While writing the post: 5 Tips for Writing Romantic Subplots, my fifth tip was to utilize romantic story structure and I recommend checking out Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes (which also has a Scrivener template). But I wanted to include my own overview.
Quick disclaimer: This overview is pretty true to Gwen Hayes’ beats, but I might have rephrased or grouped the beats a little differently. Also, I don’t write in the romance genre, but all of my books have heavy romantic subplots.
You could argue that the romance in Tangled isn’t exactly a sub-plot…but Rapunzel’s main goal isn’t to find love…it’s to escape her tower and reunite with the life she had lost. Rapunzel finds love along the way, and I think it’s a great example to illustrate this story structure and how this structure could be incorporated in a romance or a romantic subplot.
Act One: Set-up
Intro H1 & H2 (introduce the love interests)
- This could be separately (before the meet cute) or with them together.
- This is their starting state, when the romance between them seems far-fetched.
In Tangled: Rapunzel is starting her days at 7 AM locked away in her tower and Flynn Rider is just being his criminal self.
- The first interaction between the two characters.
- This doesn’t have to be the first time they ever meet AND can be integrated into the intro beat.
Tangled: frying pans and smolders
No Way 1
- This is the “Heart Hole” or more specifically… the reason your character will refuse to fall in love.
- This should tie in to the greater theme and conflict of the greater plot.
Tangled: Rapunzel knows that Flynn is a thief who wants the crown, and because of Mother Gothel, she knows to be weary of ruffians and thugs.
Adhesion Plot Thrust
- This is a plot point that pushes the two characters together.
Tangled: Rapunzel wants to see the floating lights and sees Flynn Rider as her ticket to achieving that dream. Flynn Rider wants the crown and agrees to work with Rapunzel to get it back.
Act Two Part One: Falling in love
No Way #2
- Because only having one moment of tension is boring!
- As you enter the second act, this is a great moment to add another layer of conflict. Or if only one character expressed why this wouldn’t work, it’s a perfect time for the other character to have some baggage.
Tangled: I’ll just take this line from Flynn’s I have a Dream solo: “On an island that I own, tanned and rested, and alone. Surrounded by enormous piles of money.” i.e. he isn’t looking for love.
- This is a chip in the walls the characters have built up, where they start to see the other as something that could be desired.
Tangled: The snuggly duckling scene where Rapunzel and Flynn start to let their walls down a little and get to know each other with some up-beat singing and more ruffians.
- Two steps forward.
- Whatever fears or hesitations the characters have begin to soften. They will start looking past those “no way” moments.
Tangled: When the Stabbingtons close in and nearly kill them, Rapunzel exposes her hair magic and Flynn reveals his real name is Eugene (showing their trust).
Maybe this could work
- The characters are really starting to think that they can let go of their “no way” reasons. They typically will grow more intimate during this beat: whether physically or emotionally.
Tangled: They go to Corona and have a lovely time exploring the city together.
Mid-Point (LOVE plot thrust)
- This is when sparks are really flying.
- A lot of times this is when the characters drop their hesitation (if only for a moment) and things are kicked up a notch. Often this IS when something physical happens… a kiss or something less PG.
Tangled: the iconic lantern scene: “All at once everything looks different, now that I see you” need I go on?
Act Two Part Two: Retreating from love
Inkling of Doubt
- Things are feeling pretty good, but then the characters feels those hesitations bubble up once more.
- This will most likely be connected to the external pressure of what’s happening in you’re A-storyline
Tangled: (this is a bit out of order, but it works) Mother Gothel had shown up and gave Rapunzel the crown to test Eugene, which Rapunzel gives to him during the mid-point scene.
- I’m lumping these two together: it echoes the deepening desire beat a little nicer, because this is the moment of two steps backward.
- The seed of doubt starts to grow into a plant. Something happens that shows the two characters exactly why they should have stayed away.
Tangled: Eugene leaves Rapunzel to take the crown to the Stabbingtons, but gets captured.
- The ‘No way’ beat comes true.
Tangled: Mother Gothel stages a rescue of Rapunzel and reaffirms that the outside world is a dangerous place and that the only person Rapunzel can trust is her.
- It. Is. Over.
- The actual break-up could have happened in the shields up moment, but this is when the couple separates. What is important here is that it has to be the CHOICE of the protagonist.
Tangled: Rapunzel chooses to go back to the tower.
Act Three: Fighting for love
Dark night of the soul
- This is the rock bottom, breaking point, or lowest point for the characters. With a romantic subplot, this will most often overlap with the lowest point of the story.
Tangled: Rapunzel is stuck back in her tower and Eugene is captured in a jail cell.
- After the dark night, the sun rises!
- The character realizes the mistake they made by their choice.
Tangled: This comes in a literal sun, as in the symbol of Corona––which Rapunzel has been subconsciously painting for years. She realizes that she’s the lost princess and the Gothel had lied to her about Eugene as well.
- The character now wants to make amends for making the wrong choice.
- This is usually some sort of risk and involves taking some sort of leap of faith.
Tangled: Rapunzel’s grand gesture is agreeing to go with Mother Gothel if she can save Eugene’s life. Eugene’s grand gesture is cutting Rapunzel’s hair so she can be free, even if it means she can’t heal him.
- This is the big ending!
- The characters have completed their arcs and are “whole hearted”. This usually comes with a mirror of either the meet-cute or something significant that occurred leading up to the mid-point
Tangled: Rapunzel’s tears save Eugene after he crushes our souls with the line “You were my new dream” which is also a mirror to the “I have a dream” song and shows that Flynn Rider has changed from the swindling criminal to Eugene, the man in love.
- This gives the readers the nudge of what’s going to happen with the characters after the dust settles.
Tangled: Rapunzel and Eugene return to Corona and she is reunited with her family. The voice over of Eugene and Rapunzel says that they got married and lived happily ever after. BONUS: if you watch the short Tangled Ever After you get the extra epilogue where you see the wedding.
(All images used for this article were taken from Disney’s Tangled © 2010 via Disney+)
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