The narrative structure of the ideal romance is summarized below:
1. The heroine’s social identity is destroyed.
2. The heroine reacts antagonistically to an aristocratic male.
3. The aristocratic male responds ambiguously to the heroine.
4. The heroine interprets the hero’s behavior as evidence of a purely sexual interest in her.
5. The heroine responds to the hero’s behavior with anger or coldness.
6. The hero retaliates by punishing the heroine.
7. The heroine and hero are physically and/or emotionally separated.
8. The hero treats the heroine tenderly.
9. The heroine responds warmly to the hero’s act of tenderness.
10. The heroine reinterprets the hero’s ambiguous behavior as the product of previous hurt.
11. The hero proposes/openly declares his love for/demonstrates his unwavering commitment to the heroine with a supreme act of tenderness.
12. The heroine responds sexually and emotionally.
13. The heroine’s identity is restored.
Radway, J. A. (1984). Reading the romance: Women, patriarchy, and popular literature. Univ of North Carolina Press.
I mentioned in a recent post that trying to break up the romance novel narrative into a set of distinct strctural elements is a common activity in Popular Romance Studies. In some ways, Radway’s structure (which was the first such attempt) is slightly less abstract than Roach’s. It’s more of a chronological step by step guide through a romance novel’s plot than an attempt to abstract the key messages of the romance narrative.
From a fannish and fan studies point of view, of course, one of the interesting things is to what extent fan fiction makes use of the same structures. So go on, take this as an excuse to reread your favourite romance fanfic, all 100k words of it, and see which bits match and where there are differences. (And feel free to tell us all about it, in reblogs, replies, submissions, etc. – I’d love to see what you find!)