Predictable plot in romance.

by Betty K
(Vancouver, Canada)

Question: Some people have mentioned that my ending is predictable although still quite satisfying. Well, it's a love story and ends the way one would want it to, but there are still some stumbling blocks in the last couple of chapters.

Seems to me that love stories are mostly predictable; otherwise they would be more or less tragedies. How do you feel?

Answer: It's certainly true that one of the key traits of the romance genre is that stories have happy endings.

By this, we mean that the main character of a romance will resolve her personal issue, fill the hole in her life, by finding true love by the end of the story. In Dramatica terms, we say that the Judgement of the story is Good.

Usually the Story Goal will also be achieved. However, you can also have a tragi-comedic ending in which the Story Goal is not achieved, but things still turn out okay for the main character. For instance, you could have a heroine who is an assassin sent to kill someone, but instead she falls in love with the intended victim (who will, of course, turn out to be a nice guy who persuades the assassin to give up her life of crime).

Now, anyone who is a fan of romance and picks up your book knowing it is a romance will certainly expect that the heroine will find love by the end. In fact, they will be disappointed if that doesn't happen. In the same way, mystery readers expect the detective to discover who the murderer is by the end.

That said, it is still your job as a writer to try and surprise the reader. At the very least, you want your reader to reach the climax not knowing for certain what the outcome will be.

One way to put the outcome in doubt is via a device commonly called the "Black Moment," a crisis in the relationship throughline that makes it appear as though the romance between the two lovers is doomed, finished, irreconcilable, etc. The idea is to build a strong case for a Judgement of Bad to occur, to make it seem as though the only option is for the couple to go their separate ways. How you do this, and how you pull off a reconciliation by the end (perhaps by finding another option) takes a bit of cleverness, but that's what makes it fun for the reader.

You want your reader to be able to say, "Wow, I couldn't see how it could possibly work out after that, but in hindsight it makes such sense."

If the stumbling blocks are trivial or too easy to overcome, then the ending will feel predictable and emotionally flat. Try to create a Black Moment that is truly black. Like the old saying, "it's always darkest before the dawn."

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