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The 6 Key Scenes Every Romance Needs

Romance is one of the best-selling genres in mass-market fiction with a large fan base of readers who just can’t get enough. In today’s post, I’m going to go over the key scenes that every romance novel needs to have in order to work and to satisfy fans of the genre.

I’m also going to show you how these key scenes manifest in three popular movies—Pride and Prejudice, Something’s Gotta Give, and Twilight. Why movies? The simple answer is that movies require less time investment than books. If you haven’t seen any of those movies, I hope you’ll watch them after reading this post!

Before we get into the six key scenes, let’s go over some basics.

 

What makes a romance novel?

Romance novels center around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make their relationship work. Most of the time, the relationships end “happily ever after,” or at the very least, “happily for now.” Beyond that, romance novels can have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have various levels of sensuality. They can include various subplots as long as the love story remains the main focus of the novel.

 

Why do people read romance novels?

People pick up romance novels because they want to experience all the butterflies and the excitement of falling in love without having to take any risks or be vulnerable themselves. And by the end of the story, they want to see love win.

And like all genre fiction, you have to deliver the emotional experience readers are looking for in order for your story to work. To deliver this emotional experience, you need to include the obligatory scenes and conventions of your genre in your novel.

 

What are Obligatory Scenes and Conventions?

Conventions are a reasonably well-defined set of roles, settings, events, and values that are specific to a genre. They are things that readers intuitively expect to be present in a work of genre fiction whether they consciously realize it or not.

Obligatory scenes are the key events, decisions, and discoveries that move the protagonist along on his or her journey. These key scenes are what will evoke emotional reactions in the reader—and when coupled with your genre’s conventions—will give the reader the experience they’re looking for.

So, now let’s take a look at what these key scenes are and how they show up in our three case studies. As I go through these key scenes, I want you to consider WHY each of these scenes needs to be in a romance novel -- or what purpose they serve in the narrative. My hope is that you’ll notice that each of these key scenes has a specific role in taking the protagonist on a journey from start to finish -- and because of that, you can use these six scenes to help you craft an outline or a first draft of a story that works. 

 

Obligatory Scenes of the Romance Novel

#1. The Lovers Meet Scene

The first scene your romance novel needs is a scene where the lovers meet for the first time. Or, if they already know each other, this is a scene where they first appear on the page together. This scene is sometimes referred to as the “meet-cute.” And it’s almost always the global inciting incident of your story.

Case Studies:

  • In Pride and Prejudice, this is when Elizabeth and Jane Bennett meet Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley at the town ball. And what’s great about this scene is that we get to see the tone of each relationship -- so, Mr. Bingley and Jane are sweet and polite whereas Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth are more witty and sharp-tongued.
  • In Something’s Gotta Give, Erica comes home to find a strange man (Harry) in her kitchen. Pretty quickly, she learns that he’s dating her daughter, Marin and that he’s a “famous” bachelor. You can tell that both Harry and Erica are not very fond of each other after this first meeting.
  • In Twilight, Bella is partnered with Edward in biology class. Edward appears to have a strong dislike of Bella, and she can’t figure out why or what she did wrong.

 

#2. The First Kiss/First Intimate Moment Scene

The second scene you’ll want to include in your romance novel is a scene where your couple shares their first kiss or some kind of intimate moment. Now, not all love stories will have physical intimacy so, you’ll want to consider what makes sense for the heat level of your romance. If you’re writing more of a sweet romance, you might show them sharing an intimate moment where they hold hands, share some kind of dream for the future, or do something nice for the other. The point is to just show your couple moving closer to that sense of intimacy and romance.

Case Studies:

  • In Pride and Prejudice, this is when Mr. Darcy asks Elizabeth to dance at the Meryton ball. This is that first moment where we see each of them let their guard down just a little bit and share a dance. I like this scene because you can almost imagine that each of them is thinking, “What if this person could be the one for me?” But they can’t linger in that world of “what if” too long because they haven’t learned the lesson of the story yet -- their pride and prejudice is still getting in the way of the romance. 
  • In Something’s Gotta Give, after the storm knocks out the power in Erica’s house, Erica and Harry kiss for the first time. Shortly after, they consummate their relationship and spend the night together.
  • In Twilight, Edward shows up in Bella’s bedroom, and they share their first kiss.

