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Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels

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What makes a romance novel a romance? How do you write a kissing book?

Writing a well-structured romance isn’t the same as writing any other genre—something the popular novel and screenwriting guides don’t address. The romance arc is made up of its own story beats, and the external plot and theme need to be braided to the romance arc—not the other way around.

Told in conversational (and often irreverent) prose, Romancing the Beat can be read like you are sitting down to coffee with romance editor and author Gwen Hayes while she explains story structure. The way she does with her clients. Some of whom are regular inhabitants of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.

Romancing the Beat is a recipe, not a rigid system. The beats don’t care if you plot or outline before you write, or if you pants your way through the drafts and do a “beat check” when you’re revising. Pantsers and plotters are both welcome. So sit down, grab a cuppa, and let’s talk about kissing books.

98 pages, Kindle Edition

First published April 2, 2016

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About the author

Gwen Hayes

34 books1,280 followers
Gwen Hayes (that’s me) lives in the Pacific Northwest with her real life hero and a pack of wild beasts (two of whom she gave birth to).

She is a reader, writer, and lover of pop culture (which, other than yogurt, is the only culture she gets).

Gwen also edits kissing books.

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5 stars
1,638 (55%)
4 stars
979 (32%)
3 stars
287 (9%)
2 stars
53 (1%)
1 star
16 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 597 reviews
Profile Image for Eric Plume.
Author 5 books105 followers
August 31, 2016
I bought this book because I'm a writer looking to expand into the romance genre, but I haven't read many books in it. I wanted some insight into how to better write romance plots. Beat didn't deliver.

Oh sure...the text was cutesy funny (I laughed several times), and the author's obsession with 80s rock tunes was endearing - I share her love of them. But at the same time I found myself wondering why I had paid money to read what in the end was an overlong blog with advertisements for the author's own novels tacked on at the end.

Furthermore, Hayes advocates a romantic model that is both quite limiting and that I know from personal experience doesn't encompass all the ways in which people fall in love...indeed, very few successful IRL romantic arcs I've observed follow her model. She basically took 80s rom-coms and abstracted them into a model for how to write a kissing book. Sorry, but no. All the cutesy glitz and glib wordplay in the world can't prop that idea up, and while Hayes makes a great attempt at it, in the end I wasn't all that impressed.

I did draw a few good ideas from Romancing the Beat, so I can't in good conscience one-star it. But between the shortness, the limitations of Hayes' model and her relying on fiction rather than fact for her rather categorical statements, I can't rate this highly either. I smell a cash-grab, and a rather superficial one at that.

2.5 stars.
Profile Image for Intisar Khanani.
Author 16 books2,211 followers
October 3, 2021
I have this tendency to panic read a craft book every single time I hit the point of doing major edits on a novel. Every. Single. Time. As such, welcome to my latest panic read.

Previous to this, I panic-read Save The Cat, which did not actually help me in the moment, other than to confirm that I generally do know what I'm doing, mostly intuitively. I did finally learn what a three act structure was, so now I can act all knowledgeable when people talk about things happening in the various acts of my books. Okay, not really. I'll have to look that bit up again.

This little book was significantly more helpful to me than Save The Cat because, while I've been writing stories my whole life and therefore had a firm intuitive grasp of general story beats, I definitely haven't been writing even marginally traditional romances. My current WIP has a romance line in it, and it became extremely evident to me (and my beta reader) that the romance line wasn't working, in large part because I could not write the end of the book.

** If you can't get the ending to work, chances are something is broken further up. ** That is my writing PSA for the day.

Anyhoot, this little gem was recommended to my by author Suzannah Rowntree, and it was just the thing to help me gain perspective on what precisely wasn't working in my WIP. I keep calling it a little book because it is little - you can read it in the space of an hour. Some of the beats really only have a paragraph or two of explanation. There's only one longer example at the back, and it's relatively straightforward (and from the author's own works, so therefore not generally familiar). But you know what? I don't need a tome. I need a nice concise set of beats, with enough detail for me to know just how much I can fudge things, move things around, combine and reorder - or not - and still end up with a workable romance. And that's what I got. Three cheers for straightforward books on craft!

