Monday, August 3, 2009

Twenty Classic Romance Plots - Part One

I stumbled across this list at the “The Roses of Houston” blog and thought it would be fun to talk about. So here are the first 10 of the Twenty Classic Romance Plots:

1. Secret Baby
2. Cinderella (rags to riches)
3. Opposites Attract
4. Bodyguard
5. Second chance/First love rekindled
6. Reunion
7. Stranded
8. Love Triangle
9. Marriage of Convenience (mail-order bride)
10. Beauty and the Beast

These classic plots are used over and over because they work. And there are myriad variations on the same theme. One writer’s version of the secret baby story will be vastly different from another writer’s version. So the challenge I set myself here to is come up with a book/movie/TV show that embodies each of these classic plots. Most come from my own “keeper shelves” of books.

1. Secret Baby – “Home Song” – by LaVryle Spencer (Berkley, 1995). The arrival of a new transfer student spells emotional upheaval for the Gardner family when it is revealed that he is the result of a brief affair that Tom Gardner, a devoted family man and high-school principal, had years earlier.

2. Cinderella (rags to riches) – “The Cinderella Deal” by Jennifer Cruisie. (Bantam Books, 1996) Daisy Flattery is an artistic, eccentric, messy, and strong-willed brunette who has no fashion sense according to Linc Blaise, her downstairs neighbor. He is focused, neat, proper, and Daisy gets on his nerves. Daisy is a struggling artist, who has a knack for storytelling. Linc is on the brink of getting the professorship he has always wanted, but the head of the committee thinks that a man his age should be married or there is something wrong with him. Linc offers Daisy a deal -- pretend to be his fiancée for the night. However, Daisy does such a good job of charming the whole committee that Linc must extend the proposition further since they expect Daisy to be with him when he moves to their town. He convinces Daisy to go with him temporarily; the agreement would end at the end of the academic year. As the year goes on, both begin to wish that midnight was not so close. Eventually they realize their marriage is not a Cinderella story, but real life. Notice how this story has elements of the next category, Opposites attract.

3. Opposites attract – There are several opposites attract movies, but one of my favorites is “Knocked Up” written and directed by Judd Apatow (2007). Hard working, career oriented Allison Scott (Katherine Heigl) has just received a big promotion at her television studio. She goes out to celebrate and meets super slacker Ben Stone (Seth Rogan). One night of slightly drunken passion later, Allison discovers she is indeed “knocked up”. Allison discovers a sweetness in Ben, but he’s still averse to actual work, preferring to hang out with his slacker buddies dreaming up pie-in-the-sky get-rich-quick schemes. But when Allison leaves, deciding that he’ll never change, Ben knows he has to change his ways, for the sake of his child and the woman he loves.

4. Bodyguard – The obvious bodyguard story is “The Bodyguard” movie with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. One of my favorite books using this plot is “The Guardian” by Bethany Campbell (Harlequin Superromance 1999). Hawkshaw quit the secret service because he doesn’t want to be responsible for anyone but himself. But when an old friend asks him to protect a woman and her young son from a stalker, he has no choice but to become their guardian.

5. Second Chance/First Love Rekindled – “Home at Last” by Margaret Watson (Harlequin Super Romance, 2009). As a young girl, Fiona McInnes loved Jackson Grant with all her heart, but she knew she had to leave her small hometown, and Jackson, to pursue her dreams. When her father dies, she’s forced to return home to settle his estate. Fiona and Jackson pick up where they left off twelve years previously, and discover their passion is still alive. But can Jackson get over the fact that Fiona left him twelve years ago?

6. Reunion – What is the difference between #5 and #6? Help me out people!

7. Stranded – “The Drop-In Bride” by Margaret St. George (Harlequin American Romance, 1994). Carrie James washes up on the beach of Dax Stone’s private Caribbean island. Dax, an acclaimed horror writer, is hiding out on the island, trying to write his next book. Only his agent knows where he is, but when the first supply plane doesn’t arrive, and the next one doesn’t either, he knows he and Carrie are in trouble. Not only are they stranded and falling in love, Carrie is pregnant and about to give birth. Any minute now!

8. Love Triangle – “Deirdre and Don Juan” by Jo Beverley (Avon 1993). The dashing Earl of Everdon needs to marry someone – anyone – who will bear him an heir. He sets his sights on quiet, well-bred Lady Deirdre Stowe. But Deirdre wants nothing to do with the lascivious lord. She is in love with someone else. Can Everdon convince Deirdre that he really needs her and that his love for her is real and forever?

