Writers Write is a comprehensive writing resource. In this post, we discuss why love is never a good story goal – even when you’re writing a romance.
Story goals are at once incredibly simple and annoyingly tricky. It is easy to think that ‘finding love’ should be a story goal in romance, but it’ll be better if your story goal is more concrete than that.
You can think of ‘love’ as the resolution to the outer conflict that was caused by the attempt to reach the physical goal. ‘Love’ is the reward for pursuing the physical goal.
In Historical Romance the plot often revolves around marriage and proposals and suitable candidates, but even then, the goal is ‘marriage’, not love. Love is the often unexpected reward.
The Five Story Goals
Consider the five concrete story goals. The character needs to achieve one (or more) of these.
The protagonist wants:
- ♥ to get something physical.
- ♥ to cause something physical.
- ♥ to escape something physical.
- ♥ to resolve something physical.
- ♥ to survive something physical.
Let’s look at some examples (Spoiler Alerts!):
In Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Claire time travels to the past and her immediate goal is to get home. Check out the longer description in the summary below. She finds love in the past with Jamie, but even when Jamie marries her, he does it to keep her safe from Randall. Love and attraction blossom because of their forced proximity.
Concrete goals: Claire needs to survive something physical (her journey) and escape something physical (the past timeline) to get something physical (back to the present).
In 1946, after working apart during the Second World War, British Army nurse Claire Randall and her husband Frank, a history professor, go on a second honeymoon to Inverness, Scotland. Frank conducts research into his family history and Claire goes plant-gathering near standing stones on the hill of Craigh na Dun. Investigating a buzzing noise near the stones, she touches one and faints; upon waking, she encounters Frank's ancestor, Captain Jack Randall. Before Captain Randall can attack her, he is knocked unconscious by a highlander who takes Claire to his clansmen. As the Scots inexpertly attend their injured comrade Jamie, Claire uses her medical skill to set Jamie's dislocated shoulder. The men identify themselves as members of Clan MacKenzie, and Claire eventually concludes that she has travelled into the past. She represents herself as an English widow who is travelling to France to see her family. The Scots do not believe her and take her to Castle Leoch, where Claire searches for a way to return to her own time. ( You can the full plot summary on Wikipedia)
The ‘mini-goals’ force her into a situation where she is first transported through time and then needs to find a way to return.
2. How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days
In How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, Andy’s story goal is to write a magazine article, Ben’s is to win the account. Their ‘plans’ of achieving these goals are what forces them to spend time together and then they fall in love.
Concrete goals: Andy and Ben both need to get something physical (write the magazine article and win the account).
3. The Lucky One
In The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks, Logan’s goal is find out who the girl in the photo is. His plan, once he returns from Iraq, is to track her down, because he believes the photo was the lucky charm that kept him alive.
Concrete goal: Logan wants to resolve something physical (find out who the girl is).
Changing story goals:
As the story unfolds these goals can change.
In Outlander, love only enters into the equation much later. The goal can change. She falls in loves with Jamie and chooses to stay with him, but then the goal changes to avoiding Randall.
In The Lucky One, he finds her rather quickly, but he doesn’t return the photo or even tell her about it. He starts working with her instead, he learns whose photo it was and why it was important and then the two fall in love. His secrecy regarding the photo causes conflict in the story.
I think, as romance writers, we’re in love with love and then we tend to forget that a story needs a physical goal.
Happy Romance Writing,
If you want to learn how to write a romance, sign up for our online course, This Kiss.
by Mia Botha (winner of the Mills and Boon Voice of Africa Competition)
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