Are you trying to write a romance, particularly a category or genre romance? In this post, we look at how the four pillars of romance can improve your love story.
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In this post, I will be exploring the four pillars of romance.
Warning: this post may contain spoilers for Pride and Prejudice—may even require the reader to be familiar with Jane Austen’s masterpiece. If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice yet, consider this your call to action!
Romance is one of the most popular genres in the world. Heck, even stories in other mainstream genres often feature a love story sub-plot, so Romance is ubiquitous in storytelling. And yet, despite this, few entries in the genre are canonised as great Romances in the way Pride and Prejudice is.
But—wait—since Romance is a genre with which we’re all so familiar, why is it so few writers seem to understand how to write a Romance that has a lasting impact?
In this article, we’re going to look at the tropes and structures of Romance by analysing the best of the best: Pride and Prejudice. Let’s see if we can sort out this mystery of what makes a Romance great by analysing the pillars of romance!
The 4 Pillars Of Romance
Pillar #1- The Couple: Lover And Beloved
Well, you can’t have a Romance without at least these two characters: The Lover and The Beloved.
- The Lover is the character pursuing a relationship, the one trying to win the love of the Beloved.
- The Beloved is the character The Lover is pursuing, the one the Lover wishes to woo and win over.
The story can be told from either character’s perspective to create mystery and suspense about the other’s goals and intentions. Or the story can even switch back and forth between the two character’s perspectives to create dramatic irony.
Either approach is fine.
You just want to make sure you choose the method that best serves the story you’re telling. For instance, Pride and Prejudice works so well, because we only have access to Elizabeth’s biased view of Darcy. But if we’d known what Darcy was really doing all along and why, that would suck all the drama out of the piece.
The most important thing about these two character types is to convey clearly what they want, how they plan to get it, and why they want it.
Bland Romances make the catalyst for the relationship based solely on one character finding the other physically attractive, or wanting their wealth, or both at once. Let’s be honest–these are shallow and unsatisfying reasons for the character’s courtship. And, while the plot goal of the Lover can be just to win the Beloved, it’s wise to give them each their own personal story goals. It’s even better if these goals are at odds with one another–they may also be the impetus for their first meeting.
For instance, imagine Pride and Prejudice without its subplot of Elizabeth encouraging Jane to spend time with Bingley and Darcy forbidding Bingley to pursue Jane. What if Pride and Prejudice were missing all the other subplots where Elizabeth and Darcy clash? It would make for some dull, one-dimensional storytelling.
Pillar #2- The Obstacles: Rivals, Taboos, And Loved Ones—Oh My!
Now, we can’t have the lovers do the whole meet-cute thing, fall for each, and live happily ever after. There needs to be some serious obstacles they must overcome first. They have to illustrate their commitment to one another and make their relationship work, day-by-day regardless of what they face.
One way to do this is to have other potential suitors competing for each of the character’s attention and affections. If, by the end, the Lover and Beloved choose each other over all other options, this reinforces the power of their commitment.
As for taboos? They don’t have to be anything too dramatic. Most often the taboo has to do with characters crossing social stratifications: in Pride and Prejudice an Upper-class Lover (Darcy) pursues a Lower-class Beloved (Elizabeth). Pretty simple.
While taboos are macro-level, socio-cultural obstacles faced by the lovers, at the more inter-personal level, they may have friends and family who disapprove of the match for reasons of their own. Maybe, years before the couple met, the Lover helped sue and destroy the family business owned and operated by the Beloved’s parents. Yikes! That could be reason enough for the Beloved’s family to look askance at their relationship.
[TIP: If you want to write a romance, buy our online romance writing course, This Kiss]
Pillar #3- The Romantic Arc: Winning And Losing And… Winning Back Again?
Here’s a quick and dirty outline of how most Romance plots unfold:
- Lovers meet.
- Lover falls for Beloved.
- Lover pursues Beloved.
- Lover wins over Beloved.
- The Couple grows closer.
- Lover loses Beloved.
- Lover wins back (or fails to win back) Beloved.
This is one of the most compelling pillars of romance writing.
The most important sequence in a Romance is plot points 4-6 (and a particular scene between them we’ll cover in a moment). This is the couple’s dark-night-of-the-soul—the worst-case scenario for their relationship. And, as with any story, this is the climax when the character(s) face their worst fear and either overcome it, proving their worthiness to claim the object of desire they’ve been seeking (i.e., a relationship), or fail to achieve and suffer the consequences.
