Writing for Comics

What Makes a Romance Graphic Novel a Romance?

Romance can span over many genres and have any tone or style. The time and/or place won’t hinder the writer’s ability to create a romance, but it seems the medium can limit its scope. How can you portray a relationship in a comic or graphic novel while still adhering to what a comic is?

Scott McCloud defines comics as the, juxtaposed pictorial and other images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer (2006). That aesthetic response needs to be positive towards that work and make them feel like a romance has been achieved.

In one of my romance writing courses, we were taught that a romance novel is a work of fiction with the main plot centering around characters falling in love and struggling to overcome odds to create a healthy relationship. That definition is by far the best definition I could ever hear in explaining romance. Depicting a healthy romantic relationship to its conclusion is the key item needed for the genre in any form.

There are many other characteristics that shape a romantic tale:

The focus of the story is the romantic relationship between two individuals.

♥ Women are usually the key characters of the story.

♥ The ending is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.

♥ The degree of sensuality and sexuality can range from sweet to hellfire!

This list was my starting point when first researching what makes a romance a romance, but I needed more. Where should I go from there? How do I even get there? It illustrated that the first thing you have to do in writing romance is not jumping right into making the graphic novel. I think this goes for any genre, but especially so for romance. There are many elements that need to be present to craft the relationship that your readers will love. Trust me, I know. There were many startups for different short comics and they were never finished because I didn’t know what to do.

All writers start off as readers and need to stay readers.

Take the time to read as many romance novels, comics, manga, and graphic novels as you can. Take note of the techniques in panel transitions and drawing styles. What are the works you consider good vs. bad? Consider why it was good or bad so you know what to do and what not to do while creating your work.

Keep all the great examples you find (even some of the bad ones) and make a shelf just for them. This is your Keeper Shelf and the books that fill it grabbed you with the emotion, characters, writing, or some other reason altogether and you can’t stop yourself from reading them over and over. They are valuable resources and the shelf should also include research books on romance.

Don’t just go by the art, keep notes on the plot and scene structure from the writing aspect. Look at the way the elements of romance pan out in each one of the stories. Oh, I should tell you about the elements now?

In A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis, she went over, in detail, the essential and optional elements of a romance novel. It really opened my eyes as to what makes a romance page-turning good.

Essential Elements

1. Society Defined- Show the world your characters live in and the problems within that world.

2. The Meeting- The characters meet and it’s more fun when there is a problem.

3. The Barrier or Conflict- Everything that tries to stop the heroine and hero from reaching their goals and their Happily Ever After (HEA). Super vital! Must have inner and outer conflicts.

4. The Attraction- They belong together, but it simmers before it boils! Their attraction keeps them going as they battle those barriers and conflicts. All romances have that sexual tension so weave it in.

5. The Declaration- They actually admit to their love! Whoo!

6. The Point of Ritual Death- Something important to them must be taken away. Doesn’t have to be an actual death.

7. The Recognition- Each internal change (character growth) that was somehow spawned by the other is finally recognized by them. They see their inner conflicts for what they are and they make a choice: accept it, change it, or move on. This releases that inner conflict.

8. The Betrothal- That HEA has been achieved and it makes you and the reader happy! Society has been changed (at least for them) and all conflicts overcome.

Optional Elements

♥ Wedding, Dance, or Fete-Party time! They won, so we all won! Celebrate the resolution of the conflict.

♥ Scapegoat Exiled-If there is a butthead that kept your two mains from getting together and they don’t learn a lesson from their error, kick them out.

♥ The Bad Converted-The person who was against the heroine and hero getting together, but learns their error can be taken into the fold of happiness too.

My definitions are scarce compared to Pamela’s lengthy and clear explanations, but I hope you get the idea. The elements are easy, it’s the applying them to the story that is hard. I don’t want you to think you can just omit one either. They help you reach the goal of meeting your reader’s expectations and enhance their experience. The wonderful Priscilla Kissinger can give you a much more in-depth learning experience compared to my course notes if you want more. Using the famed work of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice throughout the lessons as an example really helped to light up the darkness too.

The essential elements are an absolute necessity. Leave them out at your own risk.

These are the elements that will make a romance graphic a romance. As long as each point leads to a positive aesthetic response, we will create a wonderful read that will elevate us to creator-owned glory!

Please note: These elements don’t have to be in a set order. Lots of them work in and out of the story, helping the romance grow.

The Society Defined, Meeting, Barrier/Conflict, and Attraction (even if it’s just a denial of an attraction) should be at the beginning.  Declaration and Recognition would come close to the end. It’s good to have the Point of Ritual Death happen after them since it will hit everyone in a vested soft spot. The Betrothal is last because everything has been resolved.

To help out with your research, here is a printout of the elements for you to fill out on your own. Put down your ideas of what you would like to show up in each section for your story. This doesn’t have to be an extensive documentation, but you just want to get a slight outline of your romance and what can help and hinder it. Try out the word template too. I really like having a digital form I can make just for plotting. It helps me keep everything organized 🙂

Elements of Romance PDF

Now that we know the elements that are necessary and some that are optional, you can identify them in just about everything now. You’re welcome if you love this new skill. You’re still welcome if you see it as a curse. I’m usually on the curse side. Dang book! Dang Professor! Have fun with your new superpower!

McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels. Harper, 2006.

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