I sat down the following morning and mapped out the beats in my book. There is of course a bit of fudging, but I also saw the places where I missed key moments, or my beats came far too late. So now I've mapped out a way to correct for that, and played with the various possibilities--basically, making the beats work for me and my story--and I have to say, I owe this book a debt for helping me figure this all out MUCH faster than I would have on my own.

If you are a romance writer with some experience under your belt, you may find this book a bit too simplistic. (Or not. Feel free to panic-read as you like.) If you're like me, having written a good bit of other stuff and also enjoyed romance, but never really written it, this may be just what you need.

PLEASE NOTE: The author loves her 80's references. She owns this. It doesn't bother me, but if you don't like that sort of thing, it will drive you batty. Also, many folks have grumbled about this being, essentially, an overlong blog post. You know what? Go searching through the interwebs and read those blog posts, if you will. I'm more than happy to pay a few bucks to get a clear, concise description based on the author's decades of experience so I can move ahead quickly. Do I take her as the be-all and end-all of knowledge on romance? Goodness, no. She's writing from her perspective, using the books and stories she's familiar with. It's a reference point, if you will, that I'm going to use to play with and inform my writing. And that's all it's meant to be. Phew.

Actual rating: 4.5 stars
I really would have loved a more well known (and full-length) romance fully broken down for the beats at the end of the book. That would have made the book for me.
Profile Image for Casey.
57 reviews4 followers
November 1, 2019
This did give a solid beat sheet for a romance novel... But like many others have said, this was blog post worthy and not long enough to really be a book on the subject. I wish the explanation sections had been more than a page each and had more explanations/examples.
Profile Image for Eleanore June.
537 reviews24 followers
January 13, 2017
Yes! a clear(ish) plot map for romance novels. I've tried to smash my stories into the framework of standard novels and it doesnt work. This should work.
The writing style is fun, if a bit flip, but I highly recommend it for burgeoning writers of Kissing Books ❤️❤️
Profile Image for Donna Weaver.
Author 46 books444 followers
November 1, 2021
What makes a romance novel a romance? How do you write a kissing book?

Writing a well-structured romance isn’t the same as writing any other genre—something the popular novel and screenwriting guides don’t address. The romance arc is made up of its own story beats, and the external plot and theme need to be braided to the romance arc—not the other way around.

If you're expecting a long read, this isn't it. The description mentions it being a "recipe" book. In its simplicity, that's exactly what it is. And just like a recipe book, it's full of some great ideas I feel I can put to use right away. And that it's seasoned with the writer's wit is just frosting on the metaphorical cake.

4 1/2 stars
Profile Image for Carol.
320 reviews565 followers
November 1, 2016
I cannot express how much this was a life saver. It really helped me plot my Nanowrimo project, and the way the information is delivered feels like a story in itself. I literally read this in a matter of hours. I also highlighted the crap out of it. The examples that were given were really helpful because it was all relatable to a romance book. If you are wanting to write a romance book or incorporate a bit of romance into your story go ahead and pick this book because I promise you it will guide you to make the right calls for the romance that you are writing about.
Profile Image for Kilby Blades.
Author 32 books421 followers
August 7, 2017
This was a good, concise romance writing manual that delivered on its promise: to transcend other story frameworks by providing specific instruction for romance. Romance novels, indeed AREN'T structured like many other kinds of story and while other manuals (such as Save the Cat, which is a favorite of mine, and which Hayes mentions) don't mention some of the particularities that are unique to romance--Hayes certainly tackles them.

Her comments on romance formulas are helpful, if not formulaic. There were areas where I felt that she could have gone deeper, such as for storylines that lacked instant attraction of the hero/heroine. For example, her manual was not as useful to the enemies to lovers trope as it might be for tropes that had a more obvious path to love. I also loved (and hated) that she touched how the falling in love element is often skipped or glossed over in so many current romances. I struggle with this and found myself wishing that there were a deeper discussion of how to create intimacy.

