After a workshop on romance in Todmorden on Saturday, I promised to post my notes about the structure of a romance.
Reading the Romance by Janice Radway (University of North Carolina Press) Verso 1987 is an interesting read. It's mostly about what readers get from reading romances, and although I took pages of notes, I've mostly forgotten what she said. (Time for a review?). What I have remembered, and often refer back to, is Radway's work on the structure of a romance.
Joseph Campbell realised that most stories have the same outline, which he identified and called the hero's journey, but all the stories he looked at were stories about and for men. Vladimir Propp looked at folk tales, again mostly about and for men, and he too found that the same features or functions popped up over and over again. Functions are a way of looking at the underlying structure of a story. If a hero gets a magic ring, which takes him to an island, or a flying carpet which flies him to another country, or a white horse, which gallops him off to the mountains, then although the details are different, the same thing is happening. A magical agent takes the hero to another place.
So far as I'm aware, neither Propp nor Campbell spent any time on women's stories. Radway did, however. She wondered if the same functions would pop up in every story from Jane Austen to Barbara Cartland and everyone in-between - and sure enough, they did. If you follow the structure below, and take the female character to be the hero of the story, you can consider that the movie the Terminator is a romance. The male character is a donor (literally!) rather than a hero.
Here are Radway's functions of the romance. The first five functions are the reverse of the last 5 functions.
1. (pairs with 13) The heroine's social status is upset
2. (pairs with 12) She reacts antagonistically to a powerful male
3. (Pairs with 11) She interprets his behaviour as evidence of purely sexual interest in her.
4. (pairs with 10) She responds sexually and emotionally to him
5. (pairs with 9) She responds to his behaviour with anger or coldness
6. He retaliates by punishing her
7. They are physically or/and emotionally separated
8. He treats her tenderly
9. She responds warmly
10. She reinterprets his behaviour as the product of previous hurt
11. He proposes/commits/show supreme acts of tenderness
12. She responds sexually and emotionally to him.
13. Her social status is restored.