Theory on Thursday with Lynne Marshall

Today I have romance author Lynne Marshall, talking about something that feels particularly close to home at the moment. As I zoom towards the end of my wip, I’m hoping that I’ve given the reader everything they want in a romance and will be using Lynne’s handy check-list. 

Welcome and take it away Lynne…


 For those who read and love the Romance genre—though contrary to popular belief that they are formulaic, which they’re not—there is an expected sequence of events in each book. This sequence can be compared to similar expectations for readers of the murder mystery genre.  There, by the end of the book, the murder must be solved.  In Romance, the couple must fall in love and commit to each other. How each genre achieves that ending is as creative as the author who pens it.  The story structure for Romance is like other fiction literature, with the addition of a few genre-specific traits.

General Five-Stage story structure for fiction:

  1. The character has a problem
  2. Complications make the problem worse
  3. Conflict, complications, and crises result in a climax
  4. Problems get resolved
  5. The characters learn something about themselves and/or life

In Romance, step #3 is termed the Black Moment – when all seems lost between the hero and heroine.  Done right, the author makes the reader believe there is no way this couple will ever be together again.  All is lost.

 The Problem:

Often in Romance, the writer has not set up strong enough conflict to ensure a dramatic, all or nothing, black moment. Editors sometimes complain about the hero and heroine “skipping through the tulips” instead of emotionally battling each other.  Notice I said emotionally battling, not bickering.  Big difference.

Conflict is the key. The most engaging books take the reader on a rollercoaster ride through emotion and drama, forcing their characters to walk through hell before finding and accepting the gift of happily-ever-after.  Without solid conflict for both of the characters (hero and heroine) this cannot be achieved.

What Makes a Good Black Moment?

One ingredient cannot be overlooked when creating the characters for a romance.  There must be a relationship barrier.  The RB is what keeps the character from moving closer to their love interest.  It isn’t something external that prevents the couple from physically getting together.  No, the RB is internal and should keep this particular character from engaging in a love relationship with ANY other person.  For the purposes of our Romance books, the RB prevents our hunky hero or spunky heroine from crossing over the border of physical lust into true love.

 No Wimpy Characters

We don’t write about wimpy characters in Romance.  We like to read about people willing to overcome their shortcomings in order to attain the love of their life.  When our characters are hit with the black moment – that moment when their worst fears are fully recognized – they do something many people forget to do these days—they GROW.  They may not do that immediately in the book—the author may torture the reader with the possibility of the whole relationship falling through—but we sense that change is coming.  It keeps us turning the pages.

 The Goal of the Black Moment

…is to magnify the relationship barrier along with the character’s major personality flaw when the plot forces the character to face their worst fear…to either change or lose out.

Yes, the characters have an epiphany and realize they must change or give up, or let go of that long-held baggage that has been holding them back in life. The hero is the catalyst that gives the heroine the courage to let go and try for a better future, and vice versa. Each wants to change in order to experience true love.

The HEA – Ah

When everything falls into place in a Romance book, the reader closes the cover with a sigh and a solid sense of “all is right with the world.” The characters we’ve invested in for however many pages, are giving themselves permission to crawl out of the chains of the black moment and FINALLY fall in love.

Question for readers:  What is your favorite part about the Romance genre?

Ooh great question Lynne, looking forward to some great answers.

You can find Lynne online at her website and on Facebook.

Lynne’s latest release is Courting His Favourite Nurse:


 Anne Grady knew better than anyone that love was complicated. When she’d left her hometown, she thought she was leaving her past heartbreak behind for good, as well. But practically the moment she returned to care for her injured parents, she stumbled headlong into their confidant—her first love, Jack Lightfoot.

 Jack had been unable to deny his feelings for Annie when he was a teenager dating her best friend, and he certainly couldn’t muffle the spark twisting between them now—even if memories of the past kept threatening to push them apart. This time Jack wasn’t going to let history repeat itself—he was going to show Annie that the two of them were meant to be much more than best friends!

You can purchase Courting His Favourite Nurse from Harlequin, Amazon, Book Depository and other good bookshops!


45 thoughts on “Theory on Thursday with Lynne Marshall

  1. Great summation of the five-stage story – I hadn’t seen that before (and I thought I’d seen EVERYTHING, lol!).

    The only twist I would add is, especially in a romance, the characters’ main goal CANNOT be to fall in love. Love is that surprise in the box of cracker jacks that comes when they a. overcome their obstacles and b. find themselves changed by their journey.

    And that, of course, is why I love romance – to see how that journey ends for everyone, and to see who changes the most to make the relationship work.

    Great post, Lynne!

  2. I love to read romance because of the underlying emotions. Everyone’s journey in life is different and yet there are human emotions we can all relate to. A good romance author will tap into the depths of those emotions and maybe even help you to address some of the issues you are personally stuck on. Your books are like that, Lynne. I love the emotion you bring to the page. A friend of mine read every Jennifer Crusie book she could lay her hands on after she lost her husband of forty years. She said it helped her to remember all of the youthful times they’d shared, that promise they’d made to each other, and how they had overcome mountains together. And as an extra plus, she got to laugh, and to cry.

  3. Your five stage story summary was new to me too, and I found it a helpful breakdown of the essential structure. The stories I enjoy most start with both an internal and an external “problem,” although I guess perhaps one is always primary and the other is a “makes it worse” factor. For example, in Courting His Favorite Nurse, Anne Grady’s got a substantial external problem — injured parents who need her help. Her internal problem adds a big, fat complication, in the form of her conflicted, unresolved feelings for her first love, Jack.

