Romance is the main focus of a romance novel. However, a romantic subplot can be found in a mystery, spy novel, or any type of fiction book. A romantic subplot is a mini-drama within the novel. It can be based on three simple, familiar steps: Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl Back. Adding a romantic angle to a novel increases the reader's interest in the main character's personal lives as they wonder if two characters they care about will get together in the end.
Most novels can benefit by including a hint of romance. A romantic subplot may compliment a mystery or almost any type of novel. Readers are interested in the novel’s main character and most are also interested in romance. Adding an element of romance in a novel can deepen characterization and add another layer of interest to the book to keep readers turning pages to see what happens.
Boy Meets Girl
To begin the subplot, somewhere within the first few chapters a romantic relationship must be established. If the main character is male, this can either be a girlfriend, a wife, or a co-worker that the hero admires. If the main character is a woman, it could be a boyfriend, husband, or business associate. Often, the two have a working relationship. One common scenario is the male/female cop partner team.
Boy Loses Girl
For the romantic subplot to develop, around the middle of the book, there must be some kind of conflict and resulting estrangement. Usually, one character wants to take the relationship a step further and the other just wants to remain friends. If the romantic interest is a co-worker, they may be separated by opposing views on how to handle their job. Or one of them may get a promotion, which puts their relationship on an uneven balance. For example, in Stephen Booth’s Constable Ben Cooper Series, in the first book, Black Dog, local cop Ben Cooper is attracted to newcomer on the force, Diane Fry. The two become rivals for a promotion, which threatens to jeopardize their relationship.
If the characters are married, the conflict could arise from a sudden problem that must be resolved before the relationship can continue. The suspicion or reality of one of them having an affair, a simple change of heart or desire for personal freedom, or a big change such as the arrival of a step-child may set off tension that may make the couple contemplate divorce.
These conflicts cannot be solved too easily. As in the main plot, there must be improvements and setbacks. These can be caused by hurt, resentment or misunderstanding.
Boy Gets Girl Back
Toward the end of the book, the romantic subplot must be resolved. Usually, the two reconcile in some way. The co-worker passed over for promotion overcomes feelings of jealousy and learns to accept the new situation. A cheating wife or husband may be found out to be innocent, or if guilty, be forgiven.
In some instances, the relationship cannot be repaired. The resolution of the subplot is then “boy loses girl.”
In some series novels, the romantic subplot may last through several books. The is question of whether the hero and heroine will ever get together are left hanging. In Margaret Coel’s series, Arapaho lawyer Vicky Holden is attracted to a priest, Father John O’Malley. While both feel drawn to each other, they must remain apart. Unless he makes a painful decision to leave the church they will have to remain friends for the rest of the series.
A romantic subplot can be developed in three simple steps that consist of two people meeting and being attracted to each other, becoming estranged for some reason, and then either getting back together or going their separate ways. A romantic subplot will generate interest, even if a book is not primarily a romance.