 

#3. The Confession of Love Scene

The next scene you’ll want to include in your story is a scene where one or both of your characters confesses their feelings. This doesn’t necessarily mean one of your characters has to say “I love you” to the other, but it does have to be made known that one (or both) of your character’s feelings are no longer platonic. This scene usually happens somewhere around the midpoint of your novel because it’s a moment that really raises the stakes for your characters. Now they know -- and readers know -- what’s truly on the line.

Case Studies:

  • In Pride and Prejudice, this is when Mr. Darcy confesses his love to Elizabeth and says that despite his better judgment, and despite her family’s status in society, he’s fallen in love with her and wants to be married. This is a good example of a scene where only one character confesses their love because Elizabeth does not seem to share Mr. Darcy’s feelings at this moment -- especially after how he says what he says. 
  • In Something’s Gotta Give, Harry gets the green light from Dr. Mercer to go back to the city. As Harry’s leaving Erica’s house, he expresses his gratitude towards her for taking him in and for taking care of him. He ends his speech with, “I love ya,” and Erica replies that she loves him, too.
  • In Twilight, Bella confronts Edward about being a vampire. Edward tells Bella how dangerous it is for her to be around him, but she doesn’t care. She tells Edward she’s not afraid of him hurting her—she’s afraid of losing him. Towards the end of this scene, Edward says, “And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…” which is his way of admitting his feelings.

  

#4. The Lovers Break Up Scene

The next scene you’ll want to include in your story is a scene where your characters break up or separate. So, usually, this break up is only temporary until each of the characters overcomes whatever’s holding them back from true love. So, essentially, they can’t yet live happily ever after because one or both of them hasn’t learned the lesson of the story yet. That internal wound or false belief is just too much -- it’s holding them back from happiness. And speaking of that, this scene usually happens around the end of act two. Right around that “all is lost” moment when all hope really does seem lost. The best break-up scenes are those in which it seems highly unlikely that the characters are going to reunite at the end. So, yes, the reader expects there to be a “happily ever after” ending, but you do want them to have their doubts until the very end.

Case Studies:

  • In Pride and Prejudice, this moment occurs at the same time as the “confession of love” scene. Right after Mr. Darcy says he’s in love with Elizabeth and wants to get married, she doesn’t just turn him down -- she turns him down and lists all the reasons why she dislikes him and why a relationship with him would never work out. So, at that point, as a viewer of the movie, you’re thinking -- yikes, that was intense, now what’s going to happen? So, as viewers, we hope for a happily ever after ending, but we don’t know how it’s going to happen yet. That’s the fun part.
  • In Something’s Gotta Give, Erica sees Harry in a restaurant with another woman and confronts him. Up until this point, they’ve been physically apart, but Erica still had hope for some kind of relationship with Harry. She runs from the restaurant and escapes in a cab. Harry tries to call her (repeatedly), but Erica doesn’t take his calls.
  • In Twilight, Bella has to convince her dad that she and Edward have broken up in order to quickly escape to Arizona. They have to make the break-up look real to stay one step ahead of James. This is a weaker example of a "lovers break up" scene because they don’t actually break up—they just physically separate for a while.

 

#5. The Proof of Love Scene

The next scene you’ll want to include in your love story is the proof of love scene -- and this is the most important scene in a romance novel. It’s the climactic event that readers are waiting for from page one. The key component to a great proof of love scene is that one of the characters must sacrifice something for the happiness of the other. And not only that, but they need to do it without any hope that their action will change the other character’s mind about entering into a relationship. They’re simply sacrificing so that the other character can be happy because they love that other character so much. So, what does this sacrifice look like? Well, a character could sacrifice a part of themselves, they could sacrifice a job in a different state, a bad habit, a way of life, an outdated belief system, money -- I mean, you name it, it could be anything really. What you’re looking for with this sacrifice is something to prove that your character has learned the lesson of the story. 

