And the Writers and Readers Who Prefer Each
Lesfic – or, as it’s becoming more commonly and more inclusively called, WLW (women who love women) romance – has two basic plots. Like all romance, the goal is for the characters to get together at the end of the book. This can be accomplished by having them immediately attracted, getting together by the midpoint, and then breaking up in order to get together for real at the end. Or they can only end up as a couple at the end of the book. Let’s review some recent releases to see which plot pathway they follow and how each might find its payoff with readers.
We’re Together, Now We’re Not, Now It’s Back On
In the first plot pathway, the two love interests are usually instantly attracted to each other. This has been true in many of the books I’ve read recently, with one character usually narrating their visual appreciation for the other character. She’s hot, and it’s an immediate physical attraction.
But, this being romance, they can’t land at their happily ever after right away, or there wouldn’t be a story left to read. Usually, the writer has them get together – likely through a sexual encounter – but some outside force causes their relationship to fall apart at about three-quarters of the way through the book.
Melissa Brayden’s Entangled, for instance, has the lead couple Joey and Becca really happy with some hot sex before a series of related professional disasters cause Joey to walk away from their relationship. During panels at reader conventions and author chats, Melissa often talks about how she loves finding the moment when she can pull the rug out from under a relationship, just as readers are starting to feel satisfied with it. It’s a move that makes the reader need to turn the page. As readers, we go from happily flipping pages to see the hot sex or loving domestic scenes play out to frantically flipping pages with our hearts in our stomachs to see if the couple will be able to get back on track because we know they belong together.
Georgia Beers’ Flavor of the Month follows a similar pattern. There’s an intense sex scene between Charlie and Emma, who are just starting to understand and connect with each other, before everything falls to pieces.
But it’s romance, so of course the pieces are able to be glued back together, and the couple succeeds.
In my forthcoming book, The Queen Has a Cold, Remy and Sam are instantly drawn to each other, but there are so many things standing in the way of their relationship: a monarchy, a social class divide, a prospective fiancee, and palace intrigue that threatens the reign of Remy’s mother, Queen Clotilde. Just as Remy and Sam make an advance in their relationship, the forces against them ratchet up to a point where there’s just no way they can ever really be together. Since it’s a romance, I won’t be spoiling anything if I tell you they get their happy ending, but I won’t tell you how. You have to buy the book to find that out.
This plot pathway keeps readers hooked if they’re already rooting for the couple. It also allows the writer to include a scorching sex scene earlier in the book, which can be another hook for a reader and often a way to demonstrate the characters belong together. Their sexual chemistry and innate understanding of each other’s bodies are often a physical parallel to their emotional connection. If the book features a second explicit sex scene after the characters’ reconciliation, it serves as a kind of homecoming.
We’re not a Couple….Yet
The second plot pathway doesn’t have the characters get together until the end of the book. Sometimes readers call this a “slow burn” because it takes so much time and fuel to get the relationship going. The advantage to this pathway is that the characters get a long time to know each other before they connect sexually or romantically – and, by extension, so do the readers. Sometimes this is through the enemies-to-lovers trope, in which the characters don’t initially like each other, but sometimes it’s just because the characters are slow to build their feelings.
By the final few chapters of these books, we are desperate for those characters to wake up and see the light of day – that they belong together. Or, if they already know but there are forces outside them keeping them apart, we become desperate for them to hurry up and defeat these forces.
This is the plot of most of those Hallmark movies in which one character already has a fiance or an accidental husband from when she was a teenager or a boyfriend who is more committed to work than to her. It works on Hallmark because there’s no need for kissing or sex, since the couple isn’t a couple until the final few scenes.
I’ve just finished reading Clare Lydon’s Before You Say I Do, in which a bride-to-be falls in love with a professional bridesmaid who has been hired to help the wedding run smoothly. Because Abby, the future bride, has never identified as lesbian or bisexual, it takes her a long time to recognize that her feelings for Jordan are sexual and romantic. They still have their moment of having the tower fall apart, since Abby is about five minutes away from marrying a man, but the bulk of the book is Abby’s self-discovery and awakening.
Jae’s The Roommate Arrangement is another example. Steph and Rae are opposites forced to fake being in a relationship for the sake of an apartment, and there’s not much conflict between them except that they’re blind to see how great they’d be together until the end.
My first book, The Holiday Detour, follows this path, too. Dana and Charlie are so fixated on their ridiculous misadventure to get to the Chicago suburbs to their families that they don’t realize until the following morning that they have developed feelings for each other.
While the first plot pathway gives us a chance to see smoking sexual dynamics earlier in the book, this plot pathway gives us a chance to see how friendship can blossom. And it’s fun to know something before the characters do. It might take them ten chapters to figure out they belong together, but we can tell from page one. Author KD Williamson says the slow burn can leave the reader breathless because (like sex) there is something very satisfying about a romance taking its time to reach its boiling point, as opposed to happening hard and fast.
Neither plot pathway is better than the other; they’re just two possibilities for romance to develop. Each offers readers a way of feeling those intense sensations of passion, heartache, and anticipation that make romance so exciting.
The Holiday Detour is available everywhere now, and The Queen Has a Cold is available for preorder through Bold Strokes Books. It will be released in April 2021.