9. Marriage of convenience (mail order bride) – “The Man from Blue River” by Judith Bowen (Harlequin Superromance 1996) When Martha Thomas finds herself unemployed and at loose ends, she accepts a job as a “Lady companion for two girls” in rural Wyoming. Fraser McKenna needs someone to help look after the young girls left in his care. When social services threatens to take the girls away Martha agrees to marry Fraser to make him a more suitable guardian. But Martha and Fraser fall in love and their marriage of convenience soon becomes very real.

10. Beauty and the Beast – Aside from the obvious, animated Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast” (which I watched with my daughters approximately 8,000 times), I can’t think of an example here. The Beast doesn’t have to be physically ugly; he could be emotionally stunted. After all, the love of a good woman can tame the worst of men. Any examples for this plot line?

The next 10 class romance plots are on their way to you next week? Can you think of examples of the first 10 Classic Romance plots?


Captain Hook said...

You know, I was wondering the same thing at first - what's the difference between 5 and 6? But I've settled on what I perceive as the difference.

In 5, the hero and heroine were in love previously, childhood sweethearts, formerly married to each other. In 6, I see it more as two people who were friends then went their own ways. When they meet again, they see each other in a different light.

I'm not sure if that makes sense to anyone but me, but remember, my day is just about over so my brain is not functioning at peak capacity.

Captain Hook said...

Oh! I forgot. A great author for Beauty and the Beast (or Geek as she writes them) is Vicki Lewis Thompson -

Ban said...

I'm with Captain about 5 vs. 6 (yes you made perfect sense) and MY main WiP is a beauty and the beast tale (at least the romance part is) which happens to be one of my FAVORITE plots. Erika had a great discussion on her site about why girls like bad-boys & while we agreed the 'beast' is not really a bad boy (more a difficult boy) for me, the attraction is the same - girl is special enough to tame him. I think in the case of difficult vs. bad though (and now I'm thinking of Hayley's recent post & of course my OWN opinion) the difficult one is often easier to sympathize with.
This was a great post Jana & kudos to you for finding all those examples ! Can't wait for part #2 :D

Jana Richards said...

Hi Captain,
Thanks for dropping by and helping me out with this question. I think you're on to something. So for #5 (Second chance/First love rekindled) childhood sweethearts or formerly married people, perhaps something tore them apart, such as parental disapproval or a tragedy, maybe war. In #6,reunion, perhaps the couple were friends that went their separate ways, as you say. But when they meet again they feel a spark for each other? Sounds pretty good to me. What do others think?

And yes, of course, you're right about Vicki Lewis Thompson. Love the titles of those books: "Gone with the Nerd", "Talk Nerdy to Me". Some definite Beauty and Beast stuff happening there.


Silver James said...

Great post, Jana!

My first thought on Beauty and the Beast is the TV show with Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. Any of the paranormals out there would technically be B/B stories, as well as bad boy/girl getting with good girl/boy.

As for 5 and 6, I think I agree with the others here. Unfortunately, I can't think of an example off the top of my head.

Jana Richards said...

Hi ban,
So for the "Beauty and the Beast" plot you're equating the "Beast" with the bad boy (or difficult boy, as you say). Do I have that right? When the right woman comes along, she is able to tame the Beast with her love. I'd be interested in reading how you handle this plot in the romance part of your book.

Do you, or anyone else out there, think that a book in which one of the characters thinks of himself/herself as the Beast because of an injury would qualify as an example of this plot? I recently read a category romance in which a young woman nurse who served in Afganistan lost part of her leg in a bomb blast. Her fiance at the time rejected her, so she thinks she's ugly, a Beast. But the hero, who's known her since childhood, still thinks she's beautiful and accepts her the way she is. It was quite a lovely story.

I suppose the Beast could also be someone who has done wrong in his life, and has maybe gone to jail. But the heroine sees the good in him. I'm thinking of a book I read in which the hero had been wrongly accused of killing his child by shaking her and spent ten years in jail. The heroine is the first person who believes him when he says he didn't do it. What do you think?


Jana Richards said...

Hey Silver,
Glad you dropped by. Yes, that TV show was a definite B & B example. As I recall, the Beastie types weren't well accepted by other humans and had to live underground. Linda Hamilton was one of the rare humans who accepted them.

Thanks for another example!

Jana Richards said...

Hi all,
I'm going to be away for a good part of today. It's a holiday here so we're going golfing, assuming we don't get rained out. It's been doing a lot of that for us this summer! So I'm packing my rain gear and heading out. I'll be back later tonight. Talk amongst yourselves!


