The Travelogue as Plot Structure

Romance novels have basically three plot structures:
1. The character-based plot structure.
2. The comedy-of-errors plot structure.
3. The travelogue plot structure.
The character-based plot structure is all about the characters--naturally! Of Georgette Heyer's books, Devil's Cub and Venetia come the closest. Other characters are incidental to the growing relationship between the hero and heroine. This is my favorite type of plot structure. Richardson's Pamela--despite its polemics--falls into this category. Amongst the sensual writers, Kleypas uses a character-based approach.

The comedy-of-errors plot structure usually entails what I also call world-based romance. The story is less about the growing relationship and more about the complex relationships and confusions between multiple characters. A lot of romance manga will start out as character-based and evolve into comedy-of-errors, simply out of necessity (as do many television shows). Comedy-of-errors plots can be extremely amusing when well done. At their best, they look easy, like making meringues (light, frothy, hilarious). Writers be warned: they aren't easy!

Of Georgette Heyer's books, The Grand Sophy is a good example of a comedy-of-errors (that doesn't skimp on character). The Quiet Gentleman is another good example (and actually doubles as a mystery!) as is Arabella. Amongst the sensual writers, Eloisa James and Loretta Chase are masters at this type of plot structure.

Comedy-of-errors plot structures are hard to pull off (another reason I think romance writers are some of the most skilled writers on the planet!). Unfortunately, far too many writers (including romance writers but also a massive number of literary writers), overwhelmed by the comedy-of-errors' demands, will fall back on the travelogue.

The travelogue plot structure works as follows: the hero and heroine are going somewhere for some reason, and all kinds of crazy events occur to them in the meantime. Hey, it's a novel!

Don't get me wrong: the travelogue can be well-done, even amusing. Think: The Muppet Movie. Heyers' The Foundling is a good example. One of my favorites from the sensual writers is Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase, which is made even better by taking place in Egypt! (Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody-in-Egypt books fall into this category, a series that highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of this type of plot structure.)

Far too often, the travelogue is used as an easy solution, a way to avoid character growth and tightly plotted resolutions. The loose travelogue is not that different from the kind of mystery novel where every chapter is simply another interview with a suspect; the chapters don't build on each other.

A classic plot involves a problem/conflict--rising action--denouement/climax/epiphany--resolution. But if the storyline doesn't rise--if it is just one set of circumstances after another--the story becomes, well, rather like a home movie.  (The literary version of this is the Journey-Across-Some-Continent tale; supposedly, the main character learns about him or herself during the trek but most of the time, the main character is simply suffering for the sake of angst in general.)

The travelogue can work! But only if the "next incident" proves or shows the reader something about the characters or about the plot problem.  "And then this happened--" does not a novel make.

Hence my love for genre literature in general: a problem that must be dealt with, solved in some way--often happily--is a requirement! The blessings of paperback readers on all genre writers!!

The Incomparable Travelogue:

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