love letter

Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes (Book Review)

You’ve saved the cat. You’ve taken off your pants. You’ve gone on the hero’s journey and returned, exhausted, still not sure how to adapt these structures to your romance novel.

Why do you need something different?

Why can’t you just get your romance written with the exceptional guidance of the same structure books that your friends who write Science Fiction or Fantasy or Mystery swear by?

Because the needs of romance writers—and the expectations of romance readers—are unique.

Those other outlining or story structure books are amazing, but they don’t answer all of the questions that you, as a romance writer, have about how to construct the most satisfying story arc for your characters.

Sure, a romance novel is a journey—but it’s not the standard hero’s journey. Romance has specific beats that other genres don’t, and can comfortably leave out a few that are common in other genres.

You, as a romance writer, need to know:

  • how classic structures can be massaged to fit a scenario with two protagonists
  • how to make romance the main plot and everything else the subplot
  • how to weave other themes into your novel without messing up the one theme every romance must have
  • which obstacles are acceptable and which are taboo (and which are absolutely forbidden!)
  • how to give each character their own separate character arc while keeping the focus on the main story arc
  • the difference between the external story goals that will sell your book to your reader … and the internal story goals that will keep them coming back for every book you write!

Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.

Okay, not us exactly…but we know who does: Gwen Hayes, in her brilliant little how-to book, Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels (How to Write Kissing Books, Book 1).

romancing(I wasn’t going to include the series name but I’m a romance writer. It’s a little-known rule that no romance writer can fail to perpetuate a Princess Bride reference. Ever. They throw you right out of the union.)

Romancing the Beat takes you through four phases comprised of 20 “beats,” or steps, to get you from the beginning to the end of your romance novel—from the “meet cute” to “whole hearted.”

(And yes, she intends that as an earworm. The 80s music references are a complete delight for people of a certain age, and anyone who advocates Pat Benatar’s “Promises in the Dark” as the soundtrack of the Dark Moment gets two thumbs up from me.)

One notable thing about the book: it makes a special point of being gender-neutral and gay-friendly. Hayes uses H1 and H2 to indicate the two main characters, rather than using Hero/Heroine or even H/h. Writers of non-heteronormative romance can find themselves excluded, however unintentionally, from other books and guides about romance; including them is a nice touch.

Ugh! I don’t have time for another how-to book!

It’s okay; this one’s a quickie. *wink*

Hayes lays out the four phases and twenty beats right up front, in the beginning of the book, then takes you through each beat in a concise, easy-to-read format.

She also includes a sample beat sheet that shows you how this skeleton can be fleshed out into a chapter-by-chapter outline. It’s an excellent demo of how well her method works; to be honest, just the list of chapter names and the demo would be enough for 90% of you.

But do yourself a favor: read the whole thing.

Overall, it’s a one- to two-hour read—breezy and irreverent, with funny asides throughout—and you could hardly find a better way to spend a couple of hours. (Yes, I know you’re busy. I still stand by what I said.)

But wait; there’s more!

I know y’all love free stuff, and there’s some of that, too! Hayes has a couple of bonus items on her website:

So go forth, grab yourself a template and/or worksheet, buy or borrow Romancing the Beat, and get yourself started on a new way to plot a story that readers will love!

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