B Plot

Thursday, September 2, 2021 romance location milieu setting worldbuilding


We’ve all heard of romances with dukes and ladies dancing in London ballrooms. Perhaps there’s a small town by the beach with an ice cream shop where a couple falls in love and shares their first kiss. There’s also the possibility of a ranch where a cowboy/cowgirl falls for a city slicker. These are all tried, and true settings of romances and romance readers eagerly wait for the next story.

What of other romance settings? What of unconventional places that offer unique constraints and obstacles to the main characters seek love? Let’s consider a chicken coop. (Thanks @DewayneKizzie) for the suggestion. There are all types of chicken coops. If you’re writing a historical, a chicken coop can contain a dozen hens. If you’re writing a contemporary on a large farm, a coop can contain tens of thousands of hens. What kinds of hazards does the romantic pair face in a coop? Perhaps a rabid fox or air quality issues? Perhaps there are challenges with collecting so many eggs in such a large facility. If it’s a modern facility, workers may resent working conditions, come from multiple nations, and experience communication issues, seek to form a union, or face health and safety hazards. (Chicken manure is considered hot because of the high concentration of ammonia).  

Original settings engage the reader because they can’t anticipate the hazards and obstacles. Romances are driven by internal, interpersonal, and environmental conflict. Let’s say there’s a plane crash in a swamp. Each romantic lead needs to address a particular fear or trauma. Each lead also needs to develop a relationship with their counterpart. Often the relationship-building is rocky, full of miscommunications, challenges, and baggage.

On top of that, they need to address environmental constraints. In a historical western, the leads might face foul weather. In a contemporary boardroom romance, they may face a tight deadline from an overbearing client. In a plane crash in a swamp, they may face venomous snakes, apex predators, and disease.

The more unique hurdles you can throw at your characters, the more challenging it will be for them to reach their happily-ever-after. Great work!

Let’s look at some unconventional settings for romances. Perhaps your MCs work at an airport. One works as a baggage clerk loading the planes, and the other works for an airline company at the front desk checking in customers. One obvious constraint is time. Both are likely to work opposite shifts and have unsocial schedules. The person at the counter may also have to work for some flights. Here are some additional stresses: working at an airport requires a security clearance. If one or both of the main characters engage in risky behaviour, they may lose their clearance and jobs. Depending on the clearance needed, if one romantic partner loses their security access, the other person’s access is also revoked—known associates and all. How would that impact the romantic relationship if both lost their jobs because one did something reckless like drunk driving and wounded someone?

I’ll take a stab at another unconventional romance setting to illustrate how much fun they can be. Let’s use the example of a food assembly line. Each day the romantic leads stand in front of a conveyor belt and examine canned or packaged goods for quality control. They have quotas, stand all day that might hurt their knees and lower back, the job isn’t all that interesting, and the pay might not be that great.

What kind of problems does this romantic pair face? All sorts from financial stress, to challenges in wanting to move up in the company, to stressing over being replaced by further automation and being uncertain which career paths to take after they are made redundant, to worries over having their work outsourced overseas, to wanting to develop their food product and starting their company.

Don’t be afraid to put your romance in new settings. It allows you to explore different social dynamics, different economic challenges, different ecological constraints, and most importantly, keeps your reader engaged.

Readers appreciate characters who have lives beyond the love interest. By that I mean, they can’t always drive across town to be with their live interest. Most people need to work for a living. Sure, you can take some time off or work flextime, but the time needs to be made up. Most towns have rush hours and road construction and detours that cause delays. There’s rotten weather that impedes the ability of a love interest from leaving their residence, reaching work, or going out after work. Quite a few people have children and need to take into consideration childcare responsibilities before accepting to go out for drinks after work. Most people must be careful with their money. They can afford to go to a restaurant that isn’t fast food every now and then but can’t afford to go every night.

When writing in a unique setting, be sure to:

-present the setting in a slow and gradual way to not provide an info-dump

-present unique obstacles to your romantic partners

-don’t skimp on character development. Excellent romances thrive on strong characters

-don’t neglect dialogue and banter

-get real about the setting and research it. The more authentic details you can provide, the more immersive of an experience you can provide your reader

-get creative in the roles and responsibilities your characters have in the setting


What kind of original settings do you place your characters in? Reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron


Thank you, @Sstaatz and @DewayneKizzie, for the topic suggestion.