With all that said, it was a refreshingly quick read that gave the basic rules. In that, I appreciated its economy. Had it been twice as long, it would have, in some ways, been more difficult to get through. This book really helped me identify some key scenes that needed to happen in order to make my current novel come together. I would read more writing manuals by this author.
Profile Image for A.M..
Author 7 books46 followers
July 20, 2016
I was tooling about in Twitter, as you do, when someone mentioned this book. I don’t even remember who, and I beetled off to check it out on Amazon.
“Who this book is for: Romance writers who know something is missing from their book, but are not sure where to look to find it.” (Kindle Locations 85-87)

Hmmm… well that sounds like me.
I buy it and I keep reading… and have a blinding revelation.
I’ve read a dozen books on story structure and plotting. I am currently trying to squish a romance into Shaun Coyne’s Story grid spreadsheet and it isn’t working. And I am getting more and more frustrated with the whole process. I am starting to hate my own story… and all the rest of it that those kind of thoughts engender. The inner critic rears it’s poisonous head. And I wander off and start writing the sequel because that is more fun than pinning book 1 to the wrestling mat.
And then I read this:
But while I was saving the cat and sending my protagonist on a heroine’s journey and writing screenplays that sell, I noticed that while a lot of the advice was so spot on it made me excited to stop reading and start writing, something was still missing. These structure books don’t exactly nail the romance arc.
Romance has two heroes, not one. (Kindle Locations 60-62).

Bloody hell. She’s right. That’s why none of it works.
It’s not a big book - just under 70 pages. And I baulked at the price for it. Thanks, pathetic Australian dollar exchange rates… BUT IT IS TOTALLY WORTH IT!
If you write romance novels, go buy it.
5 stars
Profile Image for Helen Kord.
323 reviews36 followers
July 16, 2018
I've heard a lot on how useful this book is for writing romance, and as someone who's tentatively trying to write a romance story themselves, I was intrigued and decided to read this book. And it was amazing. Just reading this in public transport, I had around 15 different revelations pertaining the story I'm writing, so I can't wait to see what I come up with when I actually do sit down and plot properly. It constantly made me want to stop reading and start writing and that's something. Absolute recommend
Profile Image for Bree Hill.
792 reviews570 followers
December 26, 2019
Whether planning to write a romance novel of your own, or like me, and simply a lover of the genre and want to understand the mechanics that go along with the craft, I think this book is such a good resource. It is a tiny gem, just under 80 pages, but jam packed with so much information. A Game changer. It has me reading romances in a totally different way, with a lot more clarity and understanding.
Profile Image for Gustaf.
1,416 reviews129 followers
September 22, 2020
This was exactly what I needed right now and this book didn't only give me a lot to work with when it comes to my own writing. It also gave me tons of inspiration. That's all you want from a book like this, right?
I really do recommend Romancing the beat if you have dreams of writing a romance or if you just need more tools for your writing.
Profile Image for Lisa Mandina.
1,869 reviews418 followers
November 27, 2020
Giving it a 5 because it was very easy to read through quickly and apply and should be helpful. But maybe I should base my score on how well I actually use it? LOL. Nope, 5 stars for now!

This was a nice quick easy to read and understand book to help with my writing. Couldn’t decide whether to base my score on how much I actually use it or not, but that’s not fair. So I had to give it 5 stars because of how easy it was to read and now to hopefully put to use. If I actually get to writing. For NaNoWriMo next year I will definitely use it! Reading it the week before I was supposed to start writing was probably not the most realistic idea.

