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Developing Romantic Arcs

Arcs are the backbone of stories across all genres, from the heart-fluttering romances to edge-of-your-seat adventures, and even those chill-you-to-the-bone horror tales. Perfecting a romantic arc can transform a solid story into an epic saga, injecting layers of emotion, tension, and a dash of relatability. Crafting a love story that grips readers isn’t as simple as throwing two star-crossed lovers into a scene and waiting for fireworks. It’s more like being a master architect of emotions. You need the right blueprint: a mix of heartfelt moments, a sprinkle of challenges, and those unforgettable instances that make hearts race.

In this blog, You'll learn how to unlock the secrets of constructing romantic arcs that will captivate and mesmerize.

What is Character Arc?

A character arc refers to the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. Think of a character arc as the personal workout plan for your story's characters. They start off one way—maybe a little flabby around the emotional edges or spiritually out of shape. Then, through a series of narrative gym sessions (a.k.a. events and experiences), they either buff up into their best selves, take a few too many hits on the moral treadmill, or sometimes, just keep on jogging in place. This whole journey, whether it's a soulful marathon or a sprint to realization, pumps up the story's heart rate and gives it those relatable abs.

Character arcs are the secret spice that adds flavor to your characters, letting readers taste the sweet, the sour, and sometimes the bitter changes they undergo. Whether it's the glow-up of the century, a tumble down the rabbit hole, or just a steady cruise on the SS Status Quo, these arcs make sure your characters are more than just paper dolls—they're real people, with the emotional depth of an ocean and the relatability of a best friend's couch.

character arc visuals Neda Aria

Character Arcs ca be categorized into several types:

  1. Positive Arc (Transformational/Growth Arc): Here, the character overcomes flaws, learns valuable lessons, and emerges better off than they were at the beginning. This is often seen in stories where the protagonist faces and overcomes significant challenges, leading to personal growth.

  • Catherine Earnshaw in "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Brontë: her emotional turmoil and relationship with Heathcliff show some growth in understanding and self-awareness, though it is fraught with tragedy.

  1. Negative Arc (Fall Arc): The character fails to overcome their flaws or succumbs to them, leading to their downfall or a worse state than where they started. This arc explores themes of failure, tragedy, and the darker aspects of human nature.

  • Emma Bovary in "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert: Her quest for passion and a more exciting life leads her into affairs and debt, illustrating a classic negative arc where her desires lead to her ultimate downfall and tragedy.

  1. Flat Arc (Static Arc): The character remains fundamentally the same throughout the story, but their beliefs, values, or virtues are tested and ultimately validated. This type of arc is often used for characters who embody ideals meant to influence the world or characters around them, rather than undergoing personal transformation.

  • "The Story of O" by Pauline Réage, while characters are not changing fundamentally themselves, serve as catalysts for change in O, maintaining their perspectives and desires throughout the narrative.

  1. Redemption Arc: This is a specific type of positive arc where a character seeks forgiveness or atonement for past mistakes or crimes. It involves a journey from wrongdoing to redemption, often facing consequences and making amends.

  • Dmitri Karamazov in "The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoevsky: Dmitri's journey involves elements of forbidden love, moral ambiguity, and the quest for redemption. His relationships and actions drive him to a point of moral reckoning, leading to spiritual awakening and the desire for atonement by the end of the novel.

Bella Donna book Cover

When writing Bella Donna, (no spoilers) I had one of those rare moments of writing something more positive. In this book, Bella's character arc can be classified as a Positive or Growth arc, specifically the "Transformation" subtype. This type of arc is characterized by significant internal change in the protagonist, influenced by events, conflicts, and reflections throughout the narrative.

Bella starts her journey with certain beliefs and attitudes about love, life, and her own desires, which are deeply challenged as the story unfolds. The reason why Bella's arc fits this category is due to her evolution from a state of conflict and indecision—torn between two loves, representing different parts of her identity and desires—to a state of self-awareness and clarity about her needs and future. This transformation is not just about making a choice between two partners but about Bella understanding herself better, recognizing what she truly values, and taking steps towards her own happiness and fulfillment.

Such arcs involve significant character development, where the protagonist undergoes a metamorphosis that affects their perspective, actions, and relationships. The journey Bella undertakes, filled with emotional turmoil, self-doubt, and exploration, leads to a profound personal growth that reshapes her understanding of herself and her place in the world. This journey is central to the narrative, making her arc a compelling example of transformation through introspection and experience.

