Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Writing Love Stories For Dummies (Like Me)

This week's blog-post-brainstorming started with a good, old-fashioned dither. I'm still researching Tibet, you see, so - hmm, how to say this nicely - my current process is REALLY EFFING BORING.

Not that the research is boring; not at all. As I've mentioned, I love research (most of the time). It's just that telling you about that process is rather akin to forcing you to sit through a dull lecture by a professor who sounds like the teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

So, I dithered. And then I thought: WAIT! I'm not just researching Tibet; I've also been researching love stories!

Why? Well, part of my advice to people when they're struggling with plot (besides go back to your characters, of course) is to look for some way to frame the plot; some plot-skeleton to hang your story-flesh off of, if you'll excuse the unsettling metaphor. This can be literal - when I was writing Cloudland, I used Joseph Campbell's monomyth - or it can be thematic. You know, some kind of writing prompt, or jumping-off point, like, in the month of April I'll write blog posts for every letter of the alphabet. Or something.

For this WIP, since a) it's about love, and b) it follows souls through multiple lifetimes, I thought I might be able to structure each lifetime around one of the Great Love Story Plots.

Except, erm, I didn't know what they were. What?? I've never claimed to be an expert on writing romance. Far from it, actually. This is where all of you romance writers point at me, and laugh, as well you should. But I really did do some research on it.

So, for all of you non-romance writers, who, like me, freeze in panic when they have to write a love story, I want to share the most helpful thing I found in my research thus far: a fantastic old blog post by one Margo Berendson, listing her idea of the 13 standard love story plots, with examples for each.

For those who don't have time to click on the link, here's a little user's guide to the love plots I'm going to mention, quoted from her blog:

  • Reluctant love: "where two people are forced by circumstances into a betrothal or marriage. Sometimes both are reluctant partners; sometimes one is willing, the other reluctant. As the reluctant one comes to know her partner better, they genuinely fall in love"
  • Love Torn Apart: "the opposite of a happily-ever after, where love reigns for a while, but then is torn apart by circumstances" 
  • Love Forsaken: "a pair of lovers where one rejects the other (usually because of unequal status or to honor the family), and then regrets it"
  • You're the Last Person I'd Ever Love: "two characters start out disliking each other, often quite intensely, and then fall in love as they get to know each other better"
  • Forbidden Love: "Romeo and Juliet, Lancelot and Guinevere, Paris and Helen" and so on. 

If you found those helpful, I highly recommend checking out the original post. Just sayin'.

Anyway, thanks to that post, I'm off and running, and GOD does it feel good to have a sense of the overall structure of this monstrosity that I'm working on. And because I'm me, and I am incapable of doing anything simply, I want to combine these plots to make new stories. Yes, one lover might be headed towards an arranged marriage, and therefore a reluctant love plot, but suddenly another character arrives in the story, of the wrong race or gender or social class (or all of the above), and now we have a forbidden love story, with a dash of love triangle and great potential for love torn apart. And THAT is fun to write.

For example, I'm thinking my Ancient Greek story will combine jealous love and love torn apart (yes, I made the first one up, but I like it. Think crazy jealousy ruining everything, like in Othello), and my modern London story will be an amalgamation of you're the last person I'd ever love and love forsaken, with a possible, unusual, modern twist on forbidden love.

Silly? Maybe, but it's working, and I'll take that over dignity any time.

72 comments:

  1. I'm exhausted just thinking about this project of yours. :PPP

    But, yeah, my current WIP is a bit of a beast, and it was only after I found an interior structure (besides normal story structure) to hang the prose on that it all hung together.

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    1. LOL. Me too!!

      That structure DOES help, doesn't it? I hope your WIP is going well!

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  2. You're not alone here! I struggle with writing romance subplots and it's definitely something I need to work on. I'm actually thinking the secret love angle will work for my WIP. Thanks for the link! And it sounds like you're making some progress on this:)

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    1. Thanks, Quanie - that does make me feel better! I totally though you might laugh at me :) I'm so glad that link helped!

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  3. I don't think it's silly at all!

    Interesting love classifications there. I looked over Margo's article and couldn't really figure out how I'd classify 2 of my "love" stories. Your jealous love would fit one quite nicely, but not in a ruinous way. It's a touch of love forsaken, but really forsaken.

    Then there's the main couple. In love with the wrong person to Love torn apart to Discovering love in a strange place to Happily-ever-after love that isn't so happily-ever-after? Is there a classification for that?

