Did you know I have a novella in a romance anthology out in June 2022, and a paranormal romance series coming too? That’s why I knew I needed a romance novel outline, and how I came to love Romancing the Beat.
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It’s no secret that I love to outline my novels before I write them. Hell, I even created The 90-Day Novel Planner to help others do the same.
So, I won’t make this post about whether or not you should outline. You know I think you should.
Instead, let’s talk about why a romance novel outline is important, okay?
Do You Need a Romance Novel Outline?
All book genres have expectations. Romance novels have EXPECTATIONS.
So, having a romance novel outline is a good way to make sure you meet those EXPECTATIONS head on.
What do I mean by all this? Well. If you’re a romance reader, you know that there is a certain cadence to the story, and the ending has to be happily ever after, or at the very least, happy for now.
And while the genre is expanding to be more inclusive of characters and storylines that wouldn’t have been featured in the past, there is still very much an expectation for the ending, and I would also say for the beats of the story itself.
PLEASE NOTE: My comments section is not a safe place for you to go off about how you don’t read romance because it’s predictable. Guess what? All stories are predictable. If you’re not familiar with basic story structure or the hero’s journey, then you should go do some research before you come at me. There are only so many plots and every story that is going to be told has already been told in one capacity or another.
So, I’m not available for your arguments that accuse romance of being unoriginal or predictable when so are literally all other stories.
Thank you. Have a blessed day.
Now, let’s talk about outlining.
What Is Romancing the Beat?
Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels is a book by Gwen Hayes about, well, just that.
The book outlines the story beats that the majority of romance novels have, while also giving you examples (and playlists) for each beat.
And yeah, you could probably get this information from reading a bunch of romance novels. But I do think it’s nice to have a codified system in place, especially if someone can do the heavy lifting for me.
I definitely recommend the book for anyone interested in writing romance novels. It’s short, to the point, and chock-full of information. After reading it, I signed up for Gwen’s email list so I could get the PDF beat sheet.
The beats Gwen lays out are everything you need to tell a romance. But I can’t leave well enough alone, so I thought I’d share how I modified Gwen’s beats to work for the kind of story I wanted to tell.
How I Created My Own Romance Novel Outline
Romancing the Beat contains 20 story beats necessary for the plot of a romance novel. I love these beats. I respect these beats.
These beats and I are cool.
But, I knew I wanted to add some beats of my own.
Did I need to do this? No. Not technically. Because at the end of the day, the beats I added aren’t necessarily beats. They’re more things I like in romance novels, and wanted to make sure that I included them in my stories.
So, I took Gwen’s beats and then added my own. There aren’t many more, but they’re there so I can make sure to put them in the story, and these beats are placed in very specific places for the overall flow of the story.
These beats fall into two categories.
I added four of these to my beat sheet, and they all fall before the “Maybe This Could Work” beat.
These points are just what they say they are…They’re all about tension.
I love romance novels that make it feel impossible for the characters to not get together. When there’s so much tension between the characters that they have to get together…
SO FREAKIN’ GOOD.
So, by adding these, I’ve created some specific spots for conversations or moments where my two main characters are in very close proximity. Not only has this made me create specific moments in my story, it’s probably made me get way more creative with tension than I would’ve otherwise. So far, they’ve been some of the hardest parts to write.
But when they’re done, I can tell it was worth it.
This is a beat I’ve added just before the “Inkling of Doubt” beat. By this time in the story, my main characters have definitely hooked up, but now they’re hanging with friends and talking about it.
Like, not dishing all the details, but you know.
I call this the Night Out beat because it’s just what it says. One main character is with their friends at so-and-so’s house, and maybe the other is out with their friends at the bar.
One thing I really love in a good romance novel is all the relationships. And I hate it when I’m given a novel with main characters who have no friends. If the character has no friends or acquaintances and is just kind of a weird beige placeholder for readers to imprint on, it really ruins the story for me. And at the end of the day, if a character has no friends, it’s hard for me to feel like anyone would fall in love with them.
(I mean, there are exceptions to this. If someone is new in town and is getting to know people, then I get why they don’t have a BFF in that story. But you can’t have a main character who isn’t close with anyone. It’s weird.)
So this beat serves as a moment for the main characters to process what has transpired so far with trusted friends and loved ones. The reader gets some insight into how they’re feeling about their feelings, and since it comes before the Inkling of Doubt, it’s a good place for a friend to interject the ol’ “but I thought you said you didn’t have time for a relationship” or a well-timed, “but you said you’d never date someone like them again,” or whatever the main character’s objections to a relationship happen to be.
Does this mean all the novels I write will have a scene with characters going out with their friends? Yes. Yes it does.
But all the books I’m currently working on are very community-based, so it will make sense in the context of the series.
What’s Your Favorite Novel Outlining Method?
How do you figure out the story beats for your novels? Do you use a specific beat sheet? Have you ever used tarot cards to outline a novel?