What makes a romance novel a romance? How do you write a kissing book?
Writing a well-structured romance isn't the same as writing any other genre—something the popular novel and screenwriting guides don't address. The romance arc is made up of its own story beats, and the external plot and theme need to be braided to the romance arc—not the other way around.
Told in conversational (and often irreverent) prose, Romancing the Beat can be read like you are sitting down to coffee with romance editor and author Gwen Hayes while she explains story structure. The way she does with her clients. Some of whom are regular inhabitants of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.
Romancing the Beat is a recipe, not a rigid system. The beats don't care if you plot or outline before you write, or if you pants your way through the drafts and do a "beat check" when you're revising. Pantsers and plotters are both welcome.
So sit down, grab a cuppa, and let's talk about kissing books.
Flawed but Useful
This isn’t so much a review of the book as a discussion of my reaction to it. For what that’s worth. I picked up Romancing the Beat because it was recommended on a podcast for authors who want to analyze what does or doesn’t work in their romance plots. And while I’m content to write books where the romance doesn’t follow a conventional structure, I’m also rather analytical and figured it would be useful to understand what people meant when they talked about “the standard romance novel structure.” I can see how Hayes clearly lays out one of the popular structures for romance novels. And if you want to write that specific type of romance, I think this is a good primer for how to do it.
The problem I have is the author’s insistence that this is the One True Romance Plot. Because it doesn’t work for me as a reader. In fact, in parallel with reading Romancing the Beat, I happened by chance to be reading a historic romance that followed this exact structure. And the points where it most closely followed the prescription were the points where I felt the strongest urge to throw the book across the room. And I love romance, I just don’t love some of the specific story-beats that Hayes treats as a sine-qua-non.
And yet … when I was sorting through the outline of a project that’s moving from random notes and character sketches to actually in-process, I decided to match my plot against the structure Hayes describes, and then see how much tweaking it would take to follow it. I think I got about an 80% match, and I think the story is better for it. (I just left out the parts that drive me crazy, like the bit about how the characters must be completely romantically broken at the start, and how it must be clear that only this particular match can “heal” them, and the specific number of minor crises one must endure before the end.)
So, although I spent most of my read through this book shouting angrily at the author, and I remain in deep disagreement with her premise that this is the One True Way to write romance, I can’t say that I didn’t find the book useful or thought-provoking.