Let’s start this series with the OG – Gwen Hayes’s Romancing the Beat.
This is my absolute favorite recommendation to new writers who are trying to figure out how this whole story thing works. We’ve known how to read for decades and we’ve been writing since grade school…so why is writing a book so flippin’ hard?
Because, my love, writing emails and research papers and love notes and use cases is not the same as writing a story that includes imaginary people with goals and fears and emotional rebirths. Fiction writing has to be learned, just like middle school taught us how to write a book report and college taught us how to write a research paper.
If you’re a voracious romance reader – and I’m guessing you are if you’ve made it to this here website – you intrinsically know story already. But absorbing it, recognizing it, enjoying it…those are different from being able to create it yourself.
That’s where Gwen Hayes comes in. She’s the master baker (author and editor, in this case) walking us through the step-by-step process of baking up a delicious story.
Romancing the Beat is the book I recommend to all new romance authors. It clearly outlines what plot and emotion “beats” (a point of action in the story) should be happening in a typical romance. This road map guides writers through each step of the tale, from the meet-cute to the happily ever after. The book doesn’t dictate what happens in the plot (the external action that’s going on) but it does provide a template for how the characters should be acting/reacting at each beat. The fact that RtB is based on characters rather than plot is critical because romance is a character-driven story.
RtB dives deeper than a simple outline by explaining why each beat is important, how that beat propels the story forward, and then offering plenty of examples and fun ‘80s references.
It’s a quick read, only around 100 pages. And Hayes’s writing voice is light and fun even when she’s delivering insightful material.
Depending on which process works best for you, there are several ways to utilize the book. Use her beat sheet (she offers a PDF and Scrivener template on her website, and Plottr has an RtB template as well) to outline your story before you write. Or write first and employ the beat sheet as a checklist during revisions to ensure you aren’t missing any important bits in your story. You can even check your favorite romance novels from other authors against the beat sheet and see how closely they align.
RtB is not a rule book. It’s a guide. And there are lots of fabulous romance novels out there that don’t follow Hayes’s beats. But if you’re a new author still learning how to story, this is your Romance 101 course.
Have you read Romancing the Beat? Do you use it to outline your book?