5 Questions to Ask When Outlining Your Romance Sub-plot Arc in Your Writers Bullet Journal


Holy long title, Batman!

This seems like a really weird post, but it has a very specific purpose: to give you a taste of what it's like to use advanced writing techniques and how your writer's bullet journal can help you keep

Okay. I know that I've told you that I don't write or read romance. But I do know the beats you're going to need to hit as you write.

When I say "beats", think of it like a rhythm. When writers use this term, it means the rhythm of your writing, in sentence structure, dialogue/action structure, and overall structure of your story and it's sub-plots.

I'm going to ask you some questions to get you started:


Question 1: Who is your Protagonist and Who Do They Want?

Taking the time to lay out who your protagonist is will go a long way to answering this question. The internet is FULL of really great character questionnaires.

I laid out my top 5 in this post HERE so go and check it out!

My Top 5 Character Worksheets and Why You Should Be Using One

But, to cut to the chase, it's a good idea for you to snag my Novel Starter Kit Printable, because I have a Character Worksheet in there!

This will make sure your character is fully fleshed out and you can choose a good love interest for them and the choice they make won't make the readers feel they've been betrayed. 

This is a concept I will go into later, but if a reader feels as if the promises you made them at the beginning of the story weren't met, it can kick them out of the narrative and they won't keep reading.

Next, you should figure out who they want. This can be obvious, like the hunky basketball player they've been eyeballing all through the book, or the overlooked and friend zoned cutie, who your readers will be rooting for from the beginning.

No matter who you choose, it's important to remember the following.

  1. Give your reader stakes

  2. Make the decision difficult

  3. Put obstacles in the way of the pair, so the reader will be rooting for the relationship.

I know that all sounds like common sense, but it's not actually common practice. You'd be surprised how many people forget that a relationship has to have stakes and conflict to be believable and worthy of your readers caring!

Question 2: Who Wants Your Protagonist and Why?

Ever had a stalker or a friend with a stalker? Remember watching a TV show where the protagonist has the really gross guy after them and they just are having none of it?

Having a romantic interest want your protagonist and the feelings unreciprocated is a really great way to add tension to your story. It can give the readers someone to hate, along with your main character.

But keep it realistic and remember that it could be an emotional trigger for your readers.

Good or bad: this could make some of your readers want to go away and not read your book. So tread lightly.

This could also be a really great opportunity for the underdog story to come in: a cute friend that your protagonist overlooked, suddenly becomes the object of their affection. This will allow your readers to root for an underdog character and have that golden "ship-moment".

Whatever dynamic you choose, or maybe you choose both, keep the reader's sensitivity in a minute, but tackle the big issues you want to tackle.  

Write down that character in your billet journal and write down why they want your protagonist. Make sure to write down if the protagonist wants them and if you want your readers to root for that love interest or not.

Not everyone will root for who you want them to!  But that just makes it all more interesting. 😉

Question 3: Where do you want this to END?

The way I work through a lot of my problems in my novel is reverse engineering it. I choose the point where I want it to end, and work backwards from there. 

It's not PERFECTLY backwards, I jump around a little bit, but it's essentially the same. A good ending point will keep me on track while I'm outlining the smaller arc.

Now a good “ending” or probably more accurate “climax” to a relationship (bow-chicka-now-wow TUCKER!) will be a little tricky to make.  

If you do the whole “The Notebook”  kiss-in-the-rain thing, that can be pretty boring.

One of my FAVORITE relationship high points is Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan from the Pirates of the Carribean Series.  

SPOILER ALERT (even though the statute of limitations is up on that part of the series, some fucker is still gonna yell at me I just KNOW it) 

Elizabeth and Will get married in the middle of a Maelstrom on the deck of the Pearl, while fighting off undead pirates. The. Fuck?! BEST WEDDING EVER! 

It’s all in the rain, but it fits with the arc of the characters and is HILARIOUS! 

It goes against the mould while still using a few clichés! 

So how can YOUR characters do this? It may take five or six ideas before it all fits together, but keep puzzling through it. Write down each idea and just keep pulling things out of it.  

PRO TIP: NEVER use the first idea that pops into your head. Take that idea and go deeper. Then take that idea and go deeper again. The low hanging fruit will be the most boring.  

Question 4: What Are Your Major Events?

Every relationship has some big and memorable events.

The big valentines day dinner that got ruined and so they went home with a frozen pizza and discount ice-cream bars.

The fight in the carwash that started over a chocolate bar.

The first kiss after a hockey game where both parties breath smelled like nacho-cheese. 

These big events are the ones that will make your readers remember and relate to the characters. Even if the events don't take place in the story itself, having some big ones written down to be referenced off-hand will add depth to the relationship.

Write down each event you want to happen in the relationship. Don’t worry about chronology at this point, just write them all down. We can sort out when things happen later.  

You don’t have to go into huge detail with each event. Just one or two short sentences will work. Make sure you can understand the event and it will trigger what you had in mind later on. 

Also, make sure to note which events take place within the story, so the readers can be part of the fun, too. Show don't tell, after all.

Question 5: When Does This Begin?

Finally, make a REALLY CUTE organ story for your characters. How did they meet? Was it "love at first sight" or did they HATE each other and take a really long time to warm up.

Whatever backstory you choose, use the pro-tip from above: don’t use the first idea that pops into your head. Write down five or six of them and KEEP DIGGING.  

Give your readers an epic backstory, or take them through the relationship, start to finish. Give them something to root for and don't forget those epically cute moments.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, especially to you pantsers out there. But it will be worth it when you see the fan art of your characters in the scenes you wrote, right?

Think about that. The books you read have these fandoms and often artists are there and they draw the pictures that go along with it.   

When I first started writing, my friends became my fandom and a couple of them drew scenes from my book!

It was such a rush! Even though I wasn’t a super accomplished writer, people still loved my characters and drew pictures.  

Visualise your fans while you’re writing, even if they don’t exist yet. You may find it helps keep you motivated through the hard parts of writing.


I use the "Landmarks in the Sahara" method of outlining, developed by Wes Chu. I've given a brief run-down of how I use this method HERE in my Preptober 2017 blog post.

#Preptober 2017: How to Kill NaNo in October Using Your Writer's Bullet Journal

Luckily, this method is flexible enough to be used in outlining sub-plots as well as your larger story. 

Take all these questions and lay them out in a list, bullet by bullet, so you can write confidence that you're hitting the beats you want to hit. Put these in your Writer's Bullet Journal and you're all set for a shippable and adorable romance sub-plot!

I hope this helps and gives you the confidence you need to GET THE SHIT DONE SON!

BTW: I’ve LOVED meeting you all in the comments and I’d love to keep meeting you all! You’re all so sweet and I like following you all on Instagram!

Tell me your favourite tip in the comments below and we can have some fun discussions.  

Happy Writing!

- Zoë Fleischer 🖤

The Ginger Wordsmith 🐙