As Joseph Campbell taught us, there aren’t a lot of stories. There’s myth and then there’s variation on it. And while we may not be telling hero stories within the romance genre, there are only a few basic plots.
- There’s the innocent and the rake. (Related: various redemption fantasies and Beauty and the Beast-type stuff.)
- There’s love across some sort of big old status divide, such as class, race, family expectation, vampire/human, etc. (Related: forbidden love and Romeo and Juliet-type stuff.)
- There’s the dispossessed hero(ine). (Related: the hero(ine) wants to get the hell out Dodge, the hero(ine) wants to change her fate, and Cinderella-type stuff.)
- There’s the protector/protectee. (Related: most romantic suspense and serial killer-type stuff.)
- There’s the arranged marriage/marriage of convenience.
And obviously all of these plots can be reversed, used in concert, or be adapted for MM or FF romance. But my point is: there really aren’t that many stories. What matters isn’t originality. That’s very difficult to achieve and perhaps over-rated. No, what varies are the telling and the characters.
In my current work in progress, I’m writing one of my favorite plots: the reunion of former lovers. This can play out in several ways, including the comedy of remarriage and the ever-popular secret baby. What I have in mind, however, is something akin to the The Merry Widow.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time listening my grandmother’s records of Viennese operettas that were popular in the 1930s. This may explain a lot about me. While most of my friends who were into pre-CD technology were proto-hipsters listening to punk or lo-fi, I was absorbing the complete collected works of Mario Lanza. But I digress.
There’s something consummately romantic, to my mind, about a story that finds two people who were in love and separated for whatever reason reconnecting and overcoming their differences. It’s very adult. It’s very real. It’s very relatable.
What I find difficult about writing this plot is explaining the first relationship without flashback or backstory dump. We have to like the characters and become invested in them and understand why things didn’t work the first time. Then, we have to be confident that things are different this time around.
What are some of your favorite plots? How do you make them fresh?