Ban said...

I think any adaptation of that would work Jana so long as the 'beast' thought themself unlovable (not necessarily due to looks) and acted out on this - say ... keeping everyone at bay because they don't want to be hurt further by rejection (?) again, this is just MY opinion. Both examples you give would fit MY interpretation of B&TB.

Vince said...

Hi Jana:

The most powerful ‘Beauty and the Beast’ theme I’ve ever read is “Bodacious” by Sharon Ervin. In this story the beast is very close to being an animal but he is not one. The story is very realistic and yet believable. I reviewed it on Amazon years ago. I think it would be very worthwhile to read if you are going to write your own B&B theme.

As for ‘reunion’ themes, I see these as stories where the hero and heroine meet in the future at a time when they are now free to marry. Perhaps they have often wondered over the years ‘what could have been’ if only they had met before they were committed to someone else. I’ve have read a few of these but no titles come to mind. It’s a theme I like but I don’t see often. It can be a very sad theme and I think it is hard to write well.

I must say you have a very interesting and lively blog here. Thanks, I really enjoy it.


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Great list Jana! This would have been invaluable when going into my Harlequin research paper, but instead I had a room full of lovely writers to help me brainstorm.

I agree with Captain Hook about #5 and #6, that's what first popped into my head when you raised the question.

I think the Beauty and the Beast plot ties into the concept of the hero-villain often (which I do mean to eventually get into so I stop referencing it without context, it's just not a fantasy topic for Eventide), where the male lead enters the book as an antagonist to the heroine and he presents the main conflict she needs to overcome (a less dramatic example would be You've Got Mail, since he's the source of their conflict). Once she overcomes him, she realizes his good attributes, or tames him, or however you prefer to phrase it. I think Beauty and the Beast plots have an element of that.

In one of my university seminars we talked about fairy tales and the messages behind them.. such as Red Riding Hood and her cloak standing for the progression to maturity, menstruation, and the fear of ensuring a growing woman not 'stray off the path' and defy her parents wishes. Beauty and the Beast in that respect is essentially a story to say to a daughter, "Now dear, I know you hate this guy, and he's old, and he's rude and inconsiderate, and your father is just making you marry him for social reasons... but deep down in every terrible man there's really a handsome prince, and maybe if you work hard enough you can change him and you'll cure your beast." A consolation tale for women in bad marriages. In that sense, I'd say marriage of convenience tales can sometimes be Beauty and the Beast tales, if their the sort where she's stuck with someone she 'doesn't like.' Half the marriage of convenience I read for my paper had that theme, especially the older ones, and those men were marvelously beastly in the way they treated their wives.

Helena said...

I'm really pleased you found this list, Jana. I find it a little intriguing that I have managed to hang the plot of my current story on one of them -- #5, where my hero and heroine fell in love in their late teens, then were parted through a misunderstanding only to be brought together many years later, through (guess what?) a secret baby, now grown up. Wasn't even aware of these classic plots when I started!

Great blog, Jana, and I too wait with bated breath for next week. (Hope your weather is better than here today -- cool and threatening rain.)

Chiron said...

Hmmm... perhaps Reunion would be like America's Sweethearts starring John Cusack, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Julia Roberts.

Julia, the sister of John's former 'love of his life' and the ever-patient assistant, has always harbored feelings for her sister's beau. Now as John and Catherine reunite for a film promotion, a newly svelte Julia (though he doesn't notice because he 'always thought she looked great') and John develop an attraction.

Wanted to let you know, I passed on the One Lovely Blog award to you guys!! Great job here!

--Chiron O'Keefe
The Write Soul:

Suse said...

Hi Jana, interesting post today. I think it helps to have these plots in mind when writing our stories. It definitely helps with focusing the events in the story. And as you said, one person's secret baby story will be different from someone else's secret baby story.

I agree with people's definitions of 5 & 6. I think the movie, "Just Friends" with Ryan Reynold and Amy Smart is a good example of a reunion story. "Chris Brander (Reynolds), an obese high school student is secretly in love with his best friend, Jamie Palamino (Smart). In 1995, on the night of their high school graduation, Chris attends Jamie's graduation party, and confesses his feelings to her by writing them in her yearbook; when he tries to return her yearbook to her, however, it is swiped by Jamie's ex-boyfriend Tim and he reads it aloud at the party. Chris is publicly humiliated -- and, to top it off, Jamie doesn't reciprocate his feelings, instead giving him a kiss on the cheek and saying she loves him like a brother. Jamie yells at their classmates for making fun of him, but Chris flees the party on his bicycle, vowing to leave town and become more successful than all of them." (Wikipedia) When Chris returns home after becoming successful and thinner, he encounters Jamie. Will Chris find love with Jamie this time? (Just to put a plug in for Regina, part of this movie was filmed here.)

