Many romance writers love to start their love story with a-one time sexual encounter (inciting incident) to create a conflict (call to adventure) to trigger the plot (hero’s journey). In reality, a-one time sexual encounter between two strangers rarely leads to a relationship (see my post from last week); unless there is a deeper psychological explanation to make the two people bond emotionally and they have enough time together to know each other on a personal level.
Inciting incident in a story is an event that changes the course-of-life of the hero. The structure of a love story that starts with a sexual encounter is very similar to the structure of a detective plot that starts with the discovery of a dead body. While a detective murder story explores all the events and people that led to the murder, a love story explores all the psychological reasons and emotional needs that led to the bonding of the two lovers.
In both stories, the detective and the romance, the writer needs to precede the writing with detailed background work: define the characters, their past experiences, the people they were involved with, their actions, and their psychology.
Take for example the movie Pretty Woman (1990): The inciting incident there was actually when Edward was lost while driving in LA in a car with a manual gear that he didn't know how to operate. Nevertheless, it was the sexual agreement between the protagonists that kept the plot going. In the movie, Rich businessman Edward hires a hooker named Vivian for the duration of his business stay in LA. Throughout the story that lasts for a week, we learn that women and other people (like his lawyer) sought Edward’s attention and company because of his money. Vivian, while she was paid to be there, actually cared about him as a person and really loved him. That was a new experience for Edward. In the movie we also learn that Edward's rich father left his mother and him without money. Saving Vivian from the streets and loving her could be interpreted as a hidden desire to correct what his father had done. Vivian grew up with a mother who didn’t think much of her and used to lock her in her room for bad behavior. Growing up with low self-esteem, she used to date losers who took advantage of her. With Edward she experienced a different kind of personal relationship, similar to what she had experienced with her grandfather; Edward was mostly respectful (aside from the incident at the polo game), could see the special person that she was, and wanted to help her get off the streets. In Pretty Woman the sexual encounter was just an excuse to bring two people together that otherwise would have never crossed paths. The plot showed how each of them had found in the other exactly what they needed in order to heal from previous emotional wounds.
Are you writing a love story with a similar structure and having difficulties with the plot? Share it in the comments below and I’ll be happy to help you with it.