The #1 Thing Writers Miss When Writing A Romance Story (Or Love Story Subplot)

As a Developmental Editor, I read A TON of stories every year, and one of the most common errors I see writers making, specifically with romance stories or love story subplots, is not showing enough of WHY and HOW the two characters fall in love.

So many of the stories I read it’s like zero to LOVE in five seconds, based on first sight or one look or one touch. They walk past each other at the park–for example—and BOOM! They’re suddenly in love. And then the characters spend the rest of the book lusting over each other.

Except it doesn’t work like that.

In real life people may sometimes experience “love at first sight,” or go from zero to infatuation in five seconds, but that doesn’t work in a story. It’s not enough.

Stories are not real life. They’re fictional tales based on real-life truths.

But they’re still fictional, which means they have to be cohesive and make sense, and each thing that happens must be building to something bigger.

Nothing random. Nothing extraneous. Just what’s needed to make it a believable and enjoyable vicarious experience for your reader.

This applies to ALL stories, not just romances, of course! But when you’re writing a romance or using a love story as a subplot to your main story, there are certain “beats” or moments that need to happen in order to make the reader believe your two characters are actually in love.

And that’s the stuff that usually gets missed by writers.

I used to do the same thing in my stories when I first started. I used to think it was enough for them to just be attracted to each other. But attraction only takes you so far.

At some point, there has to be something real to bond the two characters and make the love grow between them, such as a common backstory, a shared interest or passion, a shared experience, etc.

People do not fall in love based on attraction alone. Attraction may start it, but it’s the bond that keeps it going.

Your romance story and/or love story subplot needs something real to bond your characters. It can be anything you choose, but you have to choose something.

Now there’s a lot more to writing a romance story than just a bond between the characters, but that’s a starting point that will help you write better romance stories or love story subplots.

I covered the rest of what’s required for a romance story in the masterclass, Plotting Your Romance Story.

I broke down all of the beats in a romance story, explaining how to structure it for optimal believability, giving you examples for clarity, and then we had a Q&A session.

If you’re a romance writer or if you want to write love story subplots, this masterclass will improve your storytelling in a BIG way.

AND–best of all!!–you can get access to this masterclass for FREE by joining the Multi-Passionate Mastermind, my membership group for writers who want to be successful authors AND everything else they dream of too.

When you sign up, you’ll get immediate access to the member’s site and private Facebook group, plus the link to access tonight’s training (and it will be recorded in case you can’t be there live).

>> Learn more and join the Multi-Passionate Mastermind group here

Dream life or bust,

How To Turn An “Eh” Idea Into A “Gotta Read That” Story

When a blip of inspiration hits you, you have what I like to call an “idea seed.” This isn’t a story, not yet. It’s just an idea that may very well turn into a story.

The problem is, most writers don’t see that. They get the blip of inspiration–write a story about losing love set in the 1930s–and they just sit down and start planning or start writing. But they’ve skipped an entire step in the process.

Before you can turn your idea into a story, you have to develop it.

Your idea needs marination time, it needs to be poked and prodded and questioned. All of this is part of the development process. And it’s how you take an “eh” idea and turn it into a “gotta read that” story.

I’m big on examples, so here’s one from my writing life.

A few months ago, I got an idea seed for a story about a girl who has bad luck with love and who always gets dumped or broken up with, sometimes in an extreme manner (Think: the infamous Carrie Bradshaw Post-it note break up incident).

But how freaking boring is that?!

OK, maybe it’s not totally boring. Maybe some readers in my genre (Chick Lit/Women’s Contemporary Fiction with Romantic Undertones) would be interested in it. But would the majority of readers in my genre?

Probably not.

Would it become a smash-hit bestseller?

Definitely not.

Because there are already a ton of other books out there with a similar storyline. What’s to differentiate this story from all the others?

Most writers don’t think this way, because they believe nonsense like you need to write for yourself and not for anyone else (not true, by the way, unless you only plan on writing for yourself. If you want to be published and get a readership, you need to take your reader into consideration when you’re choosing which ideas are worth writing).

Being a professional writer is about having business sense and knowing what will sell and what won’t. It’s about putting your soul on paper, but doing it strategically and with purpose and intention. 

