!" And gives a grand speech to affirm his love and plead the love interest to come back. And of course... she does. Things are resolved, misunderstandings mended.
How the romance ends.
Ideas: The final scene(s) of romance between your protagonist and main character should look very sweet/fulfilling. Finally, after an entire plot of ups and downs, they are together. (Note: If the romance doesn't work out, this doesn't count as a "romance" plot, but a romantic plot since it doesn't follow the required rules for the "romance" (sub)genre.
And there you have it.
I used this same plot structure for Flameborn, and used it subconsciously for Queen of Diamonds. Spoilers: I may or may not be using this structure for Phoenix as well!
The above is based off Gwen Hay's Romancing the Beat. I recommend buying the book for more a in-depth discussion on the above (I have put my own spin on things). Bottom line though, it's worth reading a few books on the craft of romance if you plan on using the romance story structure in your fantasy novels.
What tips and tricks do you use when writing romance?