Case Studies:

  • In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth learns that Mr. Darcy has sacrificed a part of his fortune, to a man he despises, in order to protect Elizabeth’s family from sure disgrace and to ensure Elizabeth’s happiness. Not only did he sacrifice his money, but he did it all without any kind of hesitation. And it’s this sacrifice that causes Elizabeth to realize that she’s been wrong about Mr. Darcy and it’s what makes her want to devote herself to him going forward. So, that’s Mr. Darcy’s proof of love moment. Now, another great thing about this movie is we get to see Elizabeth’s proof of love scene, too. This happens when Lady Catherine confronts Elizabeth about the rumor that she and Mr. Darcy are engaged. Lady Catherine asks Elizabeth to promise that she will never enter into an engagement with Mr. Darcy, but Elizabeth refuses. When Mr. Darcy finds out, he takes this as proof of Elizabeth’s feelings toward him. It’s what gives him the courage to come back and try again for Elizabeth’s hand. 
  • In Something’s Gotta Give, Harry travels all the way to Paris to tell Erica how he feels. Much to his surprise, Erica is in Paris with Dr. Mercer—and they’re dating. Once Dr. Mercer realizes that Harry and Erica are still in love, he breaks off his relationship with Erica. Erica finds Harry overlooking the river Seine and confesses that she’s still in love with him, too.
  • In Twilight, Bella confronts James in her old ballet studio alone. She sacrifices herself to keep her mom, Edward, and Edward’s family out of danger. Going into this scene, she knows it’s unlikely she’ll survive, but chooses to put other people before herself. Edward makes a sacrifice for Bella, too. To prevent her from becoming a vampire, he has to suck the venom (that’s mixed with her blood) out of her. Edward sacrifices by not giving in to his vampire-like nature, and by stopping himself from drinking all of Bella’s blood.

 

#6. The Lovers Reunite Scene

The last key scene you’ll want to include in your romance is a scene where the lovers get back together and commit to one another. And this is that glimpse at the “happily ever after” (HEA)—or the “happy for now” (HFN)—that your readers have been waiting for. So, it’s the emotional payoff that answers the question raised in the beginning of the story -- and it was a question of “will these characters get together or not?”

Case Studies:

  • In Pride and Prejudice, we get to see Mr. Darcy ask for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage again and this time she says yes. They kiss and head to the Bennett house where Mr. Darcy asks Mr. Bennett for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. Then, the final scene in the movie shows Mr. and Mrs. Darcy wonderfully happy and in love.
  • In Something’s Gotta Give, after confessing their feelings for each other in Paris, Harry and Erica enter into a committed relationship. In the last scene, we get to see them as a happy family unit meeting Marin, her husband, and their baby for dinner.
  • In Twilight, after defeating James, Bella and Edward are reunited in the hospital. Because of the sacrifices they’ve just made for each other, their love has grown even deeper.

Final Thoughts

So, those are the six key scenes you need to include in your love story in order for it to work. Now, you might be thinking -- okay, those are all really obvious, Savannah… But, you’d be surprised how many drafts I see that are missing these key moments. 

And sometimes, it’s not even that the drafts are missing these key moments, but instead, they downplay these key moments or gloss over them -- and that’s just doing the reader a disservice. Like we talked about earlier, these are the key scenes readers come to romance stories for so you really want to include them in your story in impactful and meaningful ways.

The cool thing about these six key scenes is that you can use them to map out your story whether you’re writing a contemporary romance, a historical romance, or a romance that takes place in a made-up world. You can even use them to map out a romantic subplot in your story, too. 

So, use these key scenes to help you construct your story and then figure out how to deliver them in new and unexpected ways. Do that and you’ll not only write a story that works, but you’ll probably gain fans for life, too!

The Obligatory Scenes of the Romance Genre: The 6 Key Scenes Every Romance Novel Needs | Savannah Gilbo - Are you writing a romance novel? Looking for some romance writing tips? Learn how to write a romance novel (and which key scenes you need to include in your story) in this post! #amwriting #writingtips #writingcommunity

👉 Let's discuss in the comments: Do you have these obligatory scenes in your romance novel? If not, how can you add in what’s missing? Can you identify these key scenes in your favorite romance books or movies? 

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