I think like a pro writer, so I knew right away that my idea seed wasn’t enough. It was just a spark, but I needed the whole fire.

So I sat on it. I let it marinate in my subconscious and I went into my days knowing that if I’m meant to write the story, it will come through to me in a more specific, kick-ass way. (Kinda like the idea of letting a story “chase you” before you write it.)

And, well, not long after that, something came through for this story that was so incredible it actually freaked me out at first. Because I could actually see it becoming a bestseller in my genre. I could see it being turned into a big-screen Hollywood rom-com that grosses millions of dollars at the box office.

It’s scary to think you have a story with that kind of potential.

And what came through to me was this: The Breakup Coach.

A story about a woman who is a “break up coach.” She would actually help people break up with their spouses and significant others. I’m imagining it like “Hitch” in reverse (Hitch, if you haven’t seen it, is a movie about a “love doctor” who helps shy, quiet men get the women of their dreams).

And the differentiator here, the thing that changed this from an “eh” idea into a “gotta read that” story, is Concept. It’s putting something conceptual at the heart of it. (The story still needs a Premise, which I’m working on now.)

It’s taking “a story about a girl who has bad luck with love” and bringing it to a whole new level.

In this case we have character as concept, because her job (being a “break up coach”) is so far out of the realm of what is “normal” or what you’ve seen before that it puts a totally unique spin on things.

Now can you imagine if I had just sat down and started planning (or, even worse, started writing), not truly seeing the big picture or taking the time to develop the spark into an actual fire? I’d have ended up with a much different story. One that wouldn’t have been nearly as good as it’s going to be now that I’ve elevated it to this level by infusing it with Concept.

This is why the story development process is SO important. More so than even the planning process (although that’s super important too). Because without the story development process, you may just end up wasting your time writing the lame story idea that has the potential to really shine if you just gave it the time it needs to become something more.

Patience becomes an important virtue in this case.

I know it’s hard. It’s SO HARD to stop yourself or put the brakes on when you’re burning with an idea that you want to just sit down and start working on. It’s super hard.

But it’s worth it.

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How do you turn your story ideas from “eh” to “amazing?” 

Are you done trying to write a story before it’s ready to be written? Ready for a whole new way of turning an idea into a fully developed story plan? Check out the Story Roadmap Kit

Where Do Story Ideas Come From?

I read People magazine on the regular (it’s my guilty pleasure), and one thing I love about it is there’s always a “Best New Books” section, mostly filled with novels. I love reading this section to keep tabs on the new books that are coming out.

Plus, I always learn something about Concept and Premise.

Take the write up I saw for the book, Maybe In Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The write-up for this book details the plot as:

Tired of meaningless jobs and fresh from a breakup, 29-year-old Hannah goes home to L.A. seeking a new start. What she encounters first is her old boyfriend, Ethan, in a bar. Is it fate? Should she stay with him or leave with her friend? In parallel story lines, Reid plays out the consequences of each decision.

What’s Conceptual about this story is the parallel story lines–we’re seeing two stories happening to the same character simultaneously, and we don’t know which one is reality and which isn’t. This in and of itself is interesting, and an Antagonist hasn’t even been introduced.

And then the Premise happens when we see that she has moved all the way back home–only to run into her high school boyfriend (the story’s Antagonist, I’m assuming, since I haven’t read the book).

Where Story Ideas Comes From

I don’t know about you, but I love the Concept that Reid is playing with in this story. It has so much inherent conflict, and so many possibilities built right in. It’d be cool to know where the idea for this story came from, and how it transformed into the book Reid published.

‘Cause story ideas are just that–ideas. They aren’t actual stories. Not yet.

In order to count as a story, it needs a whole list of things, like a Protagonist, an Antagonist, a Concept, a vicarious experience, and something happening.

Story ideas are merely seeds or sparks of inspiration that can be turned into a story by asking questions, playing with different scenarios, and finding the most optimal choices.

But a good story can be sparked by almost anything:

  • something you hear or see in real life
  • a story in the newspaper
  • a song lyric
  • another story
  • an experience you’ve had
  • an experience someone else has had
  • an experience you’d like to have
  • a character
  • a setting
  • a year in history

This list of story sparks could go on forever…

But none of these sparks is an actual story. Not yet.

