After writing the post on villains, I started to think of why so many people assume that romance is nothing more than “porn for women”. And then the realization came to me. These people don’t understand how the basic elements of storytelling applies to romance. In their minds, romance is nothing more than the hero and heroine meeting, having lots of wild sex, and the book ending. (A lot of people also don’t realize that there are romances out there that don’t contain sex. But I’m not here to argue the fact that romance runs the range from squeaky clean to erotic.) I’m here to point out that romances actually come with a plot.
I know. It’s hard for some to believe, but there is more to falling in love and getting to the happy ending than simply telling the reader, “They met, they fell in love, the end.”
The hero and heroine have a goal. The goal in romance is for the hero and heroine to end up happily together. While that sounds simple enough, it’s really not that simple because your villain (be it a person or thing) will present the conflict. There can be a parent, sibling, an ex, or other person who is actively working to come between the hero and heroine. I’ve done these, and they work well enough. They’re also self-explanatory. They’re very surface level villains.
The best villains for romance, in my opinion, are the ones in which the villain comes from within the hero or heroine. Most romances have these inner demons working within one or both characters. That’s why the villain often used in a romance is an emotional one.
Emotional villains come in many forms. I’ll give a few examples. 1. A hero might have to overcome the pain of a divorce in order to fall in love again. The villain in this case is the fear of going through pain again if the hero opens himself up to the heroine. 2. A wallflower/spinster heroine who doesn’t feel attractive has to overcome her insecurity in order to believe she deserves the love that the hero is offering. The villain in this case is her insecurity. 3. A hero might have been a complete jerk in the past and is working hard to redeem himself, but he struggles with the reality that he is now deserving of the heroine’s love. The villain in this case is the hero’s guilt. He must overcome it in order to accept that all has been forgiven and he is allowed to have the love he most desires. 4. A heroine desires independence but is afraid the hero will restrict her freedom if she were to fall in love with him. The villain in this case is the heroine’s fear that if she gives her heart to the hero, then she will sacrifice who she is. There are plenty of emotional villains out there to present a plot in a romance. It’s all in how that villain is used.
Let me illustrate how an emotional villain works in a romance by taking one of the examples I listed above. We’ll look at the wallflower/spinster heroine scenario.
What would be the best personality type in our hero? You’d want someone who is able to recognize what makes a lady superficial. Our hero is seeking someone he can have a genuine conversation with. He wants someone who has inner beauty that others miss. Since the villain in this story is the heroine’s insecurity, we need obstacles that target her insecurity. The obstacles are there to keep her insecure. Anything that makes her feel insecure will add to the conflict between her and the hero. Perhaps one of the hero’s family members finds her lacking and makes her feel like the hero could do way better. Or maybe the hero ends up stuck with some task at a job that keeps him gone a lot, and she begins to wonder if he’s secretly with another lady (one he finds much more desirable than her). In both cases, her insecurity has been reinforced. Regardless of the obstacles, she is going to have to overcome them until the end of the book where she finally comes to realize that the hero truly does love her and sees her as the most desirable lady who’s ever lived. The happy ending comes when she overcomes that war with insecurity, and since this is a romance, her ability to overcome her insecurity is due to the hero’s love. Without the hero, she is unable to reach the point where she’s confident with herself.
A final word: my advice is to avoid the overused tactics of endless cycles of misunderstandings and the endless cycles of interruptions. I see these used a lot in romance, and it drives me crazy. The hero and heroine should be mature enough to sit down and have a conversation, and they should be allowed to do it without someone always coming in to interrupt them. Use these things sparingly. It’s far more effective to get more creative when coming up with obstacles to throw at the hero or heroine.