In this post, we look at how romance authors learn to pace a romance novel.
What keeps a reader glued to the page? What makes a story ‘gripping’?
Compelling characters? Sensational setting? Intricate plot? Sure, if used correctly. All of these inform the most important thing any novel needs – Pacing!
Raising The Stakes
Pacing is the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ you raise the stakes for your protagonists. If there’s too many of them, it’s unrealistic. Your romance novel isn’t the Bourne Identity. If it all happens at the same time, or there’s too few of them, it’s boring. If the stakes are trivial, your plot is too weak. But one thing is true:
Stake-raising must happen in every act.
How To Pace A Romance Novel
- Hook The Reader
Spending time on your first line to ensure it’s the ‘hookiest’ line you can create is important. Hooky lines can be cliff-hangers at the end of scenes or chapters. As well as white-knuckled events, they can also be simple statements, or questions that threaten everything the heroine knows about the hero. Above all, they must raise the stakes.
- Introducing The Characters And The Inciting Incident
Introduce us, give us empathy for them, give us hints as to why they are perfect for each other, and then shatter their chances of finding each other. When Margaret Hale first meets mill-owner, John Thornton in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, it’s a shocking meeting. Tall, dark, good looking, and strong, he also seems arrogant, and brutal. The reader discovers that his actions are actually perfectly justified and done out of concern for his employees. This automatically raises the stakes for the reader. We know he’s a good man, but will Margaret realise this, and not scupper her chances at love?
- Throw Them Together
In North and South, John Thornton hires Margaret’s father as a tutor. He now spends time in the Hale house. And at every turn, Margaret shows her disdain for him. Not a wise move as he is also the Hale’s landlord. In You’ve Got Mail, Joe Fox is a threat to the existence of Kathleen Kelly’s corner shop. While propinquity is usually a sure-fire way of igniting romance, stakes must be raised. Animosity, misunderstandings, and consequences of both will put the potential relationship in jeopardy.
Act 2 is a good time to have the Margaret/Kathleen character begin to realise that the hero is not as bad as they first thought and makes a tentative move toward him, only to be rebuffed in some way. This should have unpleasant consequences. Not ones of the hero’s making necessarily, but consequences, nevertheless. For example, the hero’s secretary fails to inform him that the heroine is waiting to see him, and then the heroine sees him leave the building. She believes he is deliberately avoiding her.
- The Great Misunderstanding
Just as they are growing closer, beginning to understand each other, and acknowledging how they feel about each other, something needs to go horribly wrong. This is usually the point of The Great Misunderstanding. Be careful of these. Most romance novels present the reader with a ‘great misunderstanding’ that is so trivial a phone call could settle it. Don’t do that. Your misunderstanding must be a biggie.
In Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, this moment was Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth. For Darcy, he was truly in love, for Elizabeth it was the greatest insult, and all because of his rather poor delivery. It was also the catalyst for Darcy’s greatest change of character. Ensure that your characters grow throughout the book. There must be change.
In Act 3, the characters must overcome their fear, realise the other is the perfect person for them. Things begin to look rosy. Mothers begin planning weddings. But…all hope of their HEA must be dashed. Strewn upon the rocks, abandoned at the cliff edge. Teeth must be gnashed, brows and handkerchiefs clutched, by the reader if no one else.
The Dark Night Of The Soul
It is up to you to now create the ‘dark night of the soul’ for your characters.
- The Insurmountable Problem
He believes she is in love with his greatest enemy, a man he believes may kill her (Moonraker’s Bride by Madeleine Brent), her family disapproves, and he goes off to war, while she becomes engaged to another man (The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks), he leaps into the river after the crocodile who has swallowed the priceless ruby and disappears (Romancing The Stone), she realises it was his company that closed her bookshop (You’ve Got Mail), she is told he has married someone else (Persausion by Jane Austen) (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë).
Break your readers’ hearts’ by breaking the heart of your characters.
- The Last Minute Reprieve
At the last minute, before the boat sails, before she walks down the aisle, before she agrees to go to India as a missionary with the wrong man, he confesses his love, they realise her mother burnt his letters, she breaks off the engagement with the other man, he arrives back wearing crocodile skin boots, she realises he’s the only person for her, and she races across the moors to return to him.
True feelings are revealed, apologies are made, promises given, all doubts are resolved. The clouds part, the lovers are reconciled, and the hallelujah chorus roars out.
Suggested Posts On Romance Writing:
- A Quick Start Guide To Writing Romance
- All About The Romance Writing Genre
- The Almost Moment Is The Secret To Successful Romance Writing
- 5 Ways To Write A Modern Romance With A Classic Twist
- Why I Write Romance
- 20 Things To Remember When Writing Category Romance
- The Romantic Heroine
- The Romantic Hero
- The 4 Pillars Of Romance
by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series. Elaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.
More Posts From Elaine
- 9 Must-Have Ingredients In A Romance Novel
- 5 Things To Remember To Do When Publishing A Romance Novel
- 5 Things To Remember Not To Do When Publishing A Romance Novel
- What Is The Meet-Cute And How Important Is It?
- 5 Things To Remember When Outlining Your Romance Novel
- 5 Ways To Get You Through The Middle Of Your Romance Novel
- 5 Ways To End Your Romance Novel
- 5 Ways To Begin Your Romance Novel
- How Romance Writing Makes You A Better Writer