On Stories: Relationship Plots: The Love Story vs. The Romance

The Love story and the Romance, what’s the difference?

Basically, a love story can be about anything: a man and a woman, two men, two women, a young boy and his dog.  Did you ever read Old Yeller?  How about a man and his statue – Pygmalion.  And can a puppet become a real boy?  Relationships stretch the emotional muscles and the love story is the basic relationship story.

On the other hand, Romance has a limited range of relationship options.  Publishers have great lists of dos and don’ts that they will gladly share with any aspiring writer.  And while I am no aficionado of the Romance, all of the basic elements of what I am calling plots of relationship can be found there as easily as in any love story. 

Without carving these words into stone, the basic plot is connection, separation, reconnection.  Hollywood put it this way:  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.  To be sure, in the romance novel it tends to be girl meets boy and etc.

Scarlet and Rhett sparked the first time they met.  They crossed paths several times during the story.  By the time they finally got together, frankly Scarlet I didn’t give a damn.  I guess Rhett agreed with me.  It didn’t work out.  But I know my Romance reader has been up nights on occasion wondering if these two are EVER going to get together.

As with all plots, there must be more than just following the formula.  This may be especially true of Romance stories, and especially hard since they are the most formulaic of all genres.  Publishers don’t want innovation, and yet the story must be unique enough to make it rise above the rest.  (Romance slush piles are enormous).  Good luck.

With the love story there is more flexibility but you need to keep the relationship in mind or risk devolving the story into sentimental tripe.  Spooning under the Moon can be a hard write because it has been done so many, many times.

It is possible for the lovers never to separate as in African Queen, or for the story to pick up at the second meeting as in Casablanca.  It is also possible to twist the relationship, as in Jane Eyre where Bronte adds an insane first wife, or a story where two strong-willed lovers attempt to control each other through manipulation or violence.  But as for the basics, consider this plot:

The Plot

The connection.  The story begins with the recognition of the chemistry between two people.  One may resist, but the reader knows it is inevitable.  By the end of the opening, there is a committed connection between the two.  That connection may be anything from marriage to the two not realizing it themselves – but it is there.  The opening ends, however, when whatever it is comes between them.

The separation.  It could be almost anything.  A jealous ex-partner, a terrible accident or disease, prison –just or unjust – anything.  It does not always separate the two physically, but there is something between them, a real obstacle that must be overcome.  This is the testing phase that proves the love is real. 

Generally here the story focuses on the point of view of the active seeker while the other person is passive (waiting to be saved).  In the fairy tale days, the damsel was in distress while the prince fought the dragon.  These days, she is just as likely to be the seeker as he.

The reconnection:  To be sure, sometimes it doesn’t work out.  Sometimes one dies as in Segal’s massive money making “Love Story.”  But generally, and especially in the romance novel, as I have said, people prefer happy endings.  Tears of joy are much more satisfying than tears of sorrow.

Next:  Forbidden Love and Temptation.

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