3 essential elements of a good romance

The other thread about romance sent me on a search for romance advice and I stumbled upon this concept.

Have any of you tried this yet?

A romance needs to have these elements:

  1. Meet Cute
  2. Dark Moment
  3. Grand Gesture

The trick is in setting up the Meet cute in such a way that it’s a clear setup for the Dark moment and the Grand gesture.

The Grand gesture should be something that the protagonist wouldn’t have done in the beginning of the story.

Regardless of everything else that happens in the story, those three elements should be connected.

Example article that talks about it.

I don’t like the examples used in the article but the concept feels solid.

Important excerpts:

The character with the bigger grand gesture is the one with the bigger flaw.

Black Moment is where you’ll find the key to the perfect Meet-cute (or the perfect Grand Gesture depending on which piece you’re missing).

The character constantly trying (and failing) to live up to that promise keeps readers hooked until they get it right. But to keep the reader hooked, you need to make that first appeal to them in the Meet-cute.
Because if readers buy into the promise you make in the Meet-cute? They’ve bought into the rest of the story. They’re no longer buying into the “plot.” They’re buying into the EXPERIENCE OF THE ROMANCE.

I’m bringing it up because I’d like use this concept as a checklist to ensure that the romance in my story is solid, and as is, right now, it fails the test. I can easily pinpoint each element and I think they are each strong, but together… Hmm, they’re not connected and I’m wondering if there’s a way to make it happen. I think the trick is in the Meet cute - it’s lacking the set up. According to the advice above, the secret to strengthening the Meet cute is in the Dark moment so let’s see.

Here are my elements:

  1. Meet Cute
    My protagonist breaks into the future love interest’s house and is attacked by him. Despite that rough introduction, he manages to convince LI to let him stay for a day or two.

  2. Dark Moment
    It comes after my characters are forcefully separated and they sit and regret everything they did/said and didn’t do/say.
    They don’t know how to get back to each other and each thinks the other is in danger.

So how does this relate to the Meet cute?
Not much.

Their reunion scene does - it mirrors the Meet cute since the roles reverse and the LI breaks into the protagonist’s house and gets attacked except things turn out a bit differently :wink:.

  1. The Grand Gesture
    My story’s Grand gesture is when my protagonist achieves the global story goal and it’s so much better than anything he could have hoped for. He can have the perfect life.
    But then he throws it all away to accompany LI, puts the LI’s happiness above his own.

I think it’s a good, worthy Grand Gesture but again, it doesn’t relate to the Meet Cute.

The only thing I can think of to connect those two is that in the scene of Meet cute, he considers everything temporary until he gets to the story goal. So maybe that’s the point I need to drive in stronger? He wasn’t supposed to care about this weirdo whose house he broke into.

Would your love story pass this test?

If you have a minor romantic plot but you don’t intend it to be a love story then you’re off the hook.

Love story is not the main story in mine either but I do consider it pretty important. Not for the romance but for the relationship between my characters, how they affect each other’s stories.
So that’s why I want the love story to be strong enough to stand up to whatever test you throw at it.
And right now it’s failing this test.

So let’s play.

If you have a love story, list out the three elements.

  1. Meet Cute (protagonist meets the love interest for the first time, it doesn’t have to be “cute.” Embarrassing or unfortunate works too.)
  2. Dark Moment (lowest point of the love story - it’s hopeless and there’s no easy solution)
  3. Grand Gesture (one character does something special for the other, it can be a sacrifice, but it can also be something incredibly brave, a spectacle)
    Another way we can look at it is Proof of love - doing something that expresses love without expecting anything in return.
  4. What do each of those elements have in common with each other?

Do remember that they’re supposed to be love story elements. You might have more than one Dark moment in your story. Focus on the one that is the love story’s dark moment.


I’ve never heard of these concepts before. Does a “Meet Cute” have to be the very first time they meet? :thinking: What about stories where the MC/LI already know each other as friends/enemies and something happens to evolve that into romance?

I’ll try to see if my complete first draft can follow this:

  1. Meet Cute: MC & LI are from rival mob families, meet when MC sneaks into rival family turf on a rebellious streak before she inherits the family, and for reasons of his own, LI is also looking to teach the boss a lesson. A night of fun/a fling ensues with the condition that no one can ever know, and it’s a one time thing.
  2. Dark Moment: This one’s tricky for me. There’s a point where the LI thinks the MC is responsible for his boss’ death, but he needs her for something. The MC wants something from him as well. But neither trust the other so they both have their own “fall back” plans should the other betray them. Not sure if that counts as the lowest point? I’ll have to think about it. :thinking: There isn’t just a single scene.
  3. Grand gesture: There’s a climax scene where they’d developed feelings/learned to trust one another in spite of their family’s history, but it’s put to the test when the LI has to follow up with the fall back plan that involves handing over the MC to the villain, who happens to be her ex. He decides instead to betray the villain, and cut a deal with her instead (in the form of an arranged marriage) and she accepts.
  4. Hmm, at first, they have trust issues for valid reasons. Their families have history in spite of the two of them never having done anything to each other personally. When they each inherit their own respective families, and figure out what kind of “boss” they want to be, they can either continue their beef/rivalry or allow their feelings to take them down a new path from their predecessors. So I guess trust is a big theme here. Earning trust, and choosing matters of the heart versus before where they tried to stick to “don’t mix business and pleasure”.

