How to Write a Romance Novel Outline

The Role of Subplots in Your Romance Novel Outline

A romance novel is not complete without a captivating storyline that keeps readers engaged from start to finish. While the main plot is crucial, incorporating subplots can add depth and excitement to your novel. In this article, we will explore the role of subplots in your romance novel outline and how they can enhance your storytelling.

When writing a romance novel, it is important to create a structure that allows for both the development of the main storyline and the exploration of other compelling narratives. Subplots provide an opportunity to humanize your characters and introduce additional conflicts and obstacles that can heighten the emotional tension in your story.

By including a romantic subplot, you can appeal to readers who enjoy the romance genre and make them feel emotionally invested in your characters. A well-written romantic subplot can bring a sense of realism to your novel and create a deeper connection between the reader and the story.

Key Takeaways:

  • Subplots add depth and excitement to your romance novel.
  • A romantic subplot can humanize your characters and create complications for the main storyline.
  • Readers who enjoy romance novels can feel emotionally invested in your characters through a well-executed romantic subplot.

Now that we understand the importance of subplots in your romance novel outline, let’s explore the benefits of adding a romantic subplot to your story.

The Benefits of Adding a Romantic Subplot

A romantic subplot can enrich your novel in various ways, offering numerous benefits that enhance the overall reading experience. By incorporating a romantic subplot, you can:

  1. Develop your characters: A romantic subplot provides an opportunity to delve deeper into your characters’ emotions, desires, and vulnerabilities. It allows readers to see another side of them, making them more relatable and three-dimensional.
  2. Raise or decrease the stakes: The inclusion of a romantic subplot can heighten the tension and stakes in your story. It can introduce conflicts, obstacles, and internal struggles that add complexity to the main storyline, keeping readers engaged and eager to discover the outcome.
  3. Mirror and enhance themes: A well-crafted romantic subplot can mirror or complement the themes explored in the main plot. It can emphasize the importance of love, sacrifice, or the pursuit of happiness, adding depth and resonance to the overall narrative.
  4. Bring variety to the plot: Adding an element of romance diversifies the storyline and prevents monotony. A romantic subplot can provide a refreshing change of pace, offering moments of tenderness, passion, or conflict that differentiate the novel from others in the same genre.

“Including a romantic subplot in your novel allows for character development, raises the stakes, mirrors themes, and brings variety to the plot. It engages readers who enjoy the romance genre and adds depth to the overall narrative.”

By carefully integrating a romantic subplot into your novel, you can enhance the emotional resonance of your story, captivate readers who enjoy romance, and create a more immersive and satisfying reading experience.

Benefits of Adding a Romantic Subplot
Development of charactersDeeper exploration of emotions, desires, and vulnerabilities
Increased stakesTension, conflicts, and obstacles that heighten the overall tension
Enhancement of themesAdds depth and resonance by reflecting or complementing main plot themes
Variety in the plotBreaks up the storyline, introducing moments of tenderness, passion, and conflict

Overall, a well-executed romantic subplot can greatly benefit your novel, making it more compelling, engaging, and appealing to a wider audience.

How to Execute a Romantic Subplot Successfully

To successfully execute a romantic subplot in your novel, there are several key steps you can follow to ensure its success. By keeping these guidelines in mind, you can create a compelling and engaging romantic subplot that enhances the overall story.

Create a Clear Purpose for the Romantic Leads

Before diving into the romantic subplot, it’s crucial to have a clear purpose for the romantic leads. Determine how their relationship will contribute to the main storyline and the overall themes of your novel. This will provide a solid foundation for developing their connection and interactions.

Develop Authentic Chemistry

The chemistry between the characters should feel authentic and natural. Avoid forcing their attraction or rushing their relationship. Instead, focus on building their connection gradually, allowing readers to witness the genuine development of their romance. This will make their dynamic more believable and engaging.

Utilize Popular Romance Tropes

Popular romance tropes can serve as a source of inspiration for your subplot. These tropes can provide guidance on plot points, character dynamics, and reader expectations. However, don’t be afraid to subvert tropes and add your own unique twist to keep readers guessing and excited.

