Autopsy and A Note About Character Goals In Romance

Even though I have made my peace with the death of HiS/FB, there is still a part of me that wants to know what went wrong.  It’s the same need to KNOW that fuels autopsies after questionable deaths of people, except in the case of books, it’s in the hope that we don’t repeat our mistake or in hopes of pulling a Lazarus.  Now I really have no inclination toward the latter at this point.  I am DONE with this story, but just from a purely objective point I wanted to figure out what I’d done wrong.  My initial problem in the first draft was that the heroine had no character arc.  I made her emotionally strong and kick ass in the beginning, so she really had nowhere to go.  I fixed that in the planned second draft, but I created other problems that seemed to center around the structure of the story itself.

I recently bought Story Structure Demystified by Larry Brooks.  Anybody who’s been around my blog for any length of time has heard me mention him and his blog Storyfix.  I’ve referenced his initial series on story structure ad nauseum because it’s just THAT good.  The longer ebook version did not disappoint.   Anyway, once I finished, I decided to email Larry himself with a question that’s been plaguing me since I read his initial series:

If you take a romance–one in which both the hero and heroine have their own, equally important journeys to make (and for the sake of argument let’s say this is romantic suspense or some other subgenre of romance where the story is not JUST about the relationship), how do you deal with the assorted plot points?  I mean, ideally I suppose you would craft something wherein the same FPP, Midpoint, and SPP apply in different ways to both.  But what if they don’t?  Do you then fall back on the series of scenes/events to be the FPP, Midpoint, and SPP?  It’s something I’ve been quite curious about as I’ve read your series.

This is something that has really bothered me because while it seemed very straight forward to apply the story structure and character journey when there was a single hero/ine, it seems infinitely more complicated and hard to manage when there are two, which is the case in most of romance.

And this is what he told me:

Here’s my answer to your question, which is a good one: doesn’t matter if you have two protagonists.  The first plot point is the confluence (meeting) of the two storylines, everything before that is a set-up for that moment.  From there, the stories aren’t separate, they’re intertwined, so all the guidelines for the various milestones and contexts for the three remaining parts of the story remain valid.  How you distribute and merge the storylines is the art of it, of course, but the presence of a hero and a heroine doesn’t change a thing, the story should still unfold over this paradigm.

And boom, there you have it.  The cause of death for HiS/FB.  In my attempt to give Marley a good character arc, I made her goal totally unrelated to Conall’s such that I was really telling two DIFFERENT and relatively unconnected stories about people who happened to fall in love and get together (which was, at that point, mostly at this author’s whim).  It’s what I suspected and it was nice to have the story structure guru himself confirm my suspicions.  Perhaps someday down the road something will gel for me and I’ll bring those two out of the convalescence home for another book.

So I was talking to Pot about it this morning, and we decided that good goals for shared protagonists are things that can be defined as races, competitions, shared journeys.  That they should have a common goal in the sense that they are in pursuit of the same object or destination, even if they have different motives or plans for when they get there.  Forsaken By Shadow works because Gage and Embry have a common goal.  Revelation is going to work because Finn and Ransom have initially competing goals that merge into a common destination.  Of course this is more like a guideline than a rule, but I think certainly it helps when trying to plot or plan things out because then you are assured that their plotlines feed off of each other rather than just intersecting because you deem it to be so even when it’s not logical.

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