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Romance writing

Stories need romance. They can't be purely abstract.. but is there some sort of abstract formula which can be used to create romance within a story? The tension of separation and uncertainty is classic, but how are such separations warped by modern technology?
I'm thinking of a story arc in which the protagonist creates an imaginary boyfriend based on someone she can see but who is out of her reach. She and her imaginary boyfriend have a very tumultuous relationship which ends with a tragic breakup... then she meets the real person about which this fantasy has been created. What happens next?

So far, I've surfed through youtube to trace out the stages of the relationship
Step 1: she didn't know it, but he already has a girlfriend
this is where the real relationship ends and the imaginary relationship begins

Step 2: he is seduced by her eagerness
Step 3: she isn't sure that he likes her enough, so she kicks him
Step 4: he lays his heart bare
Step 5: separation leaves painful uncertainty in its wake
Step 6: they get together, he becomes controlling, and she pushes back Lesley Gore - You Don't Own Me (HD)
Step 7: the masquerade is over (I'M AFRAID) THE MASQUERADE IS OVER | Nancy Wilson
Step 8: the memory Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah (Official Video)
Then they meet in reality.

What steps am I missing? Is there anything unpredictable that I could throw in? I haven't read many modern romance novels, just old ones and those are all about diagnosing a stranger's character based on limited information (Jane Austen), the tortured, Byronic hero (the Bronte's), obsession with a girl who reminds the protagonist of a boy he once liked while in school (der Zauberberg), the bad marriage (middlemarch/anna karenina),.. etc. I suppose this is just a matter of choosing which old story line my romance should follow.

There is something strange about post-technology romance. We can flesh out storylines with social media in a way which was never possible in the past. Does this lend itself to more speculation than in romances of the past? Or is this form of madness nothing new? I remember how my college girlfriends and I would joke about our imaginary boyfriends, but they were just silly cardboard cutouts. Back then, social media didn't exist. I almost don't feel qualified to write up a modern romance!
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Carol Rose

Staff member
Well ... this just happens to be my forte. LOL! :):)

Are you going for commercial/popular trope or do you simply want to write a story with romantic elements? A romance, by definition, is actually quite formulaic in that the ending is predictable - we know they're going to get together. The journey of getting there is why readers gobble them up. :)

Not to say you can't branch out and do different things, but readers do expect certain elements. By the same token, there are big no-nos for them, at least if you don't want hate mail. :) No cheating. Absolutely NO cheating once the couple is together. It must have a happy ending. Doesn't have to be an HEA - happily ever after - but it needs to end with the readers knowing the couple will be together. If you're simply going for romantic elements in the story, you can get away with a lot more.

I like your idea a lot. As with any well-worn genre - and this one certainly is - the key to making your story stand out is finding a unique way to present a well-used plot line. What I don't see in the idea is any true conflict. Having him act possessive isn't much of one, to be honest. You might want to think of something more meaningful - something that would truly keep them apart in real life. They need some hurdles to overcome, otherwise that journey falls flat.

So have fun with it. Experiment a little. You have a unique, quirky voice that should lend itself well to an angle like this one.

And if you want me to take a look at anything, please just let me know. I'm happy to help. :)
Thank you! I'm sure there are a lot of tricks associated with crafting these things. I wanted to create a happy ending for a character and a romance seemed like a good way to do it. She gets on a boat, meets someone nice, the boat sinks and they separate, but before the separation, she learns that he already has a girlfriend. She then creates the imaginary boyfriend as she follows a map to some secret location. As she travels, she is tormented by her old enemy, an amalgamation of her self and an AI named Chess. When she finds the secret treasure trove, she saves the world (of course) and meets the real person who inspired the creation of the imaginary boyfriend. When she saves the world, she has to say goodbye to the imaginary boyfriend because she is destroying/transforming the database in which he lives. How does this make her feel about the real person on whom the imaginary boyfriend was based?
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I really like the premise for this, but two questions:

1) So, I presume she gets together with the real person. What happens to his girlfriend? Have they since broken up? Because, you don't want her to look like the "other woman", especially if you're aiming for traditional romance readers, who might not take too kindly to a protagonist who is interfering with a functioning relationship.