Yeah… I don’t think conforming to a formula like this will work for me. I’ve seen it done, but I’m not sure if it’s “the” formula that all romances need to follow. :thinking:

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I think for an evolving relationship it could go two ways, either the actual meeting or if that’s not part of the story, then a day when something changes and the protagonist sees the other in a different light.

In this case, even if they knew each other before, the moment they meet here when MC crosses the turf, that would be considered Meet Cute.

The Dark moment can stretch out. Mine lasts a few chapters when my characters are apart and things aren’t looking good for their future.

Oooh, agreeing to marry someone to save your love is a twisted but good Grand gesture.

I wouldn’t consider it a formula. I see it more as a tool to make you think about your story in a different light.

And looking at what you wrote, your story might actually satisfy this test.

I think your Grand Gesture is connected to the Meet Cute with that condition: it’s only a one time thing, it doesn’t matter, it’s not love. Since that was a promise they made to each other, the audience would expect the opposite - it’s not going to be a one time thing.
So if the Grand Gesture has this great sacrifice, then clearly it wasn’t just a one time thing that didn’t matter.

So you pay off the promise you made to your audience.


@rachelsfloetry I’d like to thank you.
You helped me figure out a hack!

Have the character say in the beginning the opposite of what they’ll do in the end.

It’s so freaking simple and I know exactly how/where to add it.


Meet Cute
While on board a pirate ship trying to steal a device, MC and their accomplice are forced to hide in the captain’s chambers when he comes back early with some prisoners–two sisters. Some complicated plot stuff happens. One of the sisters dies, is brought back to life by the other, and now they’re both weak and sickened. The MC and accomplice try to help them off the boat. More complicated plot stuff happens, and the accomplice is decommissioned (he accidentally cursed himself with the device they were trying to steal) and so the MC stows into the night basically dragging two half-dead girls behind him and mourning the loss of his friend and comrade, literally silently sobbing as he looks for a place to hide.

So, not really cute at all lmao.

Dark Moment
Background: the MC was a part of a rebellious organization that they brought LI to. They were both totally brainwashed by it, but the difference is MC has seen the light, and LI has not. At the beginning(ish) of book two, the MC and LI have a huge fight about the organization. The MC fecks off and leaves (not because of the fight) and they don’t meet again alllll the way until the end of book 3 when they’ve had A LOT of time to contemplate the events that happened between them.

And finally: The Grand Gesture.

There’s not really one that’s because of the romance. The LI forsakes the organization for their own good, as they realize they’re evil. They do apologize to the MC for the way the treated them, and they share their regrets on having left one another. But she does resend the organization and join the MC’s cause to bring them down.

Their reunion is very soft, and not really alike to their Meet Cute. They simply hug one another, apologize, and go off for some alone time where they talk to one another about their life and about what’s happened and such.

Around this time, they’ve both had time to recover from the organizations brainwashing and to forge their own paths. So, it’s more or less that their ‘grand gesture’ is inviting one another into their lives and inviting one another to share that life with them.

I suppose this could be reflective of their meet cute, where LI was somewhat forcibly (but for good reason) dragged into the MC’s life, where he then provided her with family and shelter after she had just recently lost her own.

But in their meeting together, they both willingly walk into one another’s lives and choose to share that with one another. Instead of circumstance, its love, and they consent fully to it. Which I felt was really important given neither were ever really given any choices, and they are more or less victims of fate.


:joy: Nobody said it has to be literally cute.
That’s definitely a memorable way to meet someone.

It sounds like an important theme of the story.

I don’t think the Grand Gesture has to be explosive, it really can be a quiet scene too as long as it drives the point you’re trying to make.

I heard it referred to as the Proof of love - doing something that expresses love without expecting anything in return.


I used Romancing the Beat which has all these and more, heh, for Fireman’s Girl.

Meet Cute: Harris (the firefighter) saves unconscious Agatha from a burning hotel, but at a certain point she come to for a second to say something that touches his emotional wound (his antagonism toward women B/c of what he believes is his mother’s betrayal) and sets off the search for the Fiery Angel (antagonist).

