Just Whose Journey Am I Writing?

I am currently completing the first draft of my second WIP and am a little stuck. I know the set-up and the end, but not exactly how the climax will get resolved. And as I approach these scenes, with my combination of pre-plotting and pantsing, I recognize that part of what gets me stuck is considering just who the hero(ine) of the story is. I write romance, so there are two main characters, and at this point, since I write het romance, they are a heroine and hero. I’m fine with giving each a backstory, motivation, conflict, etc, but it is at the height of conflict and resolution that my head hits my desk. That happens for two reasons:

First Reason: I’m wondering which character–or both?–gets to negotiate the real guts of the story. Do I have two Leads or just one? I have found, like many other writers have suggested, that the beats in Save The Cat, similar to The Hero’s Journey, are great for story-telling. Yes, I’ve become the writer who points out the Call to Adventure or the Dark Night of the Soul moments (to my poor husband) when watching a show. Thankfully, he’s patient with me doing this. I do it because it helps me learn the turns and hills of plot beyond it-gets-worse-and-worse-and-then-they-figure-it-out. It’s good practice. Whether I’m exactly following such structure in my own writing is another issue, but in terms of my intentions, I sure as heck want to be. When it comes to romance, I get stumped. Are there two journeys? Is the romance the subplot or B-side? And, err…do I want it to be? Just who is this story about?

I remember reading a few Old Skool romances that centered the conflict between the hero and heroine in the sense of a hero vs villain: he bends her to his will or she softens him towards love. These books included “punishing kisses” and “inscrutable looks.” Not my cuppa anymore. And, yes, nowadays punishing kisses mean something else. Ahem. So, while there is conflict between my couple, I’m not looking for them to be exactly against each other. But nor do I want to stray from the genre (that I LOVE) and go towards women’s fiction where the heroine finds herself/resolves some shit/self-actualizes and also finds love in her spare time. Those are great stories to tell, but I want the relationship to be more central to the story. (Apologies if my snark comes across as a commentary on that particular sub-genre. It’s not meant to.)

So instead I struggle with which character resolves the central plot, or both, or each have their own? (*AHH!) I’m not entirely sure, so I’m going for the story being about both characters working out their issues and falling in love while they do so. I think. Sort of a two-fer. Except I also run into problems with my heroines. Sigh.

Which leads me to the Second Reason I am getting stuck: I think I need my heroine and hero to have similar levels of crisis/angst but that’s not happening. Another head-desk moment.

In plotting and in writing, by default my heroes are more easily written as change-agents with Big Issues to Resolve. Perhaps it is my newbie level of experience, but my heroines, as I write them, at first have less to do and their worries/concerns seem less serious than my heroes’. For me, at least. And as a feminist, this kills me.

For example, in the first story I wrote, I have a hero named Callum who is fighting to avenge his family and restore the throne in his country to the rightful ruler. Big stuff, big problems. The heroine, Zara, is a princess who reluctantly agrees to marry a prince in order form an alliance between countries. She’s more of a duty before self kind of person. And then she gets kidnapped. Sigh. Yes, these are problems for her but I worry that they are kind of meh by comparison to the hero’s. I still really like Callum and Zara’s story and want to delve into editing to see if it is publishable, but upon first draft (and many hair-pulling moments while writing it), Zara, at times, has less to do. Things happen to her. Yes, there’s a sense of historical realism to that, but I don’t like the idea of a character dragged around and put into jeopardy over and over. I want her to be able to take action and solve her problems. I want her problems to matter just as much as the hero’s. Argh.

Ah, so much to learn, right? I take these intentions and goals, continue reading about craft, and try to formulate the best story I can. Thank you for following me on this circle of a writing dilemma I’m facing. And, yes, I’m open to suggestions. If you know of a book or post on Story Structure for Romance, point me to it. Meanwhile, I’ll be attempting to write my way through it and then step back to fix the issues that need fixing. Eep.

Happy writing! 🙂

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