First, a Concept and Premise needs to be introduced.

An Inside Look

There’s so much that goes into what you see in the final published story. And there’s so much that came before it–the story development process, writing the draft, revising the story, editing, polishing, etc.

Problem is, you rarely ever get to see this stuff. All you ever see is the final product.

So I wanted to give you an inside look at my story planning and development process, the one I use for my stories and all of my client’s stories. I’m live-planning my new story starting next Monday. 

The idea seed for my new story comes from something that actually happened. Back in 2008, I came across an inspiring story online that totally captured my heart–a Starbucks barista donated a kidney to one of her customers.

It struck a chord with me, and made me ask a lot of questions:

  • Why would someone donate a kidney to an almost-stranger?
  • What would it be like to go through this experience?
  • How would it change you?

These questions were enough to hold my interest and spark a story idea that I’ve been marinating on for years.

Next week, I’m diving deeper into how I’m turning this idea seed into an actual story, with a Concept and a Premise.

Be sure to join my email list so you don’t miss a thing (and you’ll also get a special freebie I only give to newsletter subscribers). 


Image courtesy of Magenta Rose

The Author Intensive: Planning and Development

Over the 18 years that it took me to finally publish my first novel, I’ve developed a lot of processes and strategies for getting things done, and for coping with the BS that pops up and tries to get in your way. And I wanted to share these processes, to help other writers who are struggling with writing their novels.

So I’ve created the Author Intensive: Planning and Development, a 6-week, one-on-one program where I walk you step-by-step through the process of planning and developing your story.

This is the exact process I use to plan and develop all of my stories, including SoundCheck, my debut novel. My process is based on the storytelling principles my mentor, Larry Brooks, shared in his bestselling writing book, Story Engineering.

The purpose of this program is to help you start your story off on the right foot, by figuring out how to make it work before you spend any time writing the first draft.

I know how frustrating it can be to get 25,000 words into a story and realize you don’t know where you’re going and you have no idea how to end it.

If you figure that stuff out first, you’ll be off to the races. 

>> Learn more about the Author Intensive: P&D


Is Your Story Suffering From “Convenience Factor?”

Has this ever happened in your story:

Your character is on a quest to find a missing watch. He spent the last three scenes retracing steps, questioning bystanders and searching high and low. Then he finds himself at home, trying to piece together the clues, when all of a sudden in walks his sister’s best friend’s mom. She’s holding a clue in her hand that will solve everything. She gives it to the him. 

Or what about this…

Your Protagonist is chasing her lover to the airport. He’s about to get on a plane and leave forever. She gets to the airport, and what do you know, they just happen to be giving away free tickets. She grabs herself a ticket, the security guard upgrades her to first class so she can get through security faster, and she catches her lover before his plane leaves. 

This is a common thing I see in stories all the time.

I call it the “Convenience Factor,” and it’s a big no-no. As one of my clients says, it’s “lazy storytelling.”

What he means by that is, rather than optimizing the story in a way that moves it forward and ties into the plot, the writer uses convenience methods to make things happen: adding a random character in to deliver important information, dropping things in your Protagonist’s lap and not actually forcing him to do any work.

Rather than convenience, spend time planning and developing your story, that way you know exactly what has to happen in the story, and how your Protagonist will be receiving the important information he needs in order to move forward and become the hero. Then you won’t have to do any convenience adding, just to fill space or try to explain something that doesn’t really fit in the story.

Whenever I see Convenience Factor in a manuscript, nine times out of 10 I know the writer did very little, if any, planning before writing the draft. And that’s a huge problem.

Because when you don’t take the time to plan and develop your story—ask questions and consider all possibilities for the direction the story could go in—you’re selling your story short. You’re stopping it from really blossoming into the story it could be.

Convenience Factor is a side effect of pantsing your story instead of planning it out. When you don’t plan, you have no idea what needs to happen to move the story forward. And that’s when you reach for convenience items, like random characters, all-too-coincidental story lines, etc.

Don’t do it.

