Friday, May 27, 2011

All you need is love... and some other stuff (notes on Sarah M. Eden's epic romance class)

First of all, if you're not already a fan of Sarah M. Eden, run--do not walk--to where you can get to know this charming lady and find out about her regency romances, like The Kiss of a Stranger, and one now firmly on my TBR list: Courting Miss Lancaster.

Her presentation was incredible! Funny, relevant, detailed, and eye-opening. I left with all kinds of ideas for making my contemporary fantasy's romantic plot line more real and intense.

So here are my notes, mostly taken directly from her Powerpoint presentation at LDStorymakers 2011 with a few of my thoughts or interpretations added in (you know how notes are).

Love is a universal human experience and emotion.
Love is a basic human need.
Love adds depth to any story.

In a Romance:

  • the story question is ALWAYS will the couple end up together?
  • the story question answer is ALWAYS YES!
  • the love story is what drives the plot; it's never secondary to any other plot line.
  • the romance is the POINT to the story

Common Romance Pitfalls:
  • Love in a vacuum: no existence outside of the couple OR so much else going on that you lose the romance, like they're never actually together.
  • Romantic tension relies too much (or entirely) on the physical (i.e. too spicy on the Sweet N Spicy Spectrum)
  • Little or no romantic tension: either they're not together enough or they come together too fast, too soon and the rest of the story is saccharine. OR they're unlikable characters and we don't care if they get together. 
  • Weak sources of conflict: what's keeping them apart is something a simple conversation could solve
  • The love has no foundation: it's purely physical or they don't spend enough time getting to know each other.
  • Reader doesn't care: Since romance is character driven, the reader must care about them.

Three Things Every Great Romance (or romantic plot line) Needs:

1. An emotional connection
  • Between your characters: being hot isn't enough. Emotional connections require interaction/time.
  • With the reader: strengths and weaknesses in characters, "realness." We need to feel like the heroine could be us or our best friend. And we need a reason to cheer for the couple (as individuals and together)
  • Pitfalls this resolves: the love in a vacuum problem, readers not caring, cliché plot.
2. Need fulfillment
  • needs can range from shallow to deep: a need to have an equal partner, a need to be loved, a need for companionship, a need for vitality and excitement
  • the needs should complement each other so they aren't dependent but inter-dependent
  • the deeper the need, the deeper the connection. Figure out what your hero and heroine need in a significant other.
  • Pitfalls this resolves: the love in a vacuum problem, weak sources of conflict, cliché plot and characters, plot has no foundation
  • what if their needs are in conflict with each other? Can they ever be together?
3. The couple is something to each other that no one else is (or can be)
  • If their connection is not unique, it will lack impact and will not be satisfying for your reader.
  • this is the reason their connection must go beyond love at first sight, infatuation, or physical pleasure.
  • Pitfalls this resolves: romantic tension relies too much (or entirely) on the physical, cliché plot and characters, love has no foundation
I know these notes are never the same as actually attending the conference and hearing the connections our presenters make between each bullet and number, but I hope you found it at least half as helpful as I did. Next week, I'll bring you my notes from Story Analysis Time, which was a Pride and Prejudice chat at the end of Sarah's class--possibly the highlight of the whole conference for me. I love talking about Darcy and Elizabeth!

Until then, happy romance writing! And have a fabulous weekend!


  1. I don't write romance, but I always have some romance in what I write. I do believe it's essential! It's also something I need help with (in the writing area, anyway. :)), so thanks for sharing these notes!

  2. Oh yeah, Shallee, every story has a romantic subplot, right? I don't write (or haven't yet written) books where the romantic plot was the major plot, but the one I'm writing now comes the closest to being one. It's YA contemp fantasy and the romance is a big feature. Sarah's class was SO helpful. She completely changed the way I look at my characters' romances. If she does Storymakers again next year, I'll def repeat her class. :)

  3. Gotta love Sarah Eden.

    Did the men in your life like Disneyland?

  4. Yes, Angie! Thanks for asking! Everybody had a blast. It was everyone's first time but mine. For me, it was the second trip (first was when I was twelve), so we made sure it was special and not too overwhelming for them. I watched the little guy most of the time so my husband and the 42" kid could go on most of the exciting rides. It was the perfect time to go.

  5. Great post. I do love an emotional connection between characters... but you know how I feel about adding a bit of hotness when the time comes :) And I love Pride & Prejudice!!!!!

  6. Oh, the hotness! I've got a picture for the Story Analysis Time notes post that you'll love. Today or tomorrow, I'll post the Colin Firth goodness.


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