I mean, if your expressed goal is to be in a committed relationship with someone, it can’t get any worse than breaking up. Some might say one character dying would be worse, but in a breakup, the other person is saying: I want nothing to do with you, and it’s not because I don’t know you—it’s because I know you that I don’t want to be with you.
And that is brutal.
Pillar#4- The Lover’s Sacrifice
If a story could be boiled down to one thing, it’s an account of how someone faces increasingly tough tests of commitment to a goal/object of desire they claim is all-important to them. If they don’t achieve their goal, it’s for one of a few reasons:
- They weren’t strong enough to achieve their goal.
- They realised it was the wrong goal and moved on.
- Or, at the final test, they quit—proving their goal wasn’t as important to them as they claimed.
The couple’s breakup sequence lays the groundwork for their last test (or the Lover’s last test, really). This is when, even knowing it’s hopeless to try and win back the Beloved, the Lover makes one last-ditch effort to show the beloved how important they are. The Lover does this through a wholly selfless act or gesture that will benefit them in no way (may, in fact, hurt them), but they do it because they think it will help the beloved in some major way.
Think of Darcy secretly finding Lydia and Wickham, then paying for their wedding. Not only is this of no benefit to Darcy, it is painful and humbling. This action is made even more potent by the fact that Darcy tries to keep his good deed secret from Elizabeth. He helps Lydia and Wickham (despite his disdain for them), because he knows it will mitigate a great deal of pain for Elizabeth and her family.
The last story beat (The Aftermath) reveals whether the Lover’s final sacrifice did, in fact, have any substantive effect on the Beloved toward restoring the couple’s relationship. And, yes, a great Romance can have a down ending. (This is obviously not true for category romances, but fine for a general romance.) In film, many of the movies considered great love stories are down-ending Romances. In these “Doomed Romances”, as they’re sometimes called, the point is to reveal the profound impact people can have on us, for good or ill, even if they are in our lives only briefly.
But I’m sure most readers here are primarily interested in “happily ever-after” endings. Here, the point is to show how the Lover and Beloved complement one another in navigating life’s difficulties, how they push each other to grow as people in a way that betters both.
The Final Word
Pride and Prejudice is a masterpiece of Romance because it uses the four pillars of romance. Elizabeth and Darcy help reveal each other’s flaws in a way that allows them both the necessary insight to begin to overcome those flaws. It is arguably one of the greatest love stories ever told and yet there’s nothing “spicy” about it– no love scenes, not even a kiss! But perhaps that is what so many would-be great love stories get wrong– they confuse the side-effects of a Romantic relationship (mutual attraction, powerful emotions, and physical intimacy) for the thing itself. But two people mutually sharpening one another’s character and growing together? Now THAT is Romance.
I hope this post on the four pillars of romance helps you write the perfect love story.
[TIP: If you want to write a romance, buy our online romance writing course, This Kiss]
by Oliver Fox
Oliver earned his BFA from the University of Memphis (2015). After graduation, he worked as an editorial assistant for The Pinch (’16). Currently, he works as a manuscript analyst and is an MFA candidate at the University of New Orleans. He is the author of The Fantasy Workbook.
More Posts From Oliver
- The Super Simple Story Structure & How to Use It
- The Pros And Cons Of Plotting & Pantsing
- The 4 Pillars Of Fantasy
- 5 Story Killing Mistakes And How To Fix Them
- How To Write Positive And Negative Character Arcs
- How To Write Like Hemingway With These 10 Easy Tips
- The 3 Pillars Of Horror
- Billy Collins’s 6 Elements Of A Poem
- 9 Ways To Write With Literary Flair
Suggested Posts On Romance Writing:
- All About The Romance Writing Genre
- Why I Write Romance
- 20 Things To Remember When Writing Category Romance
- 5 Ways To Add Layers To Your Scenes In Historical Romances
- 10 Things Every Romance Writer Needs
- Romance Writing – Sex Sells
- Heroes And Anti-Heroes – What’s The Difference?
- Writing Sex Scenes – If You’re Brave Enough To Try
- Love Is Never The Goal – Even When You Write Romance
- Should Men Write Romance?
- Learn How To Write A Romance Novel
- 8 Tips For New Romance Writers
- 5 Ways To Write A Modern Romance With A Classic Twist
- The Almost Moment Is The Secret To Successful Romance Writing
- The Romantic Heroine