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Book Review: Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes

Friday, February 19, 2021 - 07:00
Book cover - Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes

This isn’t so much a review of the book as a discussion of my reaction to it. For what that’s worth. I picked up Romancing the Beat because it was recommended on a podcast for authors who want to analyze what does or doesn’t work in their romance plots. And while I’m content to write books where the romance doesn’t follow a conventional structure, I’m also rather analytical and figured it would be useful to understand what people meant when they talked about “the standard romance novel structure.” I can see how Hayes clearly lays out one of the popular structures for romance novels. And if you want to write that specific type of romance, I think this is a good primer for how to do it.

The problem I have is the author’s insistence that this is the One True Romance Plot. Because it doesn’t work for me as a reader. In fact, in parallel with reading Romancing the Beat, I happened by chance to be reading a historic romance that followed this exact structure. And the points where it most closely followed the prescription were the points where I felt the strongest urge to throw the book across the room. And I love romance, I just don’t love some of the specific story-beats that Hayes treats as a sine-qua-non.

And yet … when I was sorting through the outline of a project that’s moving from random notes and character sketches to actually in-process, I decided to match my plot against the structure Hayes describes, and then see how much tweaking it would take to follow it. I think I got about an 80% match, and I think the story is better for it. (I just left out the parts that drive me crazy, like the bit about how the characters must be completely romantically broken at the start, and how it must be clear that only this particular match can “heal” them, and the specific number of minor crises one must endure before the end.)

So, although I spent most of my read through this book shouting angrily at the author, and I remain in deep disagreement with her premise that this is the One True Way to write romance, I can’t say that I didn’t find the book useful or thought-provoking.

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