Friday, Feb 26, 2010

The Barrier to the Relationship

Today we’ll explore element #3 of the eight essential elements to writing the romance novel: the barrier to the relationship. 

The purpose of the barrier is to establish “the reasons that this heroine and hero cannot marry.” (Pamela Regis, A Natural History of the Romance Novel, p. 32). As Regis goes on to explain: “The romance novel’s conflict often consists entirely of this barrier between the heroine and hero” (Ibid.). 

The barrier can be an external one or an internal one. In Pride and Prejudice, for example, Lizzy’s barrier to marrying Darcy is internal, until she recognizes her prejudice and her own pride and readjusts her perception to the truth. 

An example of an external barrier would be the society in which the heroine and hero live. The society could frown upon a marriage between two different social classes, for instance. 

Regis notes that “the barrier drives the romance novel.” Virtually anything can be used as the barrier between the heroine and the hero. Moreover, there can be more than one barrier. 

The removal of the barrier signals the heroine’s freedom or release from that which prevented her from marrying the hero. As Regis points out, “This release is an important source of the happiness in the romance novel’s happy ending.” (Ibid., p. 33). 

As you write your own romance novel, be sure to include this very important element. Without it, you may not have a story to tell. With it, you may have a very good one that will have your reader turning pages. 

Next week, we’ll look at the next element of writing a romance novel: the Attraction.


Source cited: Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

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4 thoughts on “The Barrier to the Relationship

  1. You’re right. The barrier is what adds intrigue to the story and helps create the tension needed to keep the readers wanting more. Im just starting a new book and Im thinking about how to introduce that barrier. Timing is everything!

    February 26, 2010 at 11:31 PM

    • Thanks for your comment, Jan. Timing is indeed critical when using barriers. You might want to consider the following possibilities:

      1) If one of your barriers is society, you could describe the society in power at the beginning of your story and where the heroine and hero fit into that society.

      2) You could also use location as a barrier. The heroine and hero could be separated geographcially.

      3) Wealthy cconomic status–or lack thereof–could be a barrier.

      4) Even the weather could be a barrier.

      Regis points out in her excellent work that “Many recent romance novels have barriers that are entirely internal–they grow out of the psychology or subjective state of the heroine and hero.” (page 32). So, depending on your story, you could focus on internal barriers, external barriers, or a combination of both.

      I hope this helps. 🙂



      February 27, 2010 at 11:29 AM

  2. I’m writing YA fantasy, but I have a bit of romance in the story. It seems that what we don’t want in real life (barriers to our true love) is what we enjoy in stories. I wonder why that is?

    March 3, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    • Thanks for your comment, Pam! I know what you mean about barriers. Without them in fiction, however, we would not have a story. Isn’t it interesting that the very barriers we hate in real life become the very things that keep us turning pages in our stories? 🙂



      March 3, 2010 at 11:20 AM