top of page

What is a Romance Story Arc?

What is a romance story arc?

I get this question a lot from clients and see it often in writer forums. 

And it makes sense! Many of the phrases we use in publishing aren't easy to understand, but publishing professionals, myself included, forget that because those words are part of our daily vocabulary. 

So, today I'll be defining the term, both in the context of fiction in general, and romance specifically.

What does "story arc" mean in general? 

A story arc is, generally speaking, the structure of the story in a fiction novel. It's also sometimes referred to as a narrative arc. 

The story arc is made up of specific scenes, or beats, that move the story forward. The exact scenes or beats included will depend on the story's genre. 

In romance, you don't see the phrase "story arc" as much. Instead, you'll encounter "romance arc" and "sub-plot arc."

What does "story arc" mean in the romance genre?

A romance novel's story arc is the structure of the romance between the main characters. Often, romance novels also have a sub-plot arc.

What is a sub-plot arc in a romance novel?

The sub-plot arc is the structure of the secondary story in the romance. That secondary story in a romance is often related to the romance's sub-genre. 

For example, romantic suspense novels have suspense arcs interwoven with the romance arc. 

Romantasy novels often have a quest or journey interwoven with the romance. 

Romantic cozy mysteries have cozy mystery arcs interwoven with the romance. 

Sub-plot arcs can also related to one or all main characters' goals or conflicts. 

If you have a contemporary romance between two rival chefs battling it out at a cooking competition, the sub-plot might be the competition, with specific challenges or episodes making up the beats. 

Or a historical romance novel about three servants falling in love during preparations for a Christmas party might use different stages of the preparations to make up the beats of the sub-plot arc. 

And now it all makes sense! If only we had one big, easily accessible dictionary to define all these romance publishing words. But until then, think of me as your handy-dandy romance jargon dictionary, clearing up confusion and making your life easier. 

Until next post, happy reading and writing!


bottom of page