Darkest Moment. Broke, on the money borrowed and raised by his Dad, Harris rushes to Singapore to convince Agatha that she’s marrying her stalker and arsonist. She refuses, knowingly sacrificing her own happiness to ensure Harris’ safety… and Harris’ house burns down, he’s under investigation at work and his Dad drops a bomb that upends Harris’ whole world-view, making his perfect/beloved/victimized Dad a guilty party.

Grand Gesture. Harris and Agatha confess their feeling at the moment when the arsonist is about to burn them in his Fiery Angel act. Harris takes a bullet. Agatha proposes as Harris pushes his boss to save her at the expense of his life (in the beginning Harris was toxic because he believed his boss made a wrong choice saving a woman before a man that had catastrophic consequences for Harris).

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Ah, that makes more sense in the scheme of things. “Grand Gesture” just makes me imagine a 90s romcom with the Boom Box and all that. But expressing love without expectation of it being returned sounds much nicer :slight_smile:


Haha for sure, poor feckers. Twas not a good night, that’s to be certain.


Yeah, beat sheets - first push, etc.

All of mine are romance stories, but here’s IJPS for those.

  1. Meet Cute (protagonist meets the love interest for the first time) - The ‘current’ meet cute (they go back further) is when she’s running back late to work after lingerie shopping, pancakes him on the sidewalk, and tosses underwear on him.

  2. Dark Moment (lowest point of the love story - it’s hopeless and there’s no easy solution) - female MC is stabbed and male MC feels responsible when he finds out who did it, breaking their relationship off for her self-preservation. There’s more that happens to her but that’s the catalyst.

  3. Grand Gesture (one character does something special for the other, it can be a sacrifice, but it can also be something incredibly brave, a spectacle). A few small gestures like he apologizes and puts flowers regularly on her parents’ gravesites, but the reconnection moment is when he comes into the animal hospital she works at, carrying a basket of rescued puppies.

  4. What do each of those elements have in common with each other? Not sure I understand this question? The story includes two characters who lives are very interwoven. Their dynamic is blunt honest communication and they switch from being sweet to filthy, which doesn’t change throughout the story.

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I decided to examine a romance between two support characters in my second novel.

Characters: Naida and Mica.

  1. Meet Cute: Naida, an Israeli reservist, is sent to a sniper school for advanced marksmanship training. Naida was told this is a requirement for her to join Karen’s mercenaries, and for her to train Ashley (a main character who Naida is in an affair with at the time, and who had just received a custom FN-FAL rifle from her boyfriend, Zorik). When Naida is introduced to the other snipers she meets Mica, the only other female in the group, and her boyfriend Luke. Naida soon discovers both Mica and Luke are interested in her.

  2. Dark Moment(s): On the night of the characters’ first meeting, the snipers’ patrol is ambushed and Luke is fatally wounded. Mica (the team’s medic) attempts to save Luke but he dies the next day in hospital. Mica is severely traumatised by her failure to mend Luke’s wounds, and by the news of his death…Mica and Luke grew up together (as childhood friends) before they became partners…Mica is also unable to sleep, she has never lived alone before, and she has nightmares about Luke falling in battle.
    A few days later, Naida invites Mica to Karen’s villa to meet her friends only to discover the villa is being attacked by Spanish mercenaries. Mica helps to defeat the attackers, and she kills the last mercenary. However, Mica experiences PTSD from the battle. It was the first time she had killed at close range (within arm’s reach of her opponent). That night Naida finds Mica trying to wipe imagined blood from her hand gripping an imagined pistol.
    During a pitched battle in Syria (Syrian infantry, air force, tanks and Spanish mercs on one side, Israeli snipers, air force, and Karen’s mercs on the other) Naida finds Mica straying into an ambush, pushes her companion clear, and the bullets strike her instead. Naida’s wounds are critical, possibly fatal, and Mica blames herself for the incident. Mica’s also horrified at the concept of losing one of Ashley’s close friends (with benefits).

  3. Grand Gesture(s): Naida becomes increasingly determined to comfort Mica, and protect or distract Mica from the worst of her trauma. This is helped by the snipers’ commander giving the girls several days off combat duty. Because, in the commander’s mind, Naida is too ‘green’ for their battles, and Mica needs time to mourn Luke.. Over the following days, and battles, the two girls fumble their way into a relationship.
    After the battle in Syria, Ashley and Zorik reassure Mica that she is not to blame for Naida’s injuries, she was only protecting her companion, and Naida is quite tough anyway. Also, by this stage Zorik knows of Ashley’s affair with Naida, but he doesn’t mind (and he won’t tell Naida or Mica why).
    While waiting in Naida’s hospital ward, Ashley asks Mica if she is serious about a relationship with Naida, and if she’s worried about losing Luke’s memories. Mica replies there is no decision. She cannot forget Luke, even if she needed to, but she had already made the choice to stay with Naida. When Naida awakes, and Ashley leaves them, Mica presents Naida with a special gift. The first hamsa Mica and Luke bought for their apartment. Like Naida, this hamsa is a protective ward with a mixed heritage (Naida is Pagan with close Jewish friends / extended family).
    Oh, the last chapter implies that Zorik and Karen also reward Mica’s bravery and loyalty by recruiting her into their mercenary army (along with Naida).

