Episode 100: Romantic Subplots

On June 20, 2020, Kasie and Rex celebrated the 100th episode of the show by talking about romantic subplots. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

How to build a romantic subplot


  • Romance? Blech!
  • Subplots matter… why again?
  • Some “how to suchness”
  • 100th Episode Retrospective
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

Today is another Special Offer Day! Become a Patron in June and get the critique, the 30-minute Zoom chat, the story, and the author interview on our website.

Last week Rex said he wanted to do Romantic Subplots this week. And it’s our 100th episode and I worked all week on “What should we do to celebrate?” So here it is: the results of our giving this a modicum of thought.

God, I love the internet. There is literally EVERYTHING already done for you. And this topic is no exception.

So what is a romantic subplot? Let’s break down the term:

  • Romantic — involving love or sexual affection between two (or more?) people
  • Subplot — not the primary arc of the story but a secondary (or third) complication to the primary

from Anne Dayleview (who? No one cares.) It’s a list. Because of course it is.

You must include the following (in her defense, she qualifies this for “fantasy” writing):

  • What do we have to consider in the romantic side? How did the two people meet? How and when do they recognize the signals in one another? 
    • Physical — attraction, appealing characteristics, handsome/pretty etc. 
    • Personality — funny, smart, good listener, etc. 
    • Advantages — how does this person benefit the protagonist?
    • Secrets — is there a mystery to be solved there? Something that makes the character curious?

What is the point of no return? When do the characters commit to this and why?

What is standing in the way? What prevents the relationship from progressing?

The arc of the romantic subplot:

  • Meet Cute
  • Commitment
  • Challenge or misunderstanding
  • Resolution or redemption
  • HEA 

Segment 2

Some do’s and don’ts? Yeah, the internet has those, too. 

Do: make your dialogue less cringey by sticking to what people would have to say to advance the story, not what you think lovers might say to one another; 

Don’t: let the subplot dialogue be where your character learns everything. Then it’s not a subplot.

Do: give the subplot tension and strife — consider a love triangle, unrequited love, opposites attracting, or mutual interest obstructed (this resource).

Don’t: make the whole book about the love interest and the “will they or won’t they?” question.

Do: give your romantic subplot a purpose in the overall narrative (maybe it’s a distraction that costs the hero something, maybe it’s how he happens to know something really important)

Don’t: create intentional misdirection by misfiring on the romance (readers will sniff out the fake and hate you for it) (this resource)

Segment 3

So how is it done? Intentionally of course. This resource says look at the ones you’re watching and reading and dissect them:

  • What brings the people together? Do they have a common goal?
  • Where does the sexual tension come from? Opposites? Forbidden? Friend Zone?
  • What’s in their way? Misunderstanding? Other people? Bad timing?

Measure what you love and hate:

  • Too much sappy dialogue? Not enough sappy dialogue? 
  • Did it take too long for something to happen? Did it happen too fast?
  • Did the love seem to be a finger-snap or did it progress over time?

The best model, of course, is the relationship you enjoyed watching as part of the sub plot in a really good book.

Segment 4

What’s it like to be at this for 100 shows? A little countdown of some episodes that got us here:

Episode 88: Dystopia IRL — I loved the idea that we were living in a real dystopian world in that idea that reality is mimicking art.

Episode 77: Chekov’s Gun — if it’s in the scene, make use of it. Loved the simplicity of this advice but its applicability is inarguable.

Episode 66: Writer’s Toolbox (Marketing) on Trailers — it was a chance to brag on Thad Jones and the work he did for After December.

Episode 55: Books into Movies Part 2 — we needed two shows to talk about the merits (and DEmerits) of filmmakers taking books to the big screen

Episode 44: Who is Mary Sue? — when we looked at the “idealized” character that grew out of fan fiction

Episode 33: Make Mine Evil — What makes a good villain? Including a checklist!

Episode 22: Stuck in the Middle — how to move your readers (and plot) along when it seems you might be sagging; also a topic for this week’s upcoming Summer Series event

Episode 11: Science Fiction Subgenres — with Brian Barr; was a great chance to talk all the Alien-Romance-Political-Dystopian subgenresEpisode 1: Planner or Pantser — before Rex came on board, me and my cousin Preston started this WriteOnSC journey on July 14, 2018. Thanks to Keven Cohen for taking a chance on an unknown kid (and her cousin).

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