Tag Archives: Plot

Plot 101: Let’s Talk About Plot

Read on, and don’t forget to join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #sytycw.

How do you give your romance novel intensity and keep the reader turning the pages? Editorial Assistant Farah Chowdhury breaks down the basics of plot.

Farah Chowdhury @seefaraway

Farah Chowdhury @seefaraway

What is a plot? Plot in its most basic form is a series of linked events that take place – it is the stuff that stories are made of.  Without it your story would just be one very long, uneventful exercise. But don’t be fooled – simply having a story consisting of linked events isn’t enough – there are so many other things to think about. Here are our top three things to keep in mind when you’re thinking about how to make the most of your plot!



1. Conflict will help us learn about your hero and heroine. First and foremost, conflict is vital – it’s what makes your characters three-dimensional and gives them a clear journey to go on over the course of the story. What obstacles do your hero and heroine need to overcome before they can be with each other? What events will allow you to show their growth? Including scenes that allow characters to explore and confront their internal conflicts will allow readers to be a part of the hero and heroine’s journey, add depth to your plot and help readers to invest and believe in the characters you have created.

2. Drama, drama, drama – keep us on the edge of our seats! So you’ve got the conflict sorted out in your plot which is great, but we love to keep readers guessing about what might happen next. A fantastic way to do this is by checking that with each scene in your story, something changes for your characters and for the romance between them. We want to see that with every interaction, the stakes have been raised somehow. These developments don’t have to be life-changing and dramatic every time – but they should all lead up to, yes, the dreaded . . . black moment! This is where the hero and heroine’s conflicts culminate in a sensational, heart-stopping scene that causes the reader to question how on earth the couple will make it to the other side – together and stronger than ever! You want your story to pack a punch and keep readers excited and a dramatic black moment will do just that! Think of the big confrontation in How to Lose a Guy in 10 days between Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey

You're so vain scene

when they both realise they were being used!

1 Black moment how to lose a guy in ten days

It makes the hero and heroine question whether any of the moments they shared together were true, and has us wishing and hoping they’ll both come to their senses before Kate leaves!

3. No soggy middles—pace yourself! Keep in mind that you want the conflict and drama of your story to sustain the length of your plot. There’s nothing worse than having an incredible opening, only for the excitement to plateau or worse—no soggy middles please!  This is why it is so important to pace yourself. When you’re thinking about your plot think less “reaching the top of the hill” and more “riding a roller coaster.”


Your plot should take the reader on a journey of highs and lows, through a multitude of scenarios, revelations and emotions. The road to your hero and heroine’s happy ending should never be straightforward. If your story is full of intense and unique experiences you’ll give the reader a golden ticket to your story’s romance roller coaster, and you’ll provide them with a plot which keeps them turning the pages, trying to guess what could happen next and falling in love with the world you’ve created.

Think of the plot as the heartbeat of your story. Sometimes it skips a beat, at times it might flutter. There’ll be times when it feels like it might explode and others when it’s going at a hundred miles an hour. Or it might just be there, rhythmically beating away, getting faster and faster, then slowing down again. Whatever your plot is doing, make sure it keeps going. It’s what keeps your story alive and makes us believe in your hero and heroine and the romance they share! Happy writing!

Further reading:
Promise-of-rain   Surgeon-Cowgirl   

Posted in Blogs, Boot Camp 2015 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Good Pacing: Better Than a Solid Pair of Spanx

by Rachel Burkot, Associate Editor

Truth: Anything that is written has a pace. Just like anything in motion has a pace. And it is always being noticed and taken in—maybe not consciously, yet pacing is still ever-important in anything from an email to assembly instructions to a novel. With instructional types of writing, like how to assemble something, the steps have to be listed in the correct order; otherwise the pacing will be off, and you’ll never get your product put together. Applied to more creative channels of writing, say a note, a certain pacing is understood and expected.

Think about communication with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. You’re not going to dump something huge on them in the first paragraph of your message—Hey Jen! It’s been so long! This year I got fired from my job, divorced from my husband, and my dog died too. No, this goes against everything we know about social etiquette, but it’s also a pacing issue. You’re going to spend the first paragraph making small talk, sending out well-meaning sentiments that you hope the universe has been good to her in all this time you haven’t talked, and asking some rhetorical questions. Then you’ll lead her gently into the misery that has befallen you. This gentle leading can otherwise be called pacing.

In the above examples, if pacing is not properly observed, you’ll wind up with a head-scratching friend or a frustrating experience assembling a household item. But everything will probably be fine. Where pacing can make or break you, however, comes when you write your novel. Pacing is like the foundation for your story, the layer of cement that holds two levels of a building together without being seen or even consciously observed most of the time—if the pacing is on! If it’s off, that’s when it gets noticed. So you want your pacing to be like good dental work, or the Spanx under your clothes—adding to your look and holding things together seamlessly, without being apparent.