2) Will the real man correspond in every way to the imaginary one? Beause, we all know how easy it is to dream about the perfect man, and then reality is always somewhat more... complex ;) From what you wrote, it sounds like she's exchanging like for like, but it could be made more interesting if the real person has some differences to the imaginary version, especially if she's had to kill the imaginary one off.

Best of luck with this, sounds like you're on to something unusual and quirky.
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Thanks! I hope that I can follow through on the execution. It is an extension of an existing 60k word story. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D83VD9D

Maybe I'll have her suspect the existence of a girlfriend but lack explicit confirmation. The protagonist searches through the database for information on the girlfriend, but only finds a few photos which show the man with a woman his own age. While she is adrift at sea and feeling sad, one of the AI ghosts which haunts the protagonist assumes the form of the woman in the photos. This is a riff off the Odyssey and instead of being trapped on an island by a seductive nymph, our Odysseus is trapped by imaginaryboyfriendcentral.com.
When the protagonist finally meets the real man, she has been knocked off of her feet by what she has just done to the imaginary boyfriend. She felt like she had just killed someone, even though that someone was imaginary.. and yet the real person stands in front of her. He is worried about her because she looks completely destroyed but when he gets close, she touches the hem of his shirt and pulls back in terror at how solid and real it feels. He doesn't understand why she is acting so weird. As she recovers, she meets the woman she had seen in the photo, but maybe, to make things interesting, it is just his sister and the girlfriend disappeared long ago.

Then again, that ending is a bit too encouraging of the the internet stalker mentality which is so common today. Perhaps they should just be friends and she falls for someone else! That would be better. It allows her to fully detach from a delusion/coping mechanism.

Still, I like the allegorical nature of the version in which they end up together. To some extent, we all create imaginary versions of our partners and have to come to terms their flaws. In this story, we see how technology can facilitate a dramatic amplification of this disconnect. Projections gone mad. Curiosity gone mad.

To extend the Odyssey parallels, perhaps the real boyfriend is trapped on a reality show like Love Island. He is surrounded by women vying for his hand, but they are all fake and only interested in the fame they get from the reality show. As the protagonist travels, she is tormented by episodes of Love Island which star her imaginary boyfriend.
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I’ve posted links to beatsheets many times and don’t see the point in doing so again. But if steps are what you want, beatsheets are a way to go.

For twists, question assumptions.

The existence of a girlfriend doesn’t always mean the end, or something negative. It depends. Answer the question for yourself at least. Then you have a value... fidelity maybe... would fidelity mean he doesn’t currently have a relationship...

It might not. Then you have questions and usually at least two different versions of answers.

If you’re writing a sci-if romance... don’t stick to societal norms and assumptions. Please don’t pretend everyone thinks alike or that relationships only have one sort of structure. If you don’t take a real look at them, you might as well write in a different romance genre.

Look at other sci-if romances. There was a really good one that won an RWA award a few years ago. I can’t remember the name of it .. Ghost something ... anyway... it was good. But ... don’t feel much like looking stuff up today ... I think the word Ophelia was in the title.

Also, something to think about, conflcit which is a result of a misunderstanding is what causes intelligent people to hate romance. If the conflict, problem, issue — whatever — can be resolved with a quick conversation then it’s not a very good sort of problem to throw at your character.
I just wrote a science-fiction romantic comedy which took the idea of social-media oversharing and (as SF writers do) exaggerated it. The conflict between the lovers is that they had no secrets whatever between them: they can see each other's blood pressure, what they eat, all past relationships, everything. I give it two years or so before my speculation is obsolete.
I just wrote a science-fiction romantic comedy which took the idea of social-media oversharing and (as SF writers do) exaggerated it. The conflict between the lovers is that they had no secrets whatever between them: they can see each other's blood pressure, what they eat, all past relationships, everything. I give it two years or so before my speculation is obsolete.
I love it!