    So, okay, stepping away from technique, I also have to admit I’m a sucker for a “win her back” story, so Courting His Favorite Nurse hit on every level for me!

  4. OMG, Gwen Goody – you have made me smile! Thank you so much for your kind words. Anne and Jack really did need to make it right, didn’t they? And next up, Lucas and Jocelyn will have their shot at romance.
    As for the five stage story structure – according to Elizabeth Lyon in Manuscript Makeover (one of my “must have close by” craft books) “90% of novels are built using a universal ‘architectural’ blueprint called dramatic structure.” In it’s simplest form it has 3 stages – problem, climax, resolution. In Romance – we could add a sixth stage to that 5 stage dramatic structure – the happily-ever-after.

    Thank you so much for reading my book and this blog. 🙂

  5. Hmm, I love everything about romance but what I love most is the happy exhale at the end of the story when yoy get to wipe a little tear, and smile too. You can’t get that without all of the other moments, and not every book will be that perfect (exhale) moment, but I live for those reads.

  6. You can shoot me now, but I was never a big fan of romance–for years. Until the day we had our middle child. Having a child with a disability was not the worst thing that happened to me–but it was pretty dicey for a few weeks. What really tipped me over the edge was discovering she had a significant heart defect and would require open heart surgery–sooner rather than later or she would not make it to her 5th birthday. Well, she is celebrating her 25th birthday this year and I became a huge fan of the HEA in the first six months of her life. I needed happy endings, comedy and all things light and beautiful in my life.

    Lynne–this is a great post on story structure and you sparked a wonderful discussion. Thanks!

    • Hi Nancy! Your story is so touching and shared by many women/families with children with disabilities. Life is hard, and the last thing we ever get is a guarantee about a happy ending, so the Romance genre definitely does have huge appeal, doesn’t it? I am so happy to know your beautiful daughter is 25! What a joyous blessing. As always – thanks for commenting, Nan. 🙂

  7. Good job, Lynne. I laugh because you make it look so easy with your 5 steps and we all know how deceptive “easy” can be when writing. I think romance is HARD to write because it can be a challenge to make that relationship hurdle realistic. I’m looking for to reading your book!

    • Hi Cynthia – yes laugh away – I do too, especially when i hear people say casually (as if anyone and their mother could do it) “I think I’ll write a book one day.”
      Have at it, honey, let us know how that turns out. Of course I keep that thought to myself. >coy smile<

      I hope you enjoy the book! thanks for commenting.

  8. Love totally makes the world go round. I think we all want to be loved/accepted/respected by at least one other person on the planet.

    I’ve read a couple of books recently that were narrative and character ISO a story – good tips here, Lynne. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I think all too many readers and some writer’s forget that the relationship problem is due to internal forces, probably because TV is so hooked on the external crisis. Every show on television or the big screen seems to have an explosion, chase scene, or a death to keep us watching. What about the voice of the heart that affects every day of our lives? Thanks for the reminder, Lynne. Great blog.


  10. I love reading romance because it feels good. It’s like eating chocolate. You get involved with the characters, you want to see them get together, you want them to overcome the obstacles. When they finally get it together, you sigh with satisfaction. But the author has to ‘do it right’ or it will only make you sigh with frustration. I remember reading a romance last year where the hero trapped the heroine into marriage because the heroine’s brother had mistreated the hero’s sister, leading, by default, to her death. The whole idea was a tit for tat revenge. The story ended with the hero falling in love with the heroine – good – but he – like – just forgot about his sister. Because of his love for the heroine, he just swallowed the brother’s rather lame explanation and all was fine again. Me? I felt like throwing the book out the window.

    It has to be done right or it just doesn’t work!

    Hi Lynne, hi Rachael! Good to ‘see’ you both again!

    • Hi Maria! Point well taken. Us writers get it drummed into our heads – the goals, motivations and conflict MUST MUST MUST make sense and be believable. Otherwise, like you, the reader will toss the book aside.

      Note to us authors – we DO NOT want to tick off our readers. 😦

      Thanks so much for stating so well all of your reasons for reading and loving romance.

  11. Ladies, what a lovely post that demystifies the heart of a romance novel!

    I think my favourite part of a romance is the growth in the characters. How did they change, why did they change and how did they influence each other through that change. It’s all about the emotion!

    • Hi Helene – oh yes, so true. My favorite part is when the character has that epiphany moment, where they make the choice to move ahead with life and that special person, where they GROW into the character we’ve all known they could be if they’d just give themselves a chance.

      Can you tell how wrapped up I get in the essense of the Romance Novel?

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  12. Hi Lynne, Hello Rachael!

    It’s an amazing post. It teaches aspiring writers how to add and layer in emotion and readers also get to understand the behind the scene of the book they just enjoyed.

    Thanks so much Lynne!

  13. Thanks so much for having me as a guest, Rachael. And Hello to Nas – without her I wouldn’t have been here! Thank you, Nas for the kind words about my craft blogs. i think I’ll post a few from this blog tour at my website under articles. ?

    It was great meeting everyone and discussing your favorite parts of Romance books. (notice I always spell Romance with a capital R)
    Have a great weekend all.

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