Elements Of A Good Romantic Subplot


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Subplot are amazing tools. They can add depth to a plot, help develop characters further, and provide extra interest for the readers. One of the popular is the romantic subplot. There’s something so heart-warming about watching a pair of characters falling in love while trying to navigate the stormy waters of the main plot. When done well, these romances are an amazing addition to the main plot, not only helping readers connect with your characters more, but also affecting the course of the story. However, when done badly they can feel disconnected, tacked on, or even manage to take over from the main plot. There are many elements that go into the creation of a great romantic subplot, and today I’ll be listing some of them.

Necessary to the Plot

Every good subplot needs to be connected to the main plot in some integral way in order to warrant its inclusion. If it’s not adding to the story, then often times it’s actually detracting as it draws readers’ attentions away from the main events. A good test is, if the romance scenes can be cut from the plot without the main story losing anything important, then it’s not actually necessary. Events in the romance should directly affect the events in the plot so that the two stories weave together seamlessly. There are several ways to make sure a romantic subplot is necessary. Below are two of them.

1. Helps Characters Grow

A romance isn’t just a one and done affair. Both partners have to grow in order for their romance to progress. And this character growth can be a big help to the main plot. One of the characters might be able to make the hard decision to stay and fight because they’ve grown as a person through their relationship. Or they might grow in confidence and be able to achieve something they couldn’t at the beginning of the book, which then affects the overall plot. Whatever way they develop, a romance is a great vehicle for enabling characters to change and grow over the course of a book.

2. Impacts Plot Events

Characters in love do crazy things. And these things can also affect the direction the story takes. Perhaps they make different decisions now they’re in love, compared to what they would have done when single, such as choosing to protect their romantic partner in a dangerous, or deciding not to split up, but instead to accomplish a task together. They might have a fight that ends up with one of them storming off and getting into a serious situation that forwards the plot, or they may choose to share a secret that changes how the characters see events. These actions are directly affected by the characters being in love, and also impact the course of the main plot, making the subplot both interesting, and integral to the story.

Feels Natural

For a romantic subplot to really work, it needs to feel natural. That means that the characters need fall in love with someone who makes sense, even if they appear unlike at the beginning, come together in a way that would suit their personalities, and it needs to grow in a way that feels realistic, not only to a real romance, but also to them as a pair. Every romance is different. And, by the same token, every character is different. Not every character may suit a romantic subplot. Be guided by your characters’ personalities when making decisions about their romances. If it’s not something they would choose to do, based on their personalities, it’s not going to feel natural, and you’re not going to convince readers to invest in their relationship, no matter how invested you are.

Stays True To Characters

As another element of natural romances, the characters involved shouldn’t change in massive ways the moment they get into a relationship. Obviously, growth on both sides is necessary, both to their having a successful relationship, and to it working as part of the larger plot. However, your formerly flirtatious girl shouldn’t immediately swear off batting her eyes at other men. She might be faithful to her boyfriend, but still make eyes at other men for fun. A formerly closed off character shouldn’t immediately start sharing every single dark secret he has with his girlfriend, just because their relationship status changed. Character growth needs to stay true to the characters’ personalities.

Leaves Characters Independent

Getting into a relationship doesn’t automatically mean that your characters are joined at the hip. Sure, they will probably make slightly different choices in their actions because they have a significant other now, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t still both be strong people, accomplish things on their own, lean on other people for help, or have lives outside of each other. If they’re so wrapped up in their relationship that they’re never seen apart, then either there’s something wrong with the way the romance has been written, or they’re in an extremely unhealthy relationship.

Stays a Subplot

This one probably the most important fact. A romantic subplot must stay a subplot. The romance might be cute, the characters might be so sweet when they’re together and make your little heart all warm and fuzzy whenever they’re on the page together, but, when it comes down to it, it is a subplot. And a good subplot supports, not supplants. If the majority of your scenes turn into the characters having some cute little romantic argument, or they’re naming their future children instead of making a plan of attack, there’s a problem. Weave the subplot in by making it important to the plot, but don’t forget to have plot related events outside of your characters’ relationships as well. Otherwise your book runs the risk of becoming, say, a romance with a little fantasy thrown in for good measure.

