Subplots in Romance Novels

A recent romance writers’ group discussion inspired me to think about subplots in romance novels. It wasn’t a conceptualization I thought about much because I have always thought that the primary plot, of hero and heroine on the road to a happily ever after, was what mattered most.

But upon reading and thinking about the discussion points being made, I realized just how much I noticed subplots in the books I read and just how I used subplots in my own writing.

As a reader, I have noticed them the most in romantic suspense novels. The hero and heroine are on a quest of some type, one that is fraught with danger. Their struggle with their foe draws them closer and pushes the action forward. Through their journey and struggle to vanquish their enemy, they forge their happily ever after. This type of trope is common not only in contemporary novels but in some historical ones as well. The tension is built in, as are the growing edges between the hero and heroine. In subsequent books, other heroes and heroines might grapple with the same common enemy. The journey just represents their own take.

I’ve noticed a number of novels in series, in which a writer doesn’t write just one book in which the hero and heroine work towards their happily ever after, but the story takes place over several books. The books can appear subplot driven. Whenever I have read books of that type, I always wondered why the writer chose to draw out the novel over several installments. It just seemed odd and made me feel less satisfied. I reached the end of the novel but that wasn’t really the end. Book one was just one stage in the resolution of the subplot that paved the way towards the final resolution of the romance.

My favorite type of subplot involves the development of secondary characters who will then have their own stories in future novels. Those have always been my favorite types of novels to read, because I have always been curious about the people connected to the hero and heroine in interesting ways.  How were they developing during the course of the main characters’ happily ever after? How will those developments influence what happens in their own book? This is what I was doing in Starting Over Rick. Going Home Roger, and the Wedding Bet: Lauren (finally in the hands of the copy editor!)

Sometimes the secondary characters resolve their subplots in the course of the primary characters’ book and might even find their own parallel happily ever after. Upon reading those types of stories, I was glad to see their resolution, but I wondered why they didn’t have their own stories, especially if the story seemed to detract from the main one. I realize, though, that might be a writing convention, especially if the writer doesn’t have enough time to write a separate book.

Now that I’m interested in inspirational romances, I find that faith and faith-based struggles can be the bases for their own subplots, tensions and conflicts. A fairly common one is the life crisis that pushes questions of faith to the fore. Faith v. non-faith? Or the struggles of being in the ordination process (my current work in progress). The possibilities fascinate me.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.