Develop the Characters’ Dynamic

Showcase the growth of the romantic leads by developing their dynamic through meaningful dialogue, physical contact, and shared experiences. These moments of connection and vulnerability will help readers become emotionally invested in the relationship and root for their love to succeed.

Avoid Clichés and Perfection

Steer clear of clichés and unrealistic portrayals of romance in your subplot. Instead, focus on creating complex and flawed characters who face challenges and obstacles in their relationship. This will add depth and authenticity to the romantic subplot, making it more relatable to readers.

Add Depth Without Overwhelming the Story

While the romantic subplot should be significant, it shouldn’t overpower the main focus of the novel. Ensure that the subplot adds depth and complexity to the story without overshadowing the primary plot. Strike a balance between the romantic development and the overall narrative to maintain a cohesive and engaging reading experience.

By following these steps, you can execute a successful and impactful romantic subplot in your novel. The careful crafting of the subplot will enhance the emotional depth of the story and captivate readers who are drawn to romance. Now, let’s explore some examples of well-written romantic subplots to further inspire your writing.

Examples of Well-Written Romantic Subplots

Well-crafted romantic subplots can be found in a variety of genres, adding depth and emotional resonance to the overarching story. Let’s explore some examples of notable and well-written romance subplots in SFF books:

  1. Brandon Sanderson’s SFF Books

    Brandon Sanderson, renowned for his epic fantasy novels, has skillfully incorporated romance subplots into his works. In “Skyward,” a young adult science fiction novel, Sanderson weaves a touching romance subplot amidst a gripping interstellar conflict. The “Mistborn” series, beginning with “The Final Empire,” features complex romantic relationships that enhance the overall narrative.

  2. Joe Abercrombie’s “First Law Trilogy”

    Joe Abercrombie’s “First Law Trilogy,” particularly the second book “Before They Are Hanged,” showcases compelling romantic subplots that intertwine with the gritty and dark fantasy elements of the series. These subplots add depth and emotional complexity to the story, resonating with readers.

  3. Evan Winter’s “The Rage of Dragons”

    In the high fantasy novel “The Rage of Dragons,” Evan Winter masterfully incorporates a friends-to-lovers romance subplot. This subplot adds emotional depth and further engages readers, complementing the intense action and political intrigue present in the story.

  4. Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” Trilogy and Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust”

    Philip Pullman’s celebrated “His Dark Materials” trilogy, beginning with “Northern Lights” (also known as “The Golden Compass”), features a beautifully developed romance subplot that evolves amidst a richly imagined universe. In Neil Gaiman’s enchanting novel “Stardust,” a fantasy adventure set in the magical realm of Faerie, an enchanting romantic subplot unfolds, captivating readers with its whimsy and charm.

  5. Leigh Bardugo’s YA Fantasy Books

    Leigh Bardugo, a prominent author in the young adult fantasy genre, infuses her novels with well-loved romantic subplots. The “Shadow and Bone” trilogy and the “Six of Crows” duology both feature captivating and intricately developed romantic relationships that resonate with readers of all ages.

These examples not only demonstrate the effectiveness of well-written romantic subplots but also showcase the versatility of the genre. By incorporating romance into their stories, these authors enhance character development, evoke emotions, and create intricate layers within their narratives. Aspiring writers can draw inspiration from these examples as they embark on their own journey of crafting compelling romance subplots.