Don’t waste your time writing a draft like that, a draft full of convenience. Readers don’t want that.

What readers want is a story. A vicarious experience for them to go on with your Protagonist.

They want a Protagonist who’s a bit of a mess, but has the qualities of someone who could be really kick-ass. They want to see things happen to this Protagonist–bad things–in order to find out what he’s made of. And then they want a satisfying ending that resolves everything and has the Protagonist really stepping up and earning his hero title.

Anything less than that isn’t worth their time.

But you can’t create a story like that–a story of that caliber–without doing some developing and planning ahead of time. (Well, you can always write multiple drafts, but you’ll just end up frustrated.)

Do yourself a favor: Give up the Convenience Factor, plan and develop your story, and write a damn good first draft.

Want Help?

Helping emerging novelists write damn good first drafts—that’s what I do. I teach story planning and development, which means creating your Concept and Premise, figuring out the beginning, middle and end of your story, your structure and all of the scenes, before you write a single word.

This ensures a better, stronger first draft every time.

Join me for a free Strategy Call. We’ll talk about your story and see if we’d be a good fit to work together.

Image courtesy of AJ Batac

Yet Another Reason Why You Should Plan Before You Write

When it comes to writing a novel, there are always two options available to you–you can come up with a story idea, sit down and start writing. Or you can take the time to plan and develop your story, in full, before you write a single word. (And there’s also the third hybrid option of planning some of it and then sitting down to write. But if you’re going to plan, you may as well just go for it and plan the whole thing.)

Planning and developing your story is effective for a lot of reasons:

  1. You won’t waste your time or energy–writing a novel is hard work, why make it harder by dragging yourself through a long, drawn-out draft-writing process?
  2. You don’t have to write multiple drafts to find your story–for some writers, this works. But for most, it’s a death sentence, because if you have to write multiple drafts, you’ll likely never finish.
  3. You’ll know exactly what to write, where to write it and how to write it–priceless information when it comes to writing your first draft.

And there’s another even bigger reason why you should plan your story before you write it: the F word.

No, not that word–foreshadowing.

When you plan ahead and know exactly what needs to happen in the beginning, middle and end of your story, you can get clever by adding in little (or big) moments that hint at what’s to come later in the story. Foreshadowing helps keep the reader hooked because it lets them know there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

Foreshadowing allows you to, for example, show the reader something that seems almost meaningless at first, and then blow it out into something really huge and significant later on in the story.

But foreshadowing isn’t even an option when you don’t plan your story ahead of time. Because how can you know what to hint at if you have no idea what your story is about or how it’s going to end?

An Example

If you’ve been hanging around my blog for awhile now you know that I am all about the examples. And the examples I love best come from movies, because they’re so easy to study and analyze.

A really great example of foreshadowing I saw recently was in the movie, Safe Haven (also a book, by Nicholas Sparks).

The movie opens with a dark-haired woman fleeing a house with a bag in her hand. She looks scared, and also like she may have done something bad. But we don’t know what yet.

This moment early on in a story is called the Hook, and it’s the first opportunity for the writer to foreshadow what’s to come in the story. Immediately upon seeing this scene, the viewer is intrigued and has to keep watching in order to find out who this woman is, what she did and why she’s running.

Throughout the first half of the movie, we see this woman change her appearance, move to a small town in the middle of nowhere and try to start a new life. But we still have no idea why. All we’ve been given are small moments here and there that foreshadow something big is coming.

And that something shows up as the Midpoint of the movie–when we find out what’s really been going on. Who she really is. What she’s really up to. And what she did that she’s been running from.

The foreshadowing in this movie makes you think that the so-called Protagonist might actually be the bad guy, having done something really wrong. But we don’t know what yet.

At the Midpoint we find out–and it’s not what we were expecting. What we find out at the Midpoint changes the entire story, and shifts things in a big way. (I won’t spoil it by giving the whole thing away–watch the movie, it’s on Netflix).

That’s the power of foreshadowing.

And none of that would be possible without knowing every detail about the story ahead of time.

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How do you use foreshadowing in your stories to build tension and keep the reader hooked? 