Review first published on Lisa Loves Literature.
Profile Image for Renaissance Kate.
239 reviews125 followers
November 1, 2020
A simple but helpful guide to writing romance! I wish it had given more in-depth examples for each beat, but otherwise this will be my go-to reference to make sure romance shines in my stories.
Profile Image for Kami.
459 reviews
January 13, 2023
Do not understand why everyone loves this. Disorganized, a forced, kitschy voice. The beats are helpful, their descriptions are not.
Profile Image for Smut Report.
1,074 reviews127 followers
February 19, 2023
I read this book for craft purposes, in part because it’s referenced frequently by other authors, but it is also an interesting and informative read from a reader standpoint, too.

As we have discussed before, a hallmark of romance is having two (or more) protagonists, not just one, as illustrated by their separate growth arcs within the story combined with their romantic growth arc together. Hayes breaks this down into specific beats that show the development of these growth arcs over the course of a romance narrative, and if you read as much romance as I do, they will be extremely recognizable, even if you didn’t ever think about them before.

If you only look at the descriptions of these beats (e.g. “Phase Three: Retreating from Love” includes “Inkling of Doubt,” “Deepening Doubt,” “Retreat! Retreat!” etc.), the formula appears very…formulaic. But Hayes elaborates in each section to discuss what is happening and why, what this beat means for the relationship and therefore for the believability, tension, and pacing of the story. This is all stuff I theoretically knew or understood, but having it detailed in writing definitely helped to clarify why some storylines fall flat while others sing. If one thing isn’t done or done enough or done in the right place, then when it’s time for the story to rely on that foundational background, it won’t hold up. When authors pay attention to these details, they create enough narrative tension and consistency that the reader can believe in the climatic moment and subsequent HEA. Understanding how the quantity and quality of push-pull in a storyline creates drama (even if it’s a comedy) makes for better writing, and Hayes definitely uses the limited space of this book to specify why each of these beats matters and keeps focus on the romantic throughline.

In the intro of this book, Hayes explains that the beats here are best suited to novellas or category-length books; a long-form novel will need additional sub-plots to keep the story moving and interesting. This is true—when a novel of more than 50-60k words focuses solely on the romantic relationship of the protagonists, it becomes redundant or boring or both. However, even in a long-form novel that is successfully a romance, you will find these beats (to varying degrees). Based on my personal reading experience, I would also argue that following these beats too closely or obviously might get an author halfway there (at least I’m not bored?), but won’t necessarily knock the story out of the park (it feels like every other contemporary romance between two twenty-somethings). Or maybe I just read too many books and get annoyed by lack of subtlety or creativity. (I have noticed that, when I dipped my toes in the Mystery/Thriller pool, I was delighted by books that other mystery readers poo-poohed as being unoriginal, so maybe sometimes being well-versed in a genre is a little curse.) How much you buy into these beats and identifying books that successfully (arguably) don’t use the beats would make for an interesting discussion.

I feel I should also note that this is a short book. It’s not a creative writing course. It’s not an outlining manual. It’s not even a “how to write a novel” book, because Hayes is very clear that there are plenty such books of quality already written. It’s very succinctly indicating approximately what needs to be happening approximately where in a romance story to make it a successful romance story.

This review (with additional links!) is also available at The Smut Report

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Profile Image for FloeticFlo.
916 reviews40 followers
January 30, 2021
Well, I got a good amount of the way through this before I realized that it won't work completely for my current WIP. But it's definitely good information that I'm glad to have in my pocket for future writing, and I will still use some elements in what I'm currently doing. Gwen's style is easy to read and implement -- simple, direct language that is easy to directly apply when one is writing.
Profile Image for Lexi Dacy.
50 reviews35 followers
October 20, 2022
A very practical resource for writing romance, whether it’s a B-story sub plot or the main enchilada. This book includes the first beat sheet I’ve ever seen for love stories that fits in nicely with Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT method. Incredibly helpful!
Profile Image for Crimson Sparrow.
161 reviews9 followers
March 17, 2022
Cleanly and concisely spells out the beats of romantic story so that anyone can write a satisfying arc. I love that these beats can be fleshed out or drawn out in infinite ways but they are there in every good romance I've ever enjoyed. It's kind of freeing to understand the structure that even a twisted romance takes. Easy must-read for any novelist regardless of genre!
Profile Image for Dilyana.
168 reviews11 followers
December 23, 2017
This is a short book and I'm going to give it a very short review. Probably my shortest yet.

