The meaning of the writing term “Romance” has evolved over the centuries and in different literary locales. We’ll use the word in the current “genre” sense: that of a love story which ends Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now (HFN).
While pondering the path of a fictional romantic journey, it occurred to me that the story arc of a romance aptly resembles the shape of what’s called “normal sinus rhythm,” as it’s traced on an electrocardiogram (ECG). (This is not surprising, because I’m a retired Registered Nurse.) Perhaps you’ve had an ECG done, as part of a physical exam, or to prepare for surgery. In brief, this is how it works:
The ECG electrodes detect and the readout depicts the wave of electrical energy that’s generated by the heart, and results in the “lub-dub” of a heartbeat. The letters P, Q, R, S, and T are used to label the events of a heartbeat. Measurements of the size and shape of each part of the waveform, and the time intervals between them, are used to calculate whether or not there is an arrhythmia that may indicate a problem with the anatomy or physiology of the heart.
Because falling in love seems to affect the short-term behavior of a person’s heart, we’ll co-opt an ECG and its alphabetical labels to illustrate and explain the Romance Story Arc:
P: Provocation. This event interrupts the characters’ prior routines: Something happens to provoke the attention of another person, so that neither of the characters can go back to the way they lived before they met.
Q: Questioning. Not long after Fate throws these people under the Boy-Meets-Girl Bus, they begin to feel the bruises. Because they’re not always getting along well, one or both inwardly question the friendship, but neither one feels like walking away from the relationship.
R: Realization / Rapture. Eventually the blinkers come off, and these individuals figure out that they should be – or, in the case of rapturous consummation, they have become – an “item.”
S: Separation / Sadness. Something happens to keep the lovebirds apart. This situation is often associated with “The Black Moment,” when all seems lost, and that there is no future for the relationship, after all.
T: Togetherness. At last, there’s a breakthrough, and the characters can form the couple they were meant to be: HEA or HFN.
The Traditional Story Arc.
The simple “category” romance story arc causes critics to charge the genre with its being a trite, clichéd, formulaic trope. There are thousands of romance novels, including dual-genre romances; plus Literary Fiction, with its many romantic subplots. The expectation that each be as unique as a snowflake seems to have the odds of a snowball in Hades.
Irish Firebrands : A Fusion Fiction Romance.
Romance: There is no “save the” or “solve the” plot. A developing romantic relationship is the primary focus.
Boomer-Lit / Aging: Instead of the classic “young love,” the Love Interest and her two Heartthrobs are middle-aged.
Psychological Fiction: Because they are people who have had plenty of time to develop the ingrained habits of their personalities, there are ample opportunities for them to rub each other the wrong way.
Multicultural and Social Controversy Melodrama: They also each have various personal and cultural reasons not to come clean with their real, romantic feelings for one another, until it seems as if it’s too late for them to do anything about it.
Paranormal or Occult / Supernatural: There’s something that’s not quite … right … going on, throughout the story.
The Fusion Fiction Advantage.
Fusion Fiction, in which romance is only one of several ways to read a particular book, encourages us to look at the arc as if it were an ECG instead of a bell-shaped curve. It shows that the solution to every critical objection is not to sweat blood over coming up with something new, but just to give the trope a plausible twist. The combination of genres between the covers of a Fusion Fiction novel are what make this flexibility possible.