A Quick Study in Concept and Premise

I love when I come across awesome quick examples of badass storytelling in action. Movie trailers, descriptions on Netflix, and my new favorite place–People magazine. People has a section each week where they recommend a few books, and novels are always in the mix.

This past issue I read a book description that had the perfect example of Concept and Premise. So I wanted to share it with you to give you a quick study in how to use Concept and Premise to elevate your story to a new level.

Before I get into the example, let me first review what we’re dealing with here:

  • Concept is the landscape that your story happens on
  • Premise is the Antagonist (or Antagonistic Force) that you introduce

Without these two things, all you have is a story idea. And while you need that too, on its own it’s not enough to make a story.

Before I Go

The example I’m going to break down is the description in People magazine for the book, Before I Go by Colleen Oakley. (And let me just point out that this is Oakley’s debut novel. A shining example of what’s possible when you know how to write a story that works.)

Here’s the description People magazine offered up for this book:

“In this spirited and original debut, 27-year-old control freak Daisy Richmond learns she has just months to live—and becomes obsessed with finding her husband a new wife.”

Totally brilliant description. In one sentence, you get a very compelling Concept and Premise. And that’s what it takes to get published (traditionally, and it’s the standard you should hold your story to, even if you self-publish).

The Concept here is that the Protagonist has only months to live. This is the landscape (think “setting”) the story will unfold on.

The problem is, most writers don’t push that far with their stories. Most would have been inspired by the idea of this Protagonist only having a few month to live and run with it.

But what you’d end up with if you did that is an episodic, day-to-day account of Daisy’s life before she dies. Might be interesting to some, but most people will call it a dud and put it down before reaching the end.

There has to be something in there to elevate the story to the next level—an Antagonist, a journey or problem that needs to be solved (one that actually has a specific solution). The author of this story remedied this need by adding in a Premise: the dying Protagonist is going to spend her final days finding a new wife for her husband.

The addition of a Premise brings this story to a new level, giving us inherent conflict, stakes, tension and a vicarious ride that a reader will want to go on. You need all of these things if you want your story to work.

Want Help?

The self-paced Story Roadmap Workshop will help you take the idea in your head and turn it into a Concept and Premise. You’ll also create your characters, design your story structure and build a scene-by-scene roadmap.

And as a bonus you get a 60-minute call with me, so I can give you feedback on the work you do using this workshop.

>> Learn more about Story Roadmap


Image courtesy of Lidyanne Aquino 

Freebie: The First Plot Point Worksheet

The First Plot Point (FPP) is the most important moment in your story. It’s so important that, if you get it wrong, your whole story is doomed.

Which is why I spend so much time talking about First Plot Points and how to get them right.

When your story has a strong FPP, it sets the stage for a vicarious experience that your reader will want to go on. It’s what keeps them turning pages, unable to put the book down.

There are certain things a FPP must do:

  • Introduce the Protagonist’s need or new journey ahead
  • Introduce the Antagonist (or shift a character already in play)
  • Stop the Protagonist in his tracks, spinning him in a new direction
  • Up the stakes for the Protagonist in a big way
  • Create a whole new challenge for the Protagonist
  • Give the reader a reason to root for the Protagonist

In order to find the best FPP for your story, you have to spend time developing the story, asking questions and thinking about all potential scenarios.

The First Plot Point Worksheet

It always helps me to have a worksheet to use when I’m developing my stories. That’s why I created this First Plot Point worksheet.

It contains a checklist to make sure you’re hitting all the right element, and a section with questions to help you do a deep-dive on your story.

>> Download the First Plot Point Worksheet

This worksheet will help you develop and plan the First Plot Point for your story.

The Story Roadmap Workshop

If you enjoyed the First Plot Point worksheet, you should check out Story Roadmap. This self-paced workshop contains videos, worksheets and checklists to help you develop and plan your story before you write it.

It will walk you through a planning process that you can use over and over again to create your:

  • Story Concept and Premise
  • Protagonist and Antagonist
  • Story structure
  • Scene-by-scene roadmap

You can use the story roadmap you create using this workshop to write the first draft of your story–a good first draft, one that’s an edit and tweak away from being publishable.