These are just some of the elements that make up a good romantic subplot. What are some that I missed? What are some of your pet peeves when it comes to romances in books? What books do you know that do romantic subplots well?

And let me know, what Elements Of post would you like to see next time?
  • Elements Of A Good Mythological Retelling
  • Elements OF A Good Female Protagonist
  • Elements Of A Good Mystery Part 2
  • Something Else (suggest a subject in the comments!) 

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  1. This is awesome. Definitely keeping these things in mind for my story!
    And I'm caught between the first two Elements Of suggestions! Both would be super cool.

    1. I'm so glad you found this post useful Krissy. And thanks for your vote for the next one!

  2. ooh, I vote for the retelling one next!

    Ahem. But YUS. Entirely agree!! I always feel cheated if a book is like proclaiming itself as an action adventure for the first 100 pages or so...and then suddenly spirals into a full just 100% romance. HOW ABOUT NO. Subplots need to stay subplots. (I mean, the "romance" can be the entire plot, of course, but that needs to be clear at the beginning of the story *nods*) I also think making it necessary to the plot is sooo important. So basically this post is golden, Imogen. ;D

    1. I know! So infuriating when my action adventure book is actually just a romance in disguise. I mean, romances are all well and good, but a little warning please? Yay, so glad you liked this post!

  3. These are the best. I am so glad you pointed this out! I can't count how many times I picked up a gritty looking fantasy, or wordy historical, to discover it was basically about people falling in love. Plus, it's really a good reminder for my own writing.:)

    1. It's so frustrating, isn't it? And the sad thing is that a romantic subplot can actually add a lot to the story, so the fact that a lot of the time it seems to become more important than the main story puts some readers, like myself, off reading them. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for dropping by!

  4. Thank you for making this post! I think you've highlighted some very good points and I found it very helpful. I rather prefer books where romance is a subplot and not the main plot and I have plans to try and weave romance between my main characters as a subplot in the next part of my fantasy novel. I would love to read your thoughts on elements of good action and adventure, because that's where I personally usually have huge problems.

    1. Sounds like we're very similar in that way. I prefer my romances in subplots, and I get very grumpy when the romance takes over what would otherwise be an awesome action/adventure book. But romantic subplots can be so good when done right. They really add something to the story, don't you think.

      I definitely plan to work on some posts about action and adventure in the future, so hopefully those will be helpful to you when I write them. Thanks for stopping by Farida!

  5. Excellent post! I really liked the point about how a romance needs to stay true to the characters. It seems like a lot of characters start behaving in cliched and unrealistic ways after they fall in love, so it's a really good point to keep in mind.

    I would love to read about the elements of a good female protagonist, it sounds super interesting!

    1. I'm actually so surprised that so many romances fall into the cliches. People are so different the ways they show and act about love. I'd love to see more diversity in the way characters in love are portrayed.

      Thanks for letting me know which post you'd like to see next. I have plenty to say about female protagonists, so I'm looking forward to writing that post sometime soon.

  6. I agree with this so much. I don't like it when romantic subplots take over or make the characters change too drastically. Romantic subplots are frosting, not cake. *nods* And honestly, that's the only type of romance I like (with a few exceptions).

    As always, I love this series, and I guess if I had to vote (they're all awesome) I would vote for Elements of a Good Mythological Retelling. *nods* Thanks for sharing!

    1. "Romantic subplots are frosting, not cake." Absolutely perfectly said Liz. That is quote worthy. I have to admit, romantic subplots are really the only romances I usually enjoy as well. I have read some good dedicated romances, but usually I don't enjoy that genre so much.

      Thanks for casting your vote. I'm hoping to do a post on Mythological Retellings really soon!

  7. You pretty much stated all the problems I have with romantic subplots. I really like them, but I hate when they change the main character or the main plot is lost in romance. Great post! The mythological retelling topic sounds cool. ^ ^


    1. Oh exactly right! I mean, a straight romance is ok, but if the writer wanted to write the romance more than anything else, why didn't they just make the book a romance and stop tricking us poor people who thought we were getting a good old fashions action or fantasy book. Thanks for stopping by Victoria!


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