In-Depth Guidance on Writing a Romantic Subplot

Writing a romantic subplot can be an enjoyable endeavor that adds depth and excitement to your novel. However, it’s important to ensure that it’s done well to captivate readers and enhance your story. Here is some guidance to help you navigate the process:

  1. Have a clear purpose: Before diving into writing a romantic subplot, determine the specific role it will play in your story. Consider the impact it will have on your characters’ development and the overall plot. This clarity will help you weave the subplot seamlessly throughout the narrative.
  2. Pace the development: The relationship between your romantic leads should progress organically and believably. Avoid rushing their connection or forcing unrealistic scenarios. Take the time to build emotional depth and tension, allowing readers to become invested in their journey.
  3. Utilize realistic dialogue and interactions: Authenticity is key to making your romantic subplot resonate with readers. Craft dialogue that reflects the unique voices and personalities of your characters. Show their chemistry through meaningful interactions and shared experiences that illustrate their compatibility and growth.
  4. Avoid clichés and perfection: While romance can be intertwined with fantasy, it’s crucial to steer clear of clichés and idealized portrayals. Realistic flaws and obstacles make the romance more relatable and compelling. Strive for genuine emotions and portray the complexities of relationships.
  5. Look for inspiration from well-written romance subplots: Reading novels with well-executed romantic subplots can provide valuable insights and inspiration. Explore the works of acclaimed authors known for their skillful portrayal of romance, such as Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Evan Winter, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, and Leigh Bardugo.
  6. Consider manuscript assessment services: If you want expert feedback and guidance on your romantic subplot, consider utilizing a manuscript assessment service. These services can provide valuable insights and help you fine-tune your writing to ensure that your romantic subplot is engaging, authentic, and seamlessly integrated into your story.

By following these guidelines and honing your writing skills, you can create a captivating romantic subplot that adds depth and emotional resonance to your novel.

Example of a Well-Written Romantic Subplot:

“In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the romantic subplot between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy enhances the main narrative, exploring themes of social class, prejudice, and personal growth. The slow-burning romance and witty banter between the two characters captivate readers and showcase the power of love to overcome societal constraints.”

The Importance of Subplots in Enhancing Your Novel

In the world of writing, subplots are like secret ingredients that add depth, complexity, and flavor to your novel. They play a vital role in enhancing your storytelling, captivating readers, and ensuring a satisfying reading experience. So, what makes subplots so important? Let’s dive in and explore their significance.

Developing Characters

Subplots provide an excellent opportunity to delve deeper into your characters’ lives and personalities. By introducing additional storylines, you can showcase different aspects of their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. This helps readers form a stronger connection with your characters, making them more relatable and memorable.

Increasing Emotional Stakes

Subplots can raise the emotional stakes in your novel, creating tension and suspense. They allow you to introduce conflicts, challenges, or obstacles that your characters must overcome, adding depth and complexity to the main narrative. These added layers of emotional intensity keep readers engaged and invested in the story, driving them to turn the pages eagerly.

Adding Depth and Complexity

A well-crafted subplot enriches the overall storyline, making it multi-dimensional and realistic. It offers a broader perspective, exploring different themes, perspectives, or settings. By showcasing the intricacies of your characters’ lives beyond the main plot, subplots add depth and complexity to your novel, making it more compelling and thought-provoking.

Breaking the Pace

Reading a novel can be a rollercoaster of emotions, with intense moments followed by quieter, reflective ones. Subplots provide that much-needed breathing room, allowing readers to take a step back from the main narrative without losing interest. They offer a change of pace, providing a moment of respite before diving back into the main plot, refreshing readers and keeping them engaged throughout the story.

Visual Representation

Here’s a visually appealing representation of how subplots enhance your novel:

Main PlotSubplot
Intense conflictsAdditional challenges
Central themesExploration of sub-themes
Main charactersSupporting characters’ arcs
Crucial turning pointsParallel developments

Incorporating Subplots for an Engaging Novel

Incorporating well-crafted subplots into your novel not only enhances the overall reading experience but also demonstrates your mastery as a storyteller. By exploring additional storylines, developing characters, increasing emotional stakes, and adding depth and complexity, you can create a truly captivating novel that leaves a lasting impression on your readers.

What Is a Subplot and Why Do You Need It?

A subplot is an additional narrative arc that runs parallel to the main plot in a novel. While the main plot drives the central storyline, subplots provide various advantages, making them an essential component of a well-rounded novel.

“Subplots help ensure that your novel is multi-dimensional and keeps readers engaged by offering different perspectives and experiences.”