>> Learn more about Story Roadmap

Image courtesy of Leslie Richards

How To Turn Your Idea Into An Actual Story

As a fiction writer, you have lots of ideas in your head for stories you can write. But the problem with most story ideas is this: they’re not actually stories, they’re just ideas.

In order for an idea to become a story, there has to be certain elements in play:

  1. A Protagonist—one that readers will root for
  2. An Antagonist (or Antagonistic force)—something specific to oppose the Protagonist and provide conflict in the story
  3. Stakes—something must be at stake for the Protagonist

This is bare minimum. Without these three things you don’t have a story.

A lot of times writers confuse a “story” with what I call an “idea seed.” An “idea seed” is just the beginnings of a story. It’s a blip of inspiration—a character, a scene, a situation, a location. But it’s not a story.

An Example

To help illustrate the difference, let’s look at an example.

Let’s say a writer came to me with the following idea: a small-town girl who just graduated from college moves to the big city and has to deal with life in her new environment. 

This writer has already written a good portion of her first draft, but then somewhere around the middle she got stuck. She wasn’t sure where else to go with the story.

The first thing I’d point out to this writer is that she doesn’t have a story. What she has is a character, a situation and an episodic timeline of events.

But it’s not a story.

Something has to happen, in order for it to become a story. An Antagonist has to be introduced, stakes must come into play, and there must be conflict.

What this writer has at the moment is an “idea seed.”

The story development process allows you to plant that seed and allow it to grow. You do that by asking a lot of questions.

For starters:

  • Who is this girl?
  • What are her dreams?
  • What made her want to move to the city after college?
  • What does she want in her career?
  • What does she want, in general?

Once we get to know the Protagonist a little, then we can ask things, like:

  • What could potentially get in the way of her getting what she wants?

This will help you to come up with possible antagonists or antagonistic forces that could oppose the Protagonist.

To fill in the details and continue with the example, let’s say this girl has always dreamed of being a serious journalist, so she moved to the city to get a job working at a magazine. More than anything in the world she wants to write about things that matter, she wants to make a difference in the world through her words.

OK, great—we know who this Protagonist is. Now we need to fill in the details on the “something happening” in the story. Let’s say the “something happening” is she has a hard time finding a job in her field, and someone tells her that she has to “pay her dues first,” so she decides to take a job as an assistant to the editor of one of the most popular magazines in the world. Oh, and this editor (aka: the Antagonist) is a total nightmare, bitch-boss from hell.

Now we’ve got a story rolling. But we’re not finished yet, because we still haven’t put anything at stake.

So let’s say the Protagonist has been in a relationship with the most amazing guy for almost five years now, they’ve moved in together and are on the marriage track. But suddenly this new job of hers is getting in the way—she’s not able to spend as much time with him; she breaks their plans because she has to work; and he only sees her in passing now when she gets home from work and before she falls asleep.

You see where I’m going with this one?

This relationship means more than anything to her—but so does working at a magazine and getting to make a difference with her writing. This story now has inherent conflict built right in.

We could keep going with this, developing the idea even further, adding more conflict, a strong theme, and a subplot or two. If we kept going, we’d likely end up with something similar to The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger.

BUT—this idea is still generic enough that, if developed in a different way—a different Protagonist with a different desire, something else at stake, a different type of magazine, etc.—we could create a whole new story.

The choice is yours. You get to take the idea seed in your head and play with it, tear it apart, break it down, add things, take things away and ask questions. The deeper you go and the more you’re willing to move away from your original seed—in order to optimize the story— the better story you’ll end up with in the end.

It’s unfortunate, but many writers skip over the story development stage, and jump right from idea seed to first draft. In doing this you’re missing a huge opportunity to make the most of your story idea—by developing and planning it.

The Story Roadmap Workshop

My self-paced Story Roadmap workshop will help you take the idea seed in your head and develop it into a full-blown story. Then it will walk you through creating your story’s structure and building a scene roadmap that you can use to write a strong first draft.

Story Roadmap also comes with a bonus: a free 60-minute coaching coaching call with me, so you can get feedback from a pro writing coach on the work you’ve done using this workshop.

>> Learn More About Story Roadmap

Image courtesy of Jordanhill School D&T Dept