Defining Romance Plot Structure

Setup sequence

The setup sequence is approximately the first 15-25% of the manuscript where the hero and heroine (hero/hero or heroine/heroine), to be referred to as H1 and H2, are introduced as they are at the beginning of their character arc—two individuals capable of falling in love but unable to sustain a relationship because of an emotional issue they haven’t yet dealt with. The H1 and H2 have a meet-cute scene where they are instantly attracted to one another and also decide the other is an impossibility. The inciting incident is the reason the H1/H2 find themselves in a situation where they must spend time together whether it be forced proximity, a shared secret, or goal.

The beats

  • Intro H1, show emotional issue

  • Intro H2, show emotional issue

  • Meet-cute

  • H1, define the No

  • H2, define the No

  • Inciting incident

Falling-in-love sequence

Here the H1/H2 are still determined not to fall in love and find themselves doing so anyway—which occurs through very roughly 20% to 60% of the manuscript. This should happen through a series of scenes that portray each character in a positive light and proves to the other he/she is something special. (Although, some scenes should showcase seeds of doubt that will be explored in the next sequence.) The H1/H2 should each show some emotional growth that will lead to changes in their character arc. This leads to the midpoint where the two characters finally admit to a very close relationship, if not falling in love altogether, and think that things might actually work out. The only problem is neither H1/H2 is emotionally prepared to have a happily ever after.

The beats

  • H1 no

  • H2 no

  • H1, beginning to fall in love

  • H2, beginning to fall in love

  • H1, middle fall in love

  • H2, middle fall in love

  • H1/H2 fall in love with emotional issues unhealed

  • Midpoint

Retreating-from-love sequence

This is the sequence—roughly 55% to 80%— where things start to fall apart, slowly at first then very rapidly. The main problem between the H1/H2 is that they each have that unhealed emotional issue, and as the stakes rise, they are forced to choose between what feels safe (familiar) or taking a risk and choosing love. This is portrayed through a series of scenes where the H1/H2’s greatest fears come to fruition. By the time the black moment arrives, the emotional growth of the hero and heroine comes to a screeching halt, and they must not break up only for external reasons, but for internal reasons too.

The beats

  • H1 doubts

  • H2 doubts

  • H1 has more doubts

  • H2 has more doubts

  • H1 retreats

  • H2 retreats

  • Fight (black moment internal and external)

  • Break up

Fighting-for-love sequence

The final sequence—roughly 75% to 99%—showcases the final push for emotional growth of the H1/H2 as they each a) realize how and why they messed up, b) that they can’t possibly live without the other person in their life, and c) they must fight to get that other person back. Sometimes that means a grand gesture—like the mad run through the airport. Eventually the H1/H2 show that they have healed their emotional issue, through dialogue or through some action, ending their character arc and proving that have earned their happily ever after—or HEA.

The beats 

  • H1, dark night of the soul

  • H2, dark night of the soul

  • H1 catharsis

  • H2 catharsis

  • H1, grand gesture

  • H2, grand gesture

  • H1 show emotional issue healed

  • H2 show emotional issue healed

  • HEA