The purpose of subplots is to add depth and complexity to the story. They serve several functions:

  1. Increasing the stakes: Subplots create additional challenges and conflicts for the characters, raising the stakes and intensifying the overall tension.
  2. Enhancing character development: Subplots provide opportunities to delve deeper into the personalities, motivations, and relationships of the characters. They allow for more comprehensive and nuanced character arcs.
  3. Providing variety: Subplots introduce different perspectives and experiences, adding variety to the narrative and preventing the story from becoming monotonous.

By incorporating well-crafted subplots, you can create a more immersive and captivating reading experience for your audience. Subplots add layers of complexity to the novel, engaging readers on multiple levels and ensuring their continued interest.

How to Write a Great Subplot

Writing a great subplot is a skill that can elevate your novel to new heights. A well-crafted subplot adds depth and complexity to your story, engaging readers and keeping them hooked from start to finish. To create a compelling subplot, it’s important to approach it like a mini-story within your larger narrative.

One key element of a great subplot is a complete arc, just like in the main plot. It should have its own beginning, middle, climax, and resolution. This allows the subplot to feel satisfying and adds to the overall structure of your novel.

When outlining your subplots, it’s helpful to separate them from the main narrative. This ensures that each subplot has its own purpose and relevance to the overall story. You can use techniques like color-coding or additional columns in a scene list to track and organize subplots effectively. This way, you can visualize the flow of your subplots and ensure they complement the main plot seamlessly.

Here’s an example of a scene list for outlining subplots:

Main PlotSubplot 1Subplot 2
Chapter 1: IntroductionChapter 1: IntroductionChapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Rising ConflictChapter 2: Rising Conflict
Chapter 3: Turning PointChapter 3: Turning Point
Chapter 4: ClimaxChapter 4: Climax
Chapter 5: ResolutionChapter 5: ResolutionChapter 5: Resolution

By outlining your subplots separately, you can ensure that each subplot receives the attention it deserves while maintaining a harmonious balance with the main plot. This allows for a more engaging reading experience, where readers will be invested in both the main story and the subplots.

Remember, the key to writing a great subplot lies in its ability to enhance the overall narrative. Crafting subplots that contribute to character development, create tension, or mirror the themes of your novel will keep readers captivated and invested in your story.

Expert Tip:

“When crafting subplots, keep in mind that they should work in harmony with your main plot, not overpower it. Each subplot should serve a purpose and contribute to the overall story arc, enhancing the reader’s experience.”

So, whether you’re a seasoned writer or just starting out, take the time to outline your subplots and ensure they are intricately woven into your novel. By mastering the art of writing great subplots, you’ll create a more immersive and satisfying reading experience for your audience.

Options for Outlining a Subplot

When it comes to outlining subplots, there are several options available to suit your personal preference and writing style. Here are some techniques and tools that can help you organize and maintain a clear structure for your subplots:

1. Spreadsheets with Color-Coding or Additional Columns

Many writers find that using spreadsheets is an effective way to track subplots in their scene lists. You can create separate columns or tabs for each subplot and use color-coding to visually differentiate them. This method allows you to easily identify and manage the various plotlines within your novel.

2. Writing Chapter Summaries

Another approach is to write chapter summaries that include details about the main plot and the different subplots. This technique allows you to have a concise overview of each chapter’s content and how it contributes to the overall story. By focusing on the key events and developments, you can ensure that your subplots are integrated seamlessly into the narrative.

3. Writer’s Notebook

For those who prefer a more traditional approach, using a writer’s notebook can be beneficial for outlining subplots. Jot down your ideas, character developments, and important plot points in a dedicated section of your notebook. This method allows for flexibility and the freedom to brainstorm and explore different subplot possibilities.

4. Experimentation and Adaptation

Ultimately, the best way to outline subplots is to experiment with different methods and find what works best for you. Every writer has their own unique approach, so don’t be afraid to adapt and adjust your outlining techniques as needed. Whether it’s spreadsheets, chapter summaries, a writer’s notebook, or a combination of these methods, find the one that helps you stay organized and focused on your subplots.