…Hopefully that made some sense…

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Lmao. Ok, so arguably “the first dark moment” is my “cute meet” in To Make a Kinder Children’s Tale, there’s a couple dark moments after that, and “the grand gesture” isn’t necessary something the MC wouldn’t do, but is something she’s been told she wouldn’t do, repeatedly.

But that isn’t strictly a romance novel–although it’s close enough. It’s a fantasy story that mirrors my emotions over my mother’s death. It was never meant to follow anything in particular.

So, for me, the only thing I’d bump up hard against is the idea that there should only be one dark moment, with the caveat that whatever those moments are, they shouldn’t be red flags. In that case, if they must be bad things that the ML causes, the most you do is 1, and if you can make it circumstantial, it’s a cleaner read. After a while, too much of that is “love isn’t enough”, forget “love conquers all”.



Aww, the love bouquet.

The challenge is to look for ways to link these events through common themes or symbols or by mirroring them.

I think the story can work whether you do it or not but doing it is a nice way to wrap things up, to bring it full circle.
I think it’s a good reminder for us writers to be deliberate and consistent with the message of our story. That message should be present in all important moments.

Think of it as a promise and a payoff. What does your Meet Cute promise that one of the other events pay off?

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Glad I helped! :smiley: That sounds like that fits my story too. “It’s a one time thing, doesn’t mean anything,” to “What is this- feelings? I have feelings?!” :laughing: The horror!

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Def the Meet Cute. When she crosses their turf, that is their first meeting ever. Then they see one another two years later when the story kicks off.

This is good to know. I was afraid it had to be condensed to this one moment.

Thanks. :smiley: It’s also very symbolic. Rival families marrying to squash the beef. New leadership due to their predecessors being unalive. Room to start anew.

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What strikes me here is that grand irony that her sacrifice didn’t help him at all.
I am curious though why she thought marrying a supposed arsonist would keep Harris safe.

It feels like this part has Proof of Love for both of the characters. Flying to Singapore for her certainly feels like a Grand Gesture.

And then comes the Dark moment of everything going wrong anyway.

It’s interesting. Maybe changing the order of the elements is okay.

In your case, the fire danger seems to be the common element in those moments which is a strong theme.

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I think this isn’t the Dark Moment of the Love story.
Your characters have only met. There’s no relationship yet to be affected.
This moment usually comes in the second half of the full story. It’s when the relationship’s future looks bleak.

I think this works as a Grand Gesture. It feels personal and genuine.

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The thing is that if you’re not writing a love story, then there’s no reason to use this approach.

I think the best love stories have moral weight but push further than “love conquers all.” The more specific you get (what exactly does it conquer and how), the more powerful the message is.

Just look at what happens when the author is careless with that message.

Okay, I’m going to play with a bad love story: Twilight (don’t get me wrong, I too read and liked that book when it first came out, but looking at it closer, I can no longer tolerate the message it sends).

Meet Cute: Bella gets the hots for the hottest school asshole as soon as her she sees him.

Dark moment: Because of associating herself with said asshole, Bella’s about to either die or become an undead killer monster herself.

Grand Gesture: The hot killer asshole manages to not kill her - yay, romantic.

Message of the story: if you love a monster, your life relies on him loving you more than wanting to kill you.


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It’s more accurate to say that it’s got the skin of a romance. It’s definately a boy-meets-gril pre-arranged at-least-short-term marriage type situation. Just that I wrote it like an onion:

“Layers! Ogres have layers!”

Specifically, I wrote it on a layer that’s not really going to be obvious to the readers. Readers are going to see it as a romance in a fantasy setting.

That’s really often the baseline for paranormal romances. The one angle where it’s different is in worldview where the MC is their saviour from their lonely monsterness. Christine Feehan and Sheralyn Kenyon are obsessed with that angle to their monsters. SK goes one further and allows some of the monsters who are redeemed to remain ambiguous monsters.

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Arsonist wasn’t satisfied with her agreeing to marry him. He wants more. He finds out that Harris visited and talked with her in a hotel room, alone—they initially spoke in a public place, that huge cloud mountain conservatory in Singapore, but Agatha is overwhelmed with fear when the haze comes over Singapore (from the burning forests in Indonesia).

It all does tie in, I swear! :joy: