Writing Lesson #5: Beginning Your Romantic Story

By now you should have polar romantic protagonists who are well-described and very likeable. By now you should also have a very clear idea of would be the romantic conflict between them; whether it is an internal or external conflict.  Now it’s time to get started with your romantic story. The beginning.

The term exposition in literature means the first part of the story where you introduce your readers to some key points about your plot; who are your protagonists, where are they located, their daily life, the time of the story, etc. In screenwriting this part of the story is called “The Ordinary Life”. The movie Pretty Women starts with a party at Stuckey’s house in LA where you learn that Edward is a rich businessman from NY who does not have much success in his personal life. Next you get to know Vivian, a young street hooker who has no money to pay her rent. 

In literary fiction the first 50-75 pages (of 300 page book) are dedicated to the story exposition. Nothing unusual happens in this part of the story. For many readers these are the most boring pages of the story, but they know they have to go through them in order to understand the story better. In romance, on the other hand, you want to skip this “Once Upon A Time” introduction and jump right into action: The Inciting Incident. 

The Inciting Incident in stories means the event that changes the protagonist’s life: the event that starts the conflict in the story, the event that moves the story forward. Romance begins with the Inciting Incident (or Exciting Incident). This is where the protagonists meet, feel physical attraction to each other, and resist it for whatever reason (conflict) they have.

To close the information gap cause by skipping the traditional exposition, use thoughts, dialogues, and descriptions to slowly reveal the  background of your protagonists. 

It might sound easy to introduce two people, but consider the polarity between the protagonists: they come from different social circles that don’t mingle together or they know each other but would rather avoid the other for some reasons. Your job as a writer is to create an interesting event that will bring them together, will force them to acknowledge each other presence, and will create a continuous friction between them until they can no longer deny their feelings. How do you create that? Let’s look at some examples from movies:

In the movie Pretty Woman, in his hurry to get away from the party and since his limousine is stuck between other guests’ cars, Edward decides to take Stuckey’s car. He gets lost in LA and stops to ask for directions on Hollywood Boulevard, just where Vivian is standing waiting for customers. 

In the movie You’ve Got Mail the protagonists meet because of business: Joe builds his big discount book store next to Kathleen’s small book store, which puts her out of business. They know each other as business rivals and at the same time they conduct an anonymous email affair. 

The Romantic Inciting Incident is an event where the lives of two polar protagonists collide. This incident creates a chain of events where they are forced to deal with each other. 

At the beginning of the movie Life as We Know viewers are introduced to the protagonists Eric and Holly who know each other through friends but do not like each other. The inciting incident in the movie happens when their friends die and Eric and Holly have to take care of their goddaughter while living in the same house. That daily physical friction forces them to develop a relationship that turns into love. 

Here are the initial basic steps to create a good beginning for your romantic story:

1.     Design two polar protagonists.
2.     Establish a solid love conflict between them, which they will have to deal with throughout the story.
3.     Create an event that will force them to get together and stay close to each other for the rest of the story.

Next lesson: Using Christopher Vogler’s Plot Circle To Develop Your Romantic Story

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