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    1. Hmm. You mean happily ever after that ends after the after? That sounds like Sondheim's "Into the Woods" to me (which I LOVE). I'd say that sounds like love torn apart to me - it IS happy, and then it ends. Does that make sense? In either case, it sounds like a great story!

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    2. Into the Woods is tied for my favorite musical. The princes made me giggle. My second favorite is My Fair Lady.

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    3. Yes, totally!! The princes are hilarious.

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  4. Writing romance - ug! When I go at those, I feel as romantic as a rock. I like those classifications; they really break things down nicely. Mixing them really sounds like fun :)

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    1. LOL, I know, me too!! I'm glad they helped you - they definitely helped me, too. And welcome back!

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  5. Romance is definitely hard for me too. It's one of my major 'must-fix' parts when I start revising. And writing kisses- ugh! Anything too simple is blah, and when I start trying to make it more interesting, it just gets...weird. =/

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    1. Ugh, I know! It seems like it should be easy to write a kiss, but it so isn't. And you're right - it's really hard to make it interesting, because it quickly get gross!

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  6. Thank you for this! I also am not a romance writer; I write character, and if they happen to fall in love . . . I'm kinda screwed. Weird because I do like reading Regency romances and watching romantic comedies . . . When people tried to say The K-Pro was a romance, I was like: "Noooo. There is a fated attraction there but not really a romance." But I think I might try to make the sequel a more standard romance. Challenge myself.

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    1. Haha, I love that you hope your characters don't fall in love!! I'm like you - I don't write about love very much, and I thought it might be time to branch out. So far, it IS kind of fun! I recommend it :)

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  7. Thanks, Liz, for these links! I think I've tended to write more "fairy tale" love stories, with the characters having some kind of obstacle. But I need to branch out.
    Kudos to you for doing all this research!

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    1. I love a good fairy tale/happy ever after love story! The Princess Bride will always be one of my faves. But yeah, branching out can be fun, too :)

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  8. I love how you write, Liz. You make me smile the entire time I read your posts.

    I have to give you mega kudos on the background research you put into your books. Also, I love the word dither! It's one of those words that don't get used often enough =)

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    1. On a side note: Blogger is being dumb. I can't follow you for some reason. I'm going to try one more time.

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    2. Well hey, thanks so much! I'm so glad. I always aim for a little humor :) And yes, I love dither, too!! It's such an awesome word.

      Thanks for the follow - I hope it worked!! If not, I hope you come back and try again. Let me know if it didn't, and I'll see if something is broken on my end...

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  9. Covering all of those will mean some serious juggling in your story. But you can do it.

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  10. My biggest problem is, everything I write turns into a love story! I was trying my hand at a YA for boys to impress my brood, but freaking love twists kept popping into the story. Good luck putting the meat on your skeleton's bones!!

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    1. Haha, I can see why that might be a problem if you want to impress boys! LOL. I can hear the "EWWWW"s now ;) The good news is that most of the rest of the population (minus pre-pubescent boys) can't get enough of a good love story!

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  11. I love the way you think, Liz. You find ways to make things fun and interesting. With a backbone of practical. I'd still be banging my head against my desk going, "Why won't this square peg fit in this round hole, dammit!?!"

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    1. Ha, that's a fantastic image, actually. "COME ONE DAMMIT STUPID PEG!" I do that sometimes, too :) But thank you!!!

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  12. Tibet, multiple lives, romance? Oh wow, I want to read this!! (Also, maybe some polyandry in there? I've always wanted to read a story with that in it... :) Best of luck on your research, and thanks for the great tips!

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    1. Thanks so much!! I hope you're patient - this is a BEAST! ;) And yes, polyandry will definitely be involved. You're the first person who's heard of it! I wrote a post about it, if you're curious: http://lizblocker.blogspot.com/2013/12/research-is-character-is-plot.html

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  13. This was very helpful! Thanks :)

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  14. I'm with Meradeth. Looking forward to you finishing this project so I can get my hands on it. *grabby hands*

    I've got something similar to Forbidden Love in my current project. They like each other, but responsibilities keep them apart.

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    1. LOL, I like the grabby hands :)

      That sounds like a cool twist on forbidden love - I like it!

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  15. Hi Liz!
    It's my first time on your blog and I must say, I've always wanted to visit Tibet. It's in my list of adventures to be had. And I love the breakdown of the love plots! :)

    Cheers,
    Anna

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    1. Welcome, Anna, and thanks for visiting!!