I just recently saw the movie, "Fools Rush In" with Matthew Perry (Alex) & Salma Hayek (Isabel). This is definitely an opposites attract story line. Alex and Isabel have a one night stand which results in a pregnancy. They decide to get married and that's when all their differences surface. Alex comes from an upper crust family who only get together on holidays, if that. Whereas Isabel comes from a Mexican family who meet once a week for supper.

I look forward to your next post. I'm hoping that my favourite plot is among the next 10 - Boy/Girl Next Door.

Jana Richards said...

Hi everybody,
I made it back. Well, my golf game hasn't improved any but we had a great day. We managed to miss rain, although it was quite windy.

Glad to have started an interesting discussion. Vince, I agree with you about the reunion story. It probably would be hard to write well as a romance because it would hard to make people who are essentially cheating on their spouses sympathetic. Meeting your soul mate when one or both of you were already committed to someone else - how sad. Many years later they meet again when both are free. I don't know if I've read such a story, at least not as a romance.

Hayley, I thought of you immediately when I ran across this list. Unfortunately I didn't find it until sometime after our retreat. Wish I could have helped you out.

I guess the Red Riding Hood story and the Beauty and the Beast story could be thought of as cautionary tales for women, but I'm just going to think of them as fairy tales, and the classic romantic plots as lovely romantic stories. You're probably right about their meanings, but I'm closing my ears.

Helena, something that struck me about these plots and the books I thought fit the plot, was how much overlap there was between them. Such as your story, which marrys the reunion story with the secret baby story. This overlap seems to happen a lot. I can hardly wait to read your story! Let me know if you need a reader.

Hey Chiron, great to hear from you. I've seen America's Sweethearts. I think it would qualify as a reunion story in that the hero/heroine have known each other forever, but just recently started to think of each other in a new way, and were "reunited" as a couple. Thank you for passing on the One Lovely Blog award! That's very kind of you. Do we then pass it to someone else?


Jana Richards said...

Hi Suse,
I think your example of a reunion story works really well. I've often thought of writing a similar story myself. I love the idea of two people meeting later in life when one has gone through some kind of transformation.

"Fools Rush In" was definitely an opposites attract story. She is so incredibly vibrant in the movie and he's kind of milk toast. But in the end they were good together.

I can't tell you what's coming up next week - I want it to be a surprise. I hope I don't disappoint you!


Chiron said...

Hi Jana!

The details are on my blog. If you want, I can forward on the award pic, or if you can, cut and paste from my blog. Let me know!!

Even though I don't often leave comments, I love your blog and hope to bring you some new readers.


Jana Richards said...

You're too kind! Thank you for thinking of us.

Maybe you should send me the link for the award because I'm kind of technology challenged. Email my hotmail account jana . richards @

We really appreciate this, Chiron and we appreciate you. Thanks for visiting and being our friend.


Karyn Good said...

Hi Jana, great post today. Unfortunately I've been operating under the impression today was Sunday.

I haven't yet had a chance to read all the comments but as soon as I have a chance I'll go back. I think you'd find some examples for No. 10 in pre-paranormal times and the more gothic type romances of old.

And for No. 6 maybe Nora Roberts Chespeake Bay series kind of fits the bill. It's not a reunion between the hero and heroine but more in the three brothers coming together again to help Seth.

Just a couple of thoughts.

Molli said...

Here I am kiddo--day late and a dollar short, but what the hey!!

Great post--nuts & bolts with a challenge we can all enjoy. I'll look forward to Part 2.

Anita Mae Draper said...

In random order as I think of them:

Secret Baby: Marry Me Ma'am? by me ;)

Beauty and the Beast: Mary Balogh's Simply Love

Reunion: Serendipity 2001 with John Cusak and Kate Beckinsale

Opposties Attract: Pretty in Pink 1986 with Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy

okay, those are the only ones I can think of that haven't been mentioned.

Looking forward to next week, Jana.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Molli,
Better late than never! I hope you enjoy part 2 next week.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Anita,
Great examples. I should have known Mary Balogh would fit in there somewhere!