So how to make pacing work for you? While writing your manuscript for this year’s SYTYCW contest, one important thing to keep in mind is that pacing can be a bit trickier in a romance novel. Less transparent, because the pacing is more on-the-page than in other genres, since the characters are meeting, going on dates and falling in love. Yes, as unromantic as it sounds, falling in love is a process. But just remember that as long as a pace is applied to that process, readers will stay with you. Yes, romance novels are escapist in nature, but that doesn’t mean you can throw all pacing rules to the wind and have the characters declaring love for each other at the end of the first date, and getting engaged on the second. That’s just not reasonable or relatable! Furthermore, the book would end at the second date.

One of my biggest pet peeves while editing romance is when the characters fall in love too soon. Another element that’s a huge part of good writing is conflict—yes, even (especially!) in romance books. If it’s obvious only one-quarter into the story that the characters are just simply ga-ga for each other and neither hell nor high waters will ever keep them apart, where’s the conflict? Further, where’s the hook to keep reading? As a reader, I would put the book down. Because there’s nothing at stake. Not only must the proper pacing be established for when the characters meet, go on dates and begin to fall for each other, so too must pacing be observed in the conflicts and obstacles—both plot-wise (externally) and within themselves (internally)—that keep them apart. These are the juicy bits of pacing, the bumps on the road that keep a story from getting predictable, and keep the reader wondering will they or won’t they? (Even though she knows they will.) If you can make a reader forget that she already knows the ending of a romance for just a split second, you’ve done a fabulous job with pacing!

So what are some of your favorite pacing tricks to keep your hero and heroine from falling in love too early?

Posted in 2014, Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, oh, oh, OH YES!

The Importance of Chemistry, by Associate Editor Pippa Roscoe

There are fourteen yeses when Sally fakes her orgasm to Harry—I counted. Twice. (Much to the IT department's embarrassment.) All in the name of research I assure you! It's probably one of the most memorable film moments in romantic comedy history, and if you haven't seen it, do check it out. * Not only has it been parodied many times ( the fake laugh in The Big Bang Theory, Katharine Heigl in The Ugly Truth, how to fake a sneeze in The Muppets!), but it also highlights the importance of chemistry between a hero and heroine.

In a romance, the attraction between the hero and heroine is obvious, right? Both characters are undeniably gorgeous and clearly attracted to each other! It seems simple. But chemistry is very easy to take for granted, and not always that easy to get right.

Chemistry is the glue that brings your hero and heroine together even when they think they hate each other—even when they've been badly hurt by each other. Chemistry is a physical sensation, the tangible manifestation of love that hasn't yet been realised. But like all things in category romance, chemistry has a time and place.

Chemistry between your hero and heroine is like a flame. If you peak too early with the attraction between the hero and heroine, then there is very little room to make it burn brighter and higher in the rest of your story. Attraction on the page too early is a little like a forest fire. It'll burn quickly and leave you with nothing but ash. It needs to be cultivated from a flame and built, drawing your reader along with it, so that you can reach dizzying heights later on in the manuscript.

Also, you don't want the hero lusting after the heroine after she's just made an emotional confession. It's just pervy! “Chemistry” then is like a high-voltage-torch shining into the reader's eyes at night, making her blink.

But just as chemistry has a time and place, the hero and heroine won't have that chemistry unless their emotions are engaged. We are often attracted to the aspects we admire in a particular person, or that we actually want to have ourselves. If a heroine is feeling vulnerable, she will be attracted to power. If a hero has buried his softer side, it is the heroine's ability to emotionally relate that he will desire. These emotions must be engaged along with physical attraction to bring power to the chemistry between your characters.

We all know the heady feeling before that first kiss, the pulse pounding in your ears, the almost nauseous desperation, the illicit thrill, the impossible thirst for the one thing that sets your skin on fire and your heart alight. Reliving that same moment in romances is part of the reason we love to read them.

As you move put the finishing touches on your manuscript for SYTYCW, remember: you want your readers to feel all the same things that your characters do, so start your fire with the right kind of wood: time, place, development and emotions.

Good luck and good writing!

*Please let me clarify. Your heroine should never need to fake an orgasm with your hero!

Posted in 2014, Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Pantsers and Plotters: Two Faces of the Same Writing Coin

by Caroline Acebo

So you've finally decided to write your book. Or perhaps you're double- or triple-checking a few plot points in your story before you submit your manuscript for this year's So You Think You Can Write contest. Either way, your characters are speaking to you. You can see their world in your mind. You sit down to write.

And something very telling happens.

You might roll up your sleeves and immediately dive into writing, getting a feel for the characters and their world, letting the details reveal themselves as you go. You might have a general idea of how the story will end or how the characters will develop, but you're not really tied to that. Instead, you're more focused on going where the story takes you. You refuse to get stuck in all the little pre-planning details. That's because you, Pantser, are most likely to feel comfortable writing when you are the conduit through which the story is told.

Sometimes writing by the seat of your pants has you soaring, climbing the heights of freewheeling creativity. You're not bogged down by minutiae. You write like a crazed, inspired fiend. Other times, you crash and burn.

Conversely, the rest of you out there might crack your knuckles and whip out your outline, your Post-Its, or your 3 x 5 notecards and hunker down until you have the larger and finer points of your plot and characterization down pat before you even think about jumping into the actual writing part. Because worst-case scenario is you get halfway through your manuscript and realize you wound up at Point B when you thought you were heading toward Point A. The horror!

That's because you, Plotter, are likely to feel most comfortable writing when you are the puppet master of your story. Plotting your story out, chapter-by-chapter and scene-by-scene, gives you the sense of comfort and direction you need to write. You have purpose, sent to you directly from the muses. They have blessed your outline with plot twists galore!

But sometimes you get caught up in the details and can't move forward until you figure out how the minutiae of your plot and characterization fit together. Maybe you get stuck before you even start.

One writing style is not better than the other, and editors love both equally. Here's a secret: we can usually tell within a few chapters which you are and can immediately understand where you'll find difficulties in the writing and revision process.

Here are a few things editors appreciate about both styles and a few things both can keep in mind when writing.

Why editors love Pantsers: You write with such flair and gusto, and your scenes are imbued with in-the-moment passion.

What you can work on: Tying loose ends together and making sure plot points lead logically from one to the other.

How to get unstuck: You've most likely written yourself into a corner. Chances are you've realized what the story is really about and you're 20 or 30 thousand words in and you don't want to start all over. Put your manuscript aside and start outlining. It might sound horrible, but until you give yourself a roadmap, you could stay disoriented—and all of that creative momentum could go out the window.

Why editors love Plotters: All the moving parts of your stories line up so very beautifully. And plot holes? What plot holes?

What you can work on: While the finished product is usually very clean, we know that Plotters tend to have the most difficulty upfront in the planning stage. In fact, sometimes, it's hard for you Plotters to even get to the real business of writing because you might be stuck on outlining the scenes that could be in chapter ten—if all goes according to plan!

How to get unstuck: Break out your pen(cil) and notebook and handwrite a few pages of stream-of-consciousness material. Feel free to let it all out: how much you hate your book or how you should have made a larger pot of coffee that morning. It doesn't matter. Let yourself stop planning for a few minutes. You might be surprised by the results.

So which are you? We'd love to know! If you have any tips for getting unstuck or any insights into the opposite writing style, post your experiences below.

Posted in 2014, Blogs | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Conflict in Romantic Fiction: Getting to the heart of what makes your couples tick

By Julia Williams, Editor

"The path of true love never did run smooth…"

As you're putting the finishing touches to your entry for this year's So You Think You Can Write, I'm sure you've given a lot of attention to that all important staple of romantic fiction: conflict.

Think Benedick and Beatrice, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O Hara, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy . No self -respecting fictional lovers ever get it on without the odd argument. TV couples are at it too:Carrie and Mr. Big, Rachel and Ross all had us hooked with their on again, off again love affairs. Even real life couples fascinate us, from Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, to Beyonce and Jay Z, we love to see the sparky dynamic of a passionate couple.

Conflict is at the heart of all great romantic fiction. It keeps the tension going and the reader hooked. We want our hero and heroine to reach their happy ever after, but we don't want our lovers coming together without a few problems along the way. After all if they fall in love on page one you haven't got much of a story!

There are two types of conflict which you can use as a writer: internal and external.

Internal conflict is the inner obstacles your hero and heroines have to overcome before they can be together, whilst external conflicts come from events beyond their control. Both are useful devices to keep your couple apart, and your readers desperate for that happy ending!

Internal conflict comes from within your characters: it can be caused by past problems such as a partner who has betrayed them, or a rocky divorce, making them wary of a new love. Marrying that with an external conflict — like a vengeful ex, or a secret child one half of the couple knows nothing about — and you have set up obstacles which they must overcome before true love wins the day.

So in your own writing, think about what makes your couple tick.

What has happened in their pasts, to prevent them coming together in the present? What outside influences can work on them to stop them being together?

It's important to make sure that the dilemmas you give them are believable and feel true for your characters. For example, if your hero has a job offer he can't refuse pulling him apart from the heroine, weave that particular ambition into the story from the beginning so it seems like a real and credible reason for him leaving her. If the heroine has a family tie that means she can't be with him (a widowed mother who she feels she can't leave, maybe), make sure that situation is already set up, so that their problem seems insurmountable until perhaps the mother gives the heroine her blessing.

In a situation like that your couple can make mistakes that drive them apart, or misunderstand one another. Jane Austen does it brilliantly in Pride and Prejudice, when Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth so clumsily she says no. His pride thinks she can't refuse him, while her prejudices are confirmed as he insults her whole family in the process!

What kind of conflicts can you give your characters to make them fight for their happy ever after? And how are you going to resolve those issues so they get the ending they (and your readers!) deserve?

Do let us know: we'd love to hear from you!

And best of luck!

Posted in 2014, Blogs | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

It’s Just a Big Misunderstanding…

By Laurie Johnson, Assistant Editor, Harlequin Medical Romance

Avoiding the pitfalls of contrivance, coincidence and misunderstandings in a story usually comes down to the characters' conflicts – how internal or external they are – and development. If the premise of a story is contrived, a reader may find it hard to believe in the characters and their journey. And relying on a coincidence or misunderstanding can be an easy fix to disguise what is missing in a character's development. So how can it be avoided?


If the premise of the story seems too convenient or too forced, it may not be quite believable enough to the reader. And in this situation, what will keep them reading the story? Strengthening a character's internal conflict could make it easier for the reader to understand the characters' motivations and develop sympathy for the character so that they itch to turn the pages!

How to avoid sounding contrived? If the characters' emotional conflicts are unconvincing, and what's keeping them apart is unclear and a bit weak, the best step is usually to go back and explore their conflicts more. Think about what is really keeping them apart. Is it an external event – something neither of them can control? If so, the question arises that once this is resolved, what's to stop them growing closer? The answer is usually, nothing. In which case there is often no tension and no deeper character development for the reader to enjoy.

So really think about the best way to bring the characters together that is believable and enjoyable. For example, when writing forced proximity between your characters, try to develop fresh new ideas for how they are flung together in a situation! Ask yourself what would you do in that situation? Then try absolutely every other option and if you reach a stage where there are no alternatives, then you have your believable set up!


Often, misunderstandings are used as a primary conflict between a hero and heroine, but try to avoid creating a conflict that could be solved if only the characters would just have an honest conversation. If the hero and heroine are staying apart because of a misunderstanding, the conflict between them isn't based on strong underlying emotions, which can be very frustrating for the reader as they can't identify with the characters.

It is usually the case that if a hero and heroine's conflicts are external then their issues are more likely to be resolved with a simple conversation – rather than them actually overcoming their internal emotional barriers. And what is to keep them apart once they have that chat and address those external issues? If the conflict is based on a misunderstanding, there are no real obstacles for the characters to overcome and so nothing can keep them apart. This can create a very weak and unsatisfying ending for the reader.

To avoid leaving the reader dissatisfied by the hero and heroine's easy resolution, dig deep and build the layers of their emotional conflicts – think about what in their internal conflict is actually keeping them apart and how are they going to overcome it?

How to avoid using a misunderstanding between characters? Plan the story carefully and ensure that the characters conflicts can't just be resolved with a conversation. Really send them on a journey of discovery as they learn about themselves and overcome the emotional – not external – obstacles.


A coincidence is usually employed a when the conflict isn't strong enough or developed enough to drive the story forward. This can be annoying for the reader and often leads to a very unsatisfying resolution. But, avoiding coincidences can help to strengthen a story.

For example, if a hero and heroine meet up again because they choose to rather than just running into each other, this can be much more powerful and have a bigger impact on the reader. Really dig deep to discover what is driving your characters. Focus on their internal conflicts rather than relying on a coincidence to bring them together or drive them apart. If they make these decisions themselves, rather than fate playing a part, the payoff can be more satisfying as the reader has seen the character development through the story.

How to avoid using a coincidence to drive the story? If a coincidence has been used, try going back and rethinking about how to achieve the ending through deeper character development and layering the emotional conflict.

And as you're getting your book ready for this year's So You Think You Can Write contest, remember:

  1. Focus on creating a convincing set up.
  2. Ensure it takes more than a conversation to overcome the obstacles.
  3. Use internal conflict to drive the story, rather than a coincidence.

So, authors, have any of you had to deal with these common pitfalls in your writing? If so, how did you deal with it? And do you feel your story is stronger now?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments