Sunday, March 12, 2017

Falling in Love: Plan it, Plot it, Show it—in Four Phases

When I started teaching romance writing, it took a while for me to realize that there's an aspect of romance we seldom consider in depth. We talk a lot about characterization and plot and conflict. But too often we assume that the love story -- the attraction and progression of our characters as they fall in love -- will just happen naturally.

But that assumption is how we get so many characters in romance who move from "I hate you" to "I have to have you forever" with no logical reason -- leaving the reader scratching her head about how on earth these two could ever have fallen in love.

Today's post comes from author Ginger Monette, author of Darcy's Hope -- Beauty from Ashes.

Ginger has made a study of how to write characters who move plausibly and convincingly from initial meeting to happy ever after. Please welcome Ginger! 


As romance novelists, it's our job to weave stories that gives readers a front row seat to watch the unfolding of a beautiful love story.

So what's the best way to show a couple moving from Hello my name is” (or even I despise you”) to You're my soulmate and I want to spend the rest of my life with you”?

Having been disappointed by numerous novels where the couple claimed to suddenly be in love” without actually falling in love,” I went on a quest to investigate this mysterious process of falling head over heels. What I discovered changed my writing.

I dissected some fifty romance novels and made notes. All the couples had hefty doses of attraction, but the most satisfying stories went beyond attraction to something deeper. They showed the characters passing through four phases that moved them step by step from “meh” (or downright hatred) to wowie-zowie he's the most wonderful person in the world.”  And each phase seemed to be characterized by distinct thought patterns—particularly if at first Prince Charming seemed to be more of a frog than a prince. Here are the stages I observed:

Acknowledgement of him:
-Acknowledges some good quality about him (talented, kind, generous, etc)
-Finds him attractive
-Hyper aware of him, or hyper critical of his shortcomings (which often signals preoccupation or a subconscious denial of admiration)
-Acknowledges an attraction, but blows it off

Appreciation of his good qualities:
-Defends his character while not necessarily liking him
-Is genuinely thankful for a good quality
-Beginning to warm towards him
-Not so judgmental towards him
-More willing to consider his opinion on a matter

-Takes his advice
-Imitates quality or action of his
-Admits her initial criticism or objections were exaggerated or biased
-Curiosity grows—willing to spend more time in his company
-Acknowledges similar values or mutual interests
-Finds she is thinking (fondly) of him more and more

-Openly acknowledges her love/warm feelings for him
-Desires to be in his company
-Thinks he is wonderful
-Thinks he is perfect match
-Misses him painfully when he is gone
-Thinks about him constantly

So how did this awareness of stages change my writing? 

In my novel Darcy's Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes, I kept these stages and behaviours in mind as I crafted scenes. They became an outline of sorts that I wove with compelling action, mystery, suspense, and historical detail. When my characters (Jane Austen's iconic Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet) are reunited at a WWI field hospital, Elizabeth is none too happy to encounter Darcy. And although she disdains him, I had her acknowledge that he is handsome and there is something between them. This cracks the door to romance and gets readers rooting for the couple.

Then, I moved her into the appreciation stage by having her surprise herself by praising and defending Darcy to a colleague. After she directly benefits from his wise leadership, she comes to appreciate him, even though she still doesn't like him. Readers can feel her slowly warming towards him and eagerly turn pages to find out how the couple will sort out the baggage between them.

As truths of Darcy's past are dramatically revealed and she comes to understand him better, I have her admit that her initial criticisms were misplaced. Now, with a softened heart, she's able to look at him more objectively. Then I set up an ah-ha moment where she realizes they both share a similar deep-seated insecurity which turns her reservations about him into empathy. Now that her appreciation has turned to admiration, her feelings are almost there! And readers are waiting with bated breath to find out what it will take for him to fully win her heart.

I gave him some scenes that show off his admirable qualities, so not only does she find herself attracted to him, she admires his leadership, work ethic, and drive. Then I purposely played up the things they have in common and showed her enjoying his company. In short, I showed them building a relationship. Finally, after they share a heroic act and laugh over a tent whipping in the wind, she realizes that in fact she adores him. 

Intentionally crafting scenes that follow this four-stage progression of romance enables readers to sense her falling in love, so it's no surprise when she finally declares it. I think a lot of romance authors make the mistake of never showing the characters moving beyond physical attraction and chemistry. It's not easy! But to write a fulfilling romance, the characters need to interact on a deep level and share common interests. Readers should see the couple building a relationship and hear their internal dialog as their thoughts and feelings evolve.

Using this four step model, I think Darcy's Hope has succeeded in providing readers a deep sense of satisfaction as they watch the heroine's tiny bud of acknowledgement open into appreciation, then expand with admiration, and finally blossom into full adoration.

What challenges do you face showing a couple falling in love?


Downton Abbey Meets Pride & Prejudice!

Escape to the era of Downton Abbey and experience all the drama of World War 1 alongside Jane Austen's iconic Elizabeth Bennet & Fitzwilliam Darcy. You'll watch their tender love unfold as they learn to work together and reconcile their differences at a field hospital only miles from the Front. When injury and espionage separate the couple, Darcy is crushed. But Donwell Abbey holds a secret that just might change everything.

“…a stellar example of fine Austenesque literature. …an exceptionally moving story complete with a compelling plot, danger, mystery, action, introspection, vivid detail, and an emotionally wrought romance.” ~Austenesque Reviews

Darcy’s Hope Beauty from Ashes:
            Universal link for all retailers.  
            -Amazon USA

Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey:
            Universal link for all retailers.



  1. Ginger, thanks so much for visiting the blog today. Your post is so valuable -- touching on an area that we often take for granted. It's such a balancing act to show a couple moving toward trust and love, without toppling over into saccharine!

  2. Thank you, Leigh!

    Being predominantly left brained, my tendency is to break down every complex and abstract process (like falling in love, crafting scenes, plot, and character) into some sort of dissectable process. Layering that foundation with generous doses of imagination has really helped me to build stories that I think ring true to real life and whisk the reader away for an incredible ride.

    I must admit, though, when I see you've written 100 books, I am so impressed! While the left brained part of writing is easy for me, the right brained creative part is immensely laborious. I am SO slow. *My* struggle in showing a couple falling is love is getting that first slab of SOMETHING written on the page!