Remember, outlining techniques for subplots should serve as a guide and should not restrict your creativity. The goal is to create a structured framework that supports your storytelling and enhances the overall reading experience.

Provides visual clarity and organizationRequires additional time for setup and maintenance
Allows for easy tracking and management of subplotsMight be challenging for writers who are not familiar with spreadsheets
Enables you to see the big picture of your subplotsMay limit flexibility in the outlining process
Aids in identifying any plot holes or inconsistenciesMay feel too structured for writers who prefer a more organic approach

Remember that the outlining method you choose should support your writing process and help you stay organized throughout the development of your subplots. Whether you prefer digital tools or traditional pen and paper, the key is to find a technique that works best for you and allows you to create compelling and well-structured subplots.

Balancing Subplots and the Main Plot

In order to create a well-rounded and engaging story, it is crucial to strike the right balance between subplots and the main plot. While subplots can add depth and complexity to your novel, too much emphasis on them can overshadow the main narrative and distract readers. Here are some tips to help you maintain focus on the main plot while effectively incorporating subplots:

  1. Consider the ratio: Evaluate the amount of content dedicated to subplots compared to the overall story. The main plot should receive the majority of the focus, while subplots should enhance the main narrative rather than overpowering it.
  2. Avoid subplot dominance: While subplots can be intriguing and captivating, they should never take over the entire focus of the novel. Ensure that the main plot remains at the forefront and that subplots serve as complementary elements to enhance the overall story.

By striking a careful balance between subplots and the main plot, you can create a cohesive and compelling narrative that keeps readers engaged. Remember, subplots should contribute to the development of the main story and characters, rather than detracting from them.

“A well-structured novel is like a symphony, with the main plot as the conductor guiding the various subplots to create a harmonious composition.” – Jane Author

Don’t Neglect Your Characters in Subplots

Subplots provide an opportunity to further develop your characters and showcase different aspects of their lives. They are a valuable tool to enhance character development and create memorable storylines. By carefully crafting subplots, you can delve deeper into your characters’ personalities, motivations, and relationships, allowing readers to forge a stronger connection with them.

When developing characters in subplots, consider their growth and arc throughout the story. Ensure that the subplots contribute to their overall journey and align with the main narrative. Balancing character arcs across the main plot and subplots is essential to maintain a cohesive and engaging storyline.

Use the subplots to reveal new layers of your characters. Explore their strengths and weaknesses, passions and fears, as well as their interactions with other characters. By showcasing different aspects of their lives, subplots add depth and complexity, making your characters feel more authentic and relatable.

“Subplots provide opportunities to deepen character development, offering readers a more comprehensive view of who your characters are and what drives them.”

To illustrate the importance of character development in subplots, let’s consider the example of a romance novel. While the main plot may revolve around the blossoming love between two characters, subplots can showcase the characters’ individual journeys, personal conflicts, and growth as they navigate various challenges.

Examples of Character Development in Subplots:

NovelMain PlotSubplotDevelopment
The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenA terminally ill teenage girl falls in love with a fellow cancer patient.The protagonist forms a close bond with her parents as they cope with her illness and imminent loss.The subplot explores the character’s evolving relationship with her parents, depicting their love and support during difficult times.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenA young woman navigates the complexities of romance and societal expectations.The protagonist’s sister experiences her own romantic journey, reflecting different values and challenges.The subplot highlights contrasting approaches to love and marriage, emphasizing the protagonist’s growth and self-discovery.

In these examples, the subplots not only add depth to the characters but also provide valuable insights into their relationships and personal development. By incorporating well-crafted subplots that align with your characters’ journeys, you can create a more immersive and enriching reading experience.

Remember, character development in subplots should enhance the reader’s understanding of your characters and contribute to the overall narrative. Strive for a harmonious balance between the main plot and subplots, ensuring that each element serves a purpose and moves the story forward.

Next in the article, we will explore the intricacies of crafting well-rounded subplots and how they enhance your novel’s overall structure.


