Writing Romance: Crossing into Act Two

Welcome, Campers.
Last month we approached the turning point that launches our duo into Act Two.

By the end of Act One, your characters will likely have stated - either in their heads or actually out loud - that they want nothing to do with the other, nothing to do with a relationship with the other. No way, no how. But the final plot point of this act will not give them that choice. It will make it impossible for them to walk away. Not until. . . So at the end of this piece, your hero and heroine are completely “up a tree” with no way of escape.

In Hero’s Journey language, we’ve established the ordinary world of our hero and heroine. We’ve sent them a call to adventure when they meet each other. They’ve said NO NO NO - the Refusal. And sometimes they’ve met with a mentor or friend that has nudged them into the adventure.

And, at the end of Act One, they’ve begrudgingly Crossed the Threshold.

According to Jami Gold's Beat Sheet - which we’ve been following as a loose outline - in Act Two, “the protagonists react to the new desire, but suffer from one step forward and two steps back.”

As you can see in this beat sheet, Act Two is sandwiched between Pinch Point 1 and Pinch Point 2. Act Two is usually half the book and divided in half itself with an important Midpoint.

Up until that Midpoint, the hero and heroine are confronted by “tests, allies, and enemies.”  And up until that Midpoint, the hero and heroine are still trying to live their lives with their old pre-romance ways. They may give lip-service to working together, might even try to work together. But when the rubber meets the road, they’re working alone. In a way, they’re trying to get back to their ordinary world unscathed. Have they got a surprise coming.

An Ordeal at the Midpoint will force them to admit that the road they’re on doesn’t go back to that ordinary world. Something big has changed and they move forward through more challenges, learning to approach life differently: together. Sometimes this moment is capped with The Kiss.

At the end of Act Two comes another turning point. This one will drive a huge obstacle right through their relationship. Often, it leads to a breakup. And then it’s on to the last quarter of the book in Act Three.

Next month, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of getting your couple to that Midpoint.

Your homework: get out those romance movies. See if you can map the story with the information you have right now.

Oh, and BiC-HoK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.  (And Merry Christmas)

The Beat Sheet

As I thought about this series, I realized in retrospect that I wanted a plan.  And I wanted something for you readers to be able to follow along.  And I wanted it to be totally available.  AHA - a Beat Sheet.

If you don’t know what beat sheets are, here’s the short description:  The “beat sheet” is a way to sequence your story, using bullets instead of whole sentences or paragraphs. Very quickly, though, those bullets becomes sentences and paragraphs. And when that happens, you have an outline on your hands.  (From Storyfix.com)  You’ll find a lot of talk about beats and beat sheets in the screenwriting world.  I won’t get into it here, but it’s certainly something to check out if it sounds like gibberish to you.  I often use beat sheets to do some preliminary plot work once my character work is well in hand.

Jamie Gold is the queen of beat sheets online.  She has made a variety of them in Excel format so you can fill in your page goal and it will calculate where all your beats should come.  Obviously, this is a tool.  Don’t get stressed about having to follow it exactly.  Jamie even has one for romance.  Good information in the entire post.

Here’s why I’m sending you there.  It occurred to me as I was looking at this beat sheet that I may have jumped the gun last month with Boy Meets Girl.  Yes, Boy Meets Girl should happen in Act One, but there should probably be some preliminary scenes before that happens.  Note:  In the “olden days” of Romance, the requirement was that hero and heroine meet in the first pages of the book.  I don’t think that’s the hard and fast rule anymore.  But if the line you’re targeting wants it - give it to them.  You’ll have to weave the other preliminary stuff in as you do so or shortly after.

Alright.  So here’s why I’m making a U-turn – it’s only temporary.  It’s not because I’m requiring - or even suggesting - that you have to use this beat sheet.  But I will be using it as a guideline for this series of article.  It’s all about me 🙂

Last month we talked about Boy Meets Girl.  That event usually happens as the Inciting Incident in your plot outline.  Before that happens, you may want to introduce your reader to one or both characters and set up the romance by showing what your character is lacking - or what he (she) thinks he’s lacking.  In the opening scenes of the story, you’ll want to create empathy.  Showing what the character is lacking/longing for is a way to do that.

As an aside here, most of the time, the goal that the characters go into the story with is what they WANT but not what they NEED.  Over the course of the story, you’ll bring them through a character arc from what they thought they wanted at the beginning of the story to what they actually NEED.

In the spirit of taking that step back, I’d like to talk about WANT and NEED before we go further.  So that’s what I’ll tackle next month.

Hope you’ll forgive the blip!

Cheers, Jax