If interested to read the book, now you can get it on Kindle and Lulu (eBook)

Kindle link ebook bella donna

Lulu link ebook bella donna

Romantic Arc in Romance

A romantic arc is the journey of a relationship between characters, typically involving stages of attraction, conflict, growth, and resolution. Like any character arc, it's about transformation and evolution, not just of the relationship but of the individuals within it. The most compelling romantic arcs are those that challenge the characters, force them to confront their flaws, fears, and desires, and ultimately lead to a transformation that is both believable and satisfying.

Components of a Successful Romantic Arc

The components of a good romantic arc includes (with examples of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy);

  1. Character Development: Individual character arcs are crucial to a believable romance. Each character must be fully realized, with their own strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and growth paths. Their development should be interwoven with that of the romantic arc, with the relationship serving as a catalyst for change and growth.

  • Anna Karenina begins as a sophisticated, married woman who is content yet emotionally unfulfilled. Her affair with Vronsky marks a significant transformation, leading her towards emotional turmoil, societal ostracization, and internal conflict. Her journey is a descent from stability to despair, showcasing her vulnerabilities, desires, and the tragic consequences of her choices.

  1. Chemistry: Chemistry isn't just about attraction; it's the connection and tension between characters, whether it's instant or grows over time. Crafting chemistry involves creating characters with complementary or contrasting traits, shared interests, or conflicts that spark interaction.

  • The chemistry between Anna and Vronsky is palpable from their first encounter. Their mutual attraction is immediate, but their connection deepens as they share moments of joy, passion, and ultimately, shared struggle. Their chemistry is a mix of physical attraction and emotional bond, highlighted by their complementary personalities—Anna's intensity and Vronsky's ardor.

  1. Conflict: Conflict is the engine of a romantic arc, driving the plot and character development. It can arise from external pressures (societal norms, external threats) or internal struggles (fears, miscommunications). Conflict should challenge the relationship, testing its strength and the characters' commitment.

  • The romance is rife with conflict, both external and internal. Societal norms and Anna's marriage to Karenin create external pressures that stigmatize their relationship. Internally, Anna struggles with guilt, jealousy, and fear of abandonment, while Vronsky faces the challenge of balancing his career and societal standing with his love for Anna. These conflicts drive the narrative, testing the limits of their love and commitment.

  1. Pacing: The development of the romance should be paced realistically and compellingly. Rushing into love or dragging out misunderstandings can frustrate readers. Balancing attraction, conflict, and resolution keeps readers engaged and makes the culmination of the romance satisfying.

  • Tolstoy masterfully paces the development of Anna and Vronsky's relationship. Their initial attraction quickly escalates into a passionate affair, but the subsequent unraveling of their lives is gradual, reflecting the increasing weight of societal judgment and personal guilt. The pacing allows readers to become deeply invested in their journey, feeling the highs of their love and the lows of their despair.

  1. Authenticity: Authentic emotions and reactions make characters relatable and their romance believable. Their feelings should evolve naturally, reflecting real human experiences of doubt, fear, joy, and love.

  • The emotions and reactions of Anna and Vronsky are depicted with striking authenticity. Tolstoy delves into the complexities of human emotion, capturing the exhilaration of newfound love and the agony of its consequences. Their feelings evolve in a manner that is painfully relatable, highlighting the joy, doubt, fear, and love that characterize real human experiences.

For me, Anna Karenina exemplifies how intricate character arcs, chemistry, conflict, pacing, and authenticity are woven together to create a compelling and tragic romantic arc, making it one of the most enduring stories of forbidden love and its repercussions.

How to create an arc?

Easy: Begin by defining your characters' individual goals, fears, and flaws. Their personal journeys should be distinct yet compatible with the romantic arc. Then use early interactions to build tension and hint at attraction. This can be through dialogue, shared experiences, or conflicts that force them to interact. Now, you're a good God so you don't want your characters have it easy so introduce conflicts that challenge their relationship. These should stem naturally from the characters' backgrounds, beliefs, or circumstances. Then allow the characters to grow closer through shared experiences, overcoming obstacles, and learning about each other. Their evolving feelings should be shown through actions, decisions, and internal monologues. Just like a good sex (if you've ever had any), your story needs a climax. The climax should bring the conflict to a head, requiring characters to confront their feelings and make significant decisions. The resolution should address the conflict and show the growth of the relationship and the individuals within it.

The Role of Subplots

Yup. Subplots! You heard it. What is subplot?

Subplots are secondary storylines that run parallel to the main plot, enriching the narrative by adding depth and complexity to the overall story. Along with the main romantic arc, subplots offering opportunities for characters to grow and face challenges separately from their romantic interest. They can also introduce secondary conflicts or mirror the main arc, adding depth to the narrative.

In "Anna Karenina" for example, the narrative is enriched with multiple subplots that run parallel to the main story of Anna and Vronsky's tumultuous affair. One significant subplot involves Konstantin Levin and Kitty Shcherbatsky's relationship, which contrasts with Anna and Vronsky's by ultimately leading to a successful and loving marriage. Levin's own spiritual and existential journey provides a profound exploration of faith, happiness, and the meaning of life, offering a counterpoint to the main plot's tragic trajectory. Additionally, the social and political changes affecting the Russian aristocracy, along with Levin's agricultural pursuits and the exploration of peasant life, serve to deepen the novel's examination of 19th-century Russian society. These subplots not only add complexity to the narrative but also allow Tolstoy to explore themes of love, fidelity, societal expectation, and personal fulfillment across a broader spectrum of characters and situations.

Transgressive Arc in Dark and Transgressive Romance

Now, we're not all gifted writers. We're not gods of the heavens, crafting paradises and happily-ever-afters, are we? Some of us revel in running hell, enjoying it alongside Satan! That's where transgressive fiction comes in handy.

Transgressive fiction challenges societal norms, taboos, and the boundaries of conventional storytelling, often focusing on themes such as moral ambiguity, anti-heroism, and the underbelly of society. In a transgressive romance setting, character arcs not only navigate the complex terrain of love and relationships but also intertwine with themes of rebellion, self-discovery, and the questioning of societal norms related to love, sexuality, and partnership.

  1. Positive Arc in Transgressive Romance: In a transgressive romance, a positive arc might not follow the traditional trajectory of growth through overcoming external obstacles. Instead, it could focus on characters who confront and challenge societal norms around relationships, finding growth in the acceptance of unconventional forms of love or in the defiance of societal expectations. Their journey could involve navigating the backlash from society or their inner circles, leading to a deeper understanding of themselves and their desires, culminating in a non-traditional but fulfilling relationship.

  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

  • Main Character: Tomas

  1. Negative Arc: A negative arc in transgressive romance could explore the darker side of love, perhaps involving characters who pursue forbidden or taboo relationships that ultimately lead to their downfall. This could involve exploring the consequences of challenging societal norms without a clear moral compass, leading to destructive behaviors or choices that doom the relationship. The arc could serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked desire or the cost of defying societal expectations without regard for the consequences.

  • Book: "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Brontë

  • Main Character: Heathcliff

  1. Flat Arc: In a transgressive romance with a flat arc, the character might start with a clear sense of their unconventional beliefs about love and relationships, and these beliefs are tested but ultimately validated through the story. The romance could challenge the audience's preconceptions about what love should look like, with the character standing as a symbol of defiance against societal norms. Their journey might not involve personal change but rather a change in the world or characters around them, as they challenge and possibly alter the perceptions of those they interact with.

  • Book: "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov

  • Main Character: Humbert Humbert

  1. Redemption Arc: A redemption arc in a transgressive romance setting could involve characters who have engaged in taboo or morally ambiguous relationships and must confront the consequences of their actions. Their journey towards redemption might involve seeking forgiveness, understanding the impact of their actions on others, and making amends. This arc could explore themes of guilt, forgiveness, and the possibility of finding love and redemption even in the most unconventional circumstances.

  • Book: "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" by Thomas Hardy

  • Main Character: Tess


In a transgressive romance, we're not just watching love's journey from awkward hellos to sunset kisses. Oh no, we're diving headfirst into the murky waters of "Do I really know what love is?" and "Can I bring this up at dinner without causing a scene?" This isn't your grandma's love story—unless your grandma enjoys shaking up societal norms over her morning coffee. Here, the backdrop isn't just scenery; it's the playground for emotions on a rollercoaster and relationships that color outside the lines. Character arcs in this world are so tangled with the theme of rebellion, you'd think they were plotting to overthrow the kingdom of Conventional Romance itself.

As a conclusion to this article I can say that developing romantic arcs that resonate with readers requires a deep understanding of your characters and a careful balance of elements such as chemistry, conflict, and pacing. By focusing on authentic emotional development and character growth, you can craft a love story that not only entertains but also touches the hearts of your audience. Remember, at the core of every great romantic arc is the journey of two individuals growing together, facing the world side by side, and transforming each other for the better.

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