To sum it up: it's good. And by "good", I mean "useful".

It's written in a very accessible language, with an easy going tone, yet that doesn't take away from the lessons. On the contrary: it feels like you are chatting with a friend or colleague you've known for a while and who you actually enjoy speaking with.

The advice is simple, but the "Why didn't I think of this?" type of simple and at the same time it's helpful. This happens to be my favorite combo when I'm reading guidebooks, by the way: short, to the point, presented in layman terms and in a conversational tone. It helps me relax and remember what I've read. Even so, I took notes and I'd advise you to do the same.

I'd recommend Romancing the Beat to everyone who writes Romances (or, as Gwen calls them, "kissing books"), regardless of whether you are just starting out or you've already published a few books.
Profile Image for Reese Ryan.
Author 161 books500 followers
October 18, 2019
Simple, straightforward, and extremely helpful.

I've had this book on my Kindle for ages and had even started it. I finally read the entire book. It's a really simple, fun read that takes an easy-to-understand and execute approach to writing a romance that hits all of the necessary beats. I love that this technique is adaptable to plotters, pantsers, and plotsers. Yet, it will also nicely complement other popular plotting methods like GMC. I highly recommend this book for both new writers and experienced writers who may be feeling stuck.
Profile Image for Katy Upperman.
Author 4 books307 followers
August 31, 2017
Three things I loved about ROMANCING THE BEAT...
1. Truly helpful structural tips. Both for romance writers, and those hoping to thread romance into stories of other genres.
2. Quick, easy read. Also, encouraging! Romancing the Beat left me eager to dive back in to my troublesome WiP.
3. Humorously and irreverently written. Bonus — eighties song references!
Profile Image for Jeanne Estridge.
Author 4 books88 followers
June 22, 2019
A well-written book on how to write a satisfying romance.

I've been wrestling with the ending of a contemporary I've been working on for a while. Reading Romancing the Beat made me realize why it wasn't working and successfully finish the d**n book!
Profile Image for Carrie.
266 reviews29 followers
November 6, 2020
This was an excellent book that's saving me from myself as I attempt my first NaNoWriMo. Hayes lays out a simple, but effective structure that can be adapted to fit all kinds of romance novels. I highly recommend this for any aspiring romance novelist.
Profile Image for Tal.
77 reviews
November 20, 2020
It wasn’t bad, but not what I was looking for. Can be useful if you don’t know the basic of structuring a romance book.
Profile Image for Megan Davies.
87 reviews11 followers
March 20, 2021
Fantastic book for anyone that writes romance or has a romantic subplot.

This is an easy, quick read and details out every beat from the meet cute to the grand gesture.

If you are a fan of save the cat, but want something that you can apply specifically to romance, then this is the book for you.

I write fantasy and historical fiction, always with a romantic subplot, and I will use these beats, alongside the save the cat beats, to ensure that my romance is on track.

It has also made me want to write a historical romance novel... time will tell whether I get round to that!
Profile Image for Lily Rooke.
Author 3 books96 followers
April 16, 2021
I re-read this today for... reasons ;)

Essentially this is the only writing craft book on romance you will ever need to read, imo. It's short, snappy, clearly-explained, and written in an engaging and helpful way. For anyone new to writing romance, or who would like to check up the beats in their romantic subplot, I would highly recommend this read.
Profile Image for Elliot Cooper.
Author 16 books62 followers
August 18, 2017
Excellent guide to story structure from a romance POV. Mostly info I already knew, but expanded on the usual structure I follow (8 point arc). Some new tools for my toolbox to help me get unstuck & in revision process.

Highly recommended for beginning writers in the romance genre.
Profile Image for Dustin.
211 reviews6 followers
June 16, 2021
I found this incredibly helpful. Grateful to Tessa Dare for the recommendation.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 597 reviews

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