Subplots are an integral part of crafting a well-rounded and engaging novel. They serve to enhance character development, adding depth and complexity to the story. By effectively utilizing subplots, you can maintain reader interest and create a more immersive reading experience.

Throughout this article, we have explored the benefits of incorporating romantic subplots in your writing. These subplots can humanize characters, create complications for the main storyline, and appeal to readers who enjoy the romance genre. By following the provided guidance and techniques, you can successfully execute a romantic subplot that adds value to your story.

Remember that subplots should not overshadow the main plot but rather complement it. Balancing the focus between subplots and the main narrative is crucial to keep the story coherent and engaging. Additionally, subplots provide an opportunity to further develop your characters, showcasing different aspects of their lives and contributing to their overall growth.

In conclusion, subplots are an invaluable tool in the art of writing. They enhance the reader’s experience, adding depth and variety to your novel. As you embark on your writing journey, consider the importance of subplots and the impact they can have on your readers. With careful execution, subplots can help elevate your romance novel to new heights. Happy writing!


How can adding a romantic subplot benefit my romance novel?

Adding a romantic subplot can humanize your characters, create complications for the main storyline, and make your story more realistic. It can also appeal to readers who enjoy romance novels and help them feel emotionally invested in your characters.

How can I successfully execute a romantic subplot?

To execute a romantic subplot successfully, you need to have a clear purpose for the romantic leads, ensure the chemistry between the characters makes sense to the reader, and pace the development of the romance. Utilizing popular romance tropes and developing the characters’ dynamic through dialogue and shared experiences are also crucial.

Can you provide examples of well-written romantic subplots?

Yes, acclaimed authors such as Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Evan Winter, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, and Leigh Bardugo have incorporated well-written romantic subplots in their novels.

Do you have any guidance on writing a romantic subplot?

Yes, having a clear purpose for the subplot, pacing the development of the relationship, avoiding clichés and perfection, and looking for inspiration from well-written romance subplots are important writing skills to master. Manuscript assessment services can also provide valuable feedback on the execution of a romantic subplot.

What is the importance of subplots in enhancing a novel?

Subplots enhance character development, add depth and complexity to the story, maintain reader interest, and provide breathing room for readers by showcasing different aspects of the characters’ lives.

What is a subplot and why do I need it?

A subplot is a minor narrative arc that runs parallel to the main plot. It serves various purposes in enriching the story, such as increasing the stakes, enhancing character development, and providing variety. Subplots ensure that your novel is multi-dimensional and keeps readers engaged by offering different perspectives and experiences.

How can I write a great subplot?

Writing a great subplot involves crafting a complete arc with a climax and resolution. Outlining subplots separately from the main narrative can help maintain balance and ensure their relevance to the overall story. Experiment with different methods, such as color-coding in spreadsheets or using a writer’s notebook, to organize your subplots effectively.

What are the options for outlining a subplot?

The options for outlining a subplot include using spreadsheets with color-coding or additional columns, writing chapter summaries, or using a writer’s notebook. Choose the method that works best for you in organizing your subplots and maintaining a clear structure.

How do I balance subplots and the main plot?

To maintain a proper balance, consider the ratio of subplot content to the overall story and avoid letting the subplot take over the entire focus of the novel. The main plot should remain the primary focus, and the subplot should enhance, not overshadow, the main narrative.

What should I keep in mind regarding my characters in subplots?

Ensure that the subplots contribute to the overall growth and arc of the characters. Use subplots to reveal more about their personalities, motivations, and relationships. Avoid letting the subplots become detached from the main narrative and ensure they enhance the reader’s understanding and connection with the characters.

What is the importance of subplots in writing?

Subplots enhance character development, add depth to the story, and maintain reader interest. By effectively utilizing subplots, you can create a more immersive and captivating reading experience for your audience.

Are there any concluding thoughts on subplots?

Subplots are essential in enhancing your novel. They help provide a multi-dimensional reading experience, enhance character development, and add depth and complexity to the main narrative.

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