You may have heard before that there’s no perfect way to write a book. Unlike science, writing can’t be broken down into a chemical equation. Well, I’m here to tell you that that’s not entirely true. Here are the 7 stages that take place in (almost) every romance novel.
Phase 1: The Chemical Equation
Everyone knows the first stage of finding X is deciding what formula to use. Lucky for us writers, our only equation is The Why. Why do the remaining events of the novel absolutely have to take place?
Daphne Bridgerton absolutely must find herself a husband or she risks becoming the talk of the ton and ruining the Bridgerton reputation on the marriage market for years to come. Conveniently for her, much too conveniently if I do say so myself, The Duke of Hastings is equally as interested in appearing “off the market” and avoiding the intentions of scheming mothers.
In other words, girl needs boy and boy needs girl. Now all they need to do is meet.
Phase 2: The Meet Cute
Otherwise known as The Catalyst, The Meet Cute is exactly as it seems. The moment our main characters lock eyes just after running smack-dab into one another spilling coffee and papers all over the sidewalk.
Every swoon-worthy rom com needs a meet cute. There is, however, an exception: when The Meet Cute goes horribly wrong and the readers are left with two mortal enemies determined to best one another. If we’re lucky, it often leads our unsuspecting protagonist into a steamy situation.
Phase 3: A Steamy Situation
For any adult romance, this is the point of no return for our main characters. The big sha-bang. The joining, if you will. In this stage, Lucy Hale just found herself stuck in an elevator with Austen Stowell and they’re about to get caught in 4k doing what no workplace rivals in all of literary history have ever done before. Except in The Spanish Love Deception, Tools of Engagement, Love and Other Words, From Lukov with Love, and you get the picture.
Once the characters have encountered their steamy situation, it is somewhat of a turning point for the novel. This is when the relationship begins.
Phase 4: The Raise in Stakes
At the midpoint of the novel, we see a sudden rise in stakes. The stakes of a story are what the main character stands to lose. The raise in stakes comes from a (convenient without seeming too convenient) shift in the status quo for our main characters. Because Julia Quinn REALLY likes using these seven phases, once again, Bridgerton is the prime example. The ruse is working and Daphne Bridgerton has caught the attention of a Prince all while The Duke of Hastings was able to slip out of London undetected. All of this would be fine and well of course, if Simon hadn’t come all the way back into London just to see Daphne with no intention of truly marrying her, conveniently but not too conveniently, stranding the two of them alone and unsupervised in the garden macking on one another. After being caught, surprise surprise, they must get married. Despite the popularity of the Bridgerton series, a rise in stakes doesn’t necessarily have to be as grand as a duel and a proposal. However, the rise in stakes will always lead to the extended happy portion of the book. It is the longest section, of the novel and largely consists of date nights, meeting the family, grand gestures of love, more… steamy situations. If this ooey gooey romantic stuff isn’t for you, never fear. We are rapidly approaching the inevitable swivel.
Phase 5: The Swivel
There is a significant amount of time between the Raise in Stakes and the Swivel where everything is going well for our main characters. The Swivel is the second turning point of the novel. Basically, the part where everything turns to absolute s#@t for our main characters due to some unforeseen situation typically caused by a wild overreaction by one of them because of a miscommunication with the other. While this isn’t the exact moment where everything goes dark and twisty, it’s just one step off. This is your classic “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you” moment where one character resurfaces their disdain for the other in true “I knew you hadn’t forgiven me for that” fashion. After lots of finger pointing and blame placing, the characters agree it’s best if they just go their separate ways.
Phase 6: The Dark Moment
Ah yes, the aforementioned dark and twisty. Cue song Alone Again by Chad Fischer. Sometimes called The Crisis, The Dark Moment is immediately following the Swivel. It’s the part in the novel that basically no one wants to read and only a spare few brilliant romance writers have managed to perfect without a breakup. If you’re like me and couldn’t put down One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, this is when August kisses Jane on the train tracks, effectively being electrocuted. August wakes up and Jane is in 1977. Just as gut wrenching without potential fuel for future fires. However, with no conflict comes no conflict resolution.
Phase 7: A Joyful Resolution
In many cases, a Joyful Resolution comes with a grand gesture. How cute was it when Heath Ledger bought Julia Stiles the guitar in the last scene of 10 Things I Hate About You? Or when Ryan Reynolds stopped Sandra Bullock as she was cleaning out her office before getting deported in The Proposal? When writing a joyful resolution, it is imperative to write the most gut wrenching, earth shattering, reunion that makes the reader sit the book down and just sigh. Chasing each other through the airport always works. If you don’t have an airport in your book, they can always dance in the rain.
Now, I’m not saying you absolutely have to follow what I have started calling “The Love Map” in order to write a successful romance book in this market. But I am saying one or two grand gestures wouldn’t hurt. It is my hope that the next time you sit down to write a romance, you will remember these Seven Phases of the Perfect Romantic Equation.