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  16. I think that's an awesome idea.
    Great post, too. Go, go, go! :D

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  17. Sounds so interesting. Jealous love can be Unrequited Love?

    Nas

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    1. Hmm, yeah, I could see that! Good idea :)

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  18. Great article. My most recent was a combo of Forbidden and some others. Hope it works.

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    1. Thanks, Susan. Sounds like a good story!

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  19. Very cool. ^_^ It seems TAW started as somewhere between Reluctant and Forbidden, and it's moving right into Love Torn Apart. I kind of wish I'd had these when I was writing it. Oi!

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    1. Hmm, yeah, I can see that! I hope it's only temporary Love Torn Apart, though!!

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  20. I'm comfortable with writing fantasy, but I don't think I'd ever be any good writing romance. Probably not even as a subplot within the story. I suspect I'd be too clumsy at it.

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    1. Well, that's what I thought, too, but I'm giving it a try, anyway. It could stink...but I hope not! Maybe you should try it? You never know... :)

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  21. Those are some good examples of love story plots. I'll keep them in mind if I ever switch genres. Good luck with your writing!

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  22. I love your idea of mixing the classic plots and using each one for some character. Ambitious, but you seem like you can actually pull it off.

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  23. Great reference post--thanks for sharing!

    Glad it's helped you move forward with your opus :)

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  24. I have romance in my books, but I don't consider myself a romance author. I'd like to write romance books, though. I've read enough of them. Maybe I should study them and the themes more.

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    1. You definitely should - so far it's fun!

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  25. This is my weak point and just what I need. Thanks for sharing!

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  26. I will admit, when it comes to writing, I am a dummy. Thanks for all the great tips.

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    1. LOL, well, when it comes to photography, I'm a dummy, too :)

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  27. Hi Liz - I see you know a few people from the engagement of your post - writing love stories for dummies: I don't think I could do that .. so great pointers for us all.

    I'm over to welcome you to the A-Z in a couple of weeks ... and hope you're geared up for it .. if you've any questions please just ask Tina, one of the co-hosts or I (should that be me?!),

    http://kmdlifeisgood.blogspot.co.uk/ Tina is here!

    I see you're technically very with it .. and I'm sure you'll get your A-Z badge up ... I must do mine ...

    Cheers and look forward to seeing you during the A-Z .. Hilary

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    1. Thanks, Hilary! And thanks for the reminder to put up my badge. I'll do it soon!! Thanks so much!

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  28. Sounds like you're making progress, Liz. I'm a fan of those "love torn apart" tales, but I'm a sucker for tragedies.

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    1. Funny for a guy who writes humor so well... ;) I'm with you, though - I love a good tear-jerker, too!

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  29. Yay! I am all about the love stories. :D

    (Which people find hilarious, since I'm such a cynic in "real life"! LOL)

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    1. haha, I know - love stories bring out the sappy romantic in all of us!

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  30. Dignity is way overrated. Love story research sounds like the best kind of research that ever existed.

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    1. LOL, thanks, Nicki. It IS pretty loevly research. Not nearly as dry as other kinds... ;)

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  31. Ack, I swear I commented on this thread last week. Blogger really hates me lately. And, as a tried and true romance writer (believe me, I've tried to write other stuff but my characters won't let it happen), I'm totally not laughing at you!

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    1. Seriously, your Blogger luck has not been good this week!! Well, thanks for coming back - and for not laughing at me! :)

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  32. Ooh, that is a great post - thanks for linking to it. This one's my favourite to read in novels: "You're the Last Person I'd Ever Love: "two characters start out disliking each other, often quite intensely, and then fall in love as they get to know each other better""

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    1. Me, too!! Probably why Pride & Prejudice has always been one of my favorite books :) I'm glad you found that post helpful, too!

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  33. Very interesting. I like how you brought in examples from ancient Greece.

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  34. Liz...glad I came back to this one. I suck at writing love stories, or at least romantic ones and am going to that link to bookmark. Seems quite helpful.

    I have a book that's similar on archetypes. I follow that when creating characters, or find that my characters seem to be naturally following one of the archetypal paths.

    Your book seems to be shaping up. Don't you love it when the research starts clicking?

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    1. Oh, thanks for coming back to all of these posts, Mike! I'm glad this one was helpful :) It IS shaping up - thanks!!

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    2. Oh, and what's the book on character archetypes? Sounds right up my alley.

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