Writing the Romance Novel: The Seven Story Beats
In Writing the Romantic Comedy, Billy Mernit breaks the romance storyline into “seven basic” pieces, or “beats.” Most of us have heard that we should structure novels like plays or movies: in three acts. In a romance, the three acts can be broken down by the plot points we’ve already looked at: the meet, the lose, and the get. But Mernit breaks it down even further into these seven elements that are important to every romance:
1. The Setup/Hook
- A scene or sequence identifying the exterior and/or interior conflict (i.e., unfulfilled desire), the “what’s wrong with this picture” implied in the protagonist’s (and/or antagonist’s) current status quo (Mernit, 110).
2. The Meet/Inciting Incident
- The inciting incident brings man and woman together and into conflict; an inventive but credible contrivance, often amusing, which in some way sets the tone for the action to come (111).
3. The Turning Point
- Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 1, a new development that raises story stakes and clearly defines the protagonist’s goal; most successful when it sets man and woman at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal (112).
4. The Midpoint/Raising the Stakes
- A situation that irrevocably binds the protagonist with the antagonist (often while tweaking sexual tensions) and has further implications for the outcome of the relationship (113).
5. Swivel: Second Turning Point
- Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 2, stakes reach their highest point as the romantic relationship’s importance jeopardizes the protagonist’s chance to succeed at his/her state goal—or vice versa—and his/her goal shifts. (115)
6. The Dark Moment/Crisis
- Wherein the consequences of the swivel decision yield disaster; generally, the humaliating scene where private motivations are revealed, and either the relationship and/or the protagonist’s goal is seemingly lost forever (115).
7. Joyful Defeat/Resolution
- A reconciliation that reaffirms the primal importance of the relationship; usually a happy ending that implies marriage or a serious commitment, often at the cost of some personal sacrifice to the protagonist (116).
Okay, now I know this is a short post, and that beyond giving the definitions straight from the book, I haven’t really explained what any of them are. So for more in-depth information on each of these points, be sure to check out the follow-up posts:
Mernit, Billy. Writing the Romantic Comedy. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2000.