The W Plot Technique by Lynne Marshall

Let's welcome author Lynne Marshall as she discusses The W Plot Technique. Chat with her and share your stories! 

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The W Plot Technique by Lynne Marshall

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a formula for writing Romance.  However there are specific ways to plot it.

Commercial fiction of all types makes a promise:
Mystery – Solve the case
Thriller – Catch the villain
Fantasy – Complete the conquest
Romance – Happy ending with hero and heroine in love and committed to each other.

Getting there (to the happy ending) can happen in countless ways, as individual as each author.

I’m going to use the steps of the W Plot format with the popular movie The Proposal to make my point.

The beginning – h/h meet – the inciting incident
Super editor Margaret is being threatened with deportation to Canada and won’t be able
to come back for one year, which means she’ll lose her job – the job she lives for since
she has no other life.

Lead up to plot point I – i.e. call to action – She bamboozles her assistant, Andrew, into marrying her. Andrew has dreams of becoming an author, and has taken this job as a foot in the door. He seizes the moment and asks her to publish his book. She won’t so he makes sure she’ll make him an editor if he goes along with her ruse. She agrees. He
makes a completely phony statement to convince the publishers - “We are two people
who weren’t supposed to fall in love…” This is a foreshadowing statement.
He takes her home to Alaska for his Gammy’s birthday. Margaret realizes Andrew
comes from money, has a family that loves him, and isn’t the person she has pegged him to be. His family throws a party in honor of their fake engagement. They annoy and
humiliate each other as often as possible. They realize they need to quit bickering and act like they’re in love in order to pull this off.

Plot point I - They kiss and feel something. The story question arises: Will Margaret
and Andrew be able to pull this off? Moving up toward the first peak of the W – The H&H get to know each other and many problems arise. They have to share a bedroom, though he gallantly sleeps on the floor. They bond singing a silly song together. She gets to know his family. He sees her dancing and singing a crazy song and calls her a freak! They kinda sorta begin to like each other for real.

The Stakes get higher when they run into each other naked.

Peak of W - Middle of the book –A monkey wrench gets thrown into the mix. Often a
love scene can bring on this point of no return, bonding the H/H to each other. But there
isn’t a love scene in The Proposal.

Midpoint (Peak of W) Andrew’s family forces them to marry right then on that weekend.
Margaret gets swept up with the preparations and with his family. She tries on his
Gammy’s wedding dress. Being an orphan since the age of fifteen, she has forgotten
what it is like to have a family.

Here’s where the monkey wrench gets thrown in: she feels guilty about her
manipulating plan. Confused and upset by the surfacing of her long forgotten conscience, she takes off in his boat, falling overboard, and she almost drowns. Andrew rescues her and comforts her. She feels cared for and it shakes her up even more.

Traditionally, in the second half of the book the heroine must deal with the fact that she
has feelings for the hero. Romances are all about emotion, emotion, emotion. Don’t be
afraid to delve deeply into the issues of loving someone who, by all outward signs, is the
worst person in the world for you.

Sliding down that W peak – first there is that rosy glow, some reflection, the future
looks bright! In order to keep your reader’s interest, you must have conflict and tension
at every turn of the page.

Plot point II -- The immigration officer shows up, and Andrew’s father makes a deal to
get him off the hook. BUT Andrew doesn’t accept the deal and tells Margaret he really
wants to marry her. This genuine, heroic and sacrificial gesture changes Margaret’s

Crisis (The black moment) the last W peak – Margaret can’t go through with the
wedding. She confesses in front of everyone that it is all a sham, takes full responsibility, and runs out.

First waylaid by his family, then by Gammy’s fake heart attack, then finding a note left to
him by Margaret telling him what a wonderful writer he is, and that she will make sure
his book gets published before she leaves the company, Andrew chases her to the airport to confront her about her sudden change of heart.

The screws tighten - Margaret flies off, Andrew stands watching her, and realizes he
really has fallen in love with her.

Climax – A day or two has passed. Andrew shows up in New York where Margaret is
clearing out her office. In front of everyone, he asks her to marry him. She confesses she is more comfortable in life alone. He won’t let her take the easy way out. She’s willing to take the chance.

Anti-climax – They kiss in front of everyone.

The story is brought full circle when she accepts his honest and heartfelt proposal.
Here is where the Romance promise comes into play: The heroine reaches the end of the story on higher ground than where she first started, and she has found her soul mate along the way.

Though there is a structured process by which all good stories are told, each story is as
individual as the hero and heroine’s personalities. I reiterate – there isn’t a formula for
writing romance.

A well-written romance will clutch your heart, make you laugh or cry (hopefully both)
and leave you with a good feeling. That feeling is called hope, and hope is a hot
commodity these days!

Lynne Marshall has a new romance novel out...



Journalist Lilly Matsuda just writes headlines; she doesn't make them. That is, until she runs afoul of Gunnar Norling while on assignment in the tiny town of Heartlandia. The handsome policeman intrigues more than Lilly's investigative senses…but she isn't going to let Gunnar's megawatt smile or smoldering good looks melt her heart.

Gunnar isn't a fan of people snooping around Heartlandia. He's been sworn to secrecy about the town's mysterious past, and he refuses to compromise that for anyone…even beautiful Lilly, who's hot on the story's trail. Besides, she's not going to stick around forever, and Gunnar refuses to let his heart get trampled on—unless Lilly decides to put love first!

Read Excerpt

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  1. What a great example of the W-technique! Thank you, Lynne!

    1. Hi Cherie - I'm so glad you enjoyed the blog.

  2. Interesting analysis of "The Proposal" through the lens of the W Technique.

    And YOUR "proposal" book sounds terrific, too. Good luck with it, Lynn.

  3. e.

    HA! Left the "e" off of "Lynne." Sorry about that.

    1. Hi Susan! I often think I should sign off - Lynn with an E! It's surprising how often that happens. Anyway, thanks for reading and enjoying the W plot and I'm especially happy to know my "Proposal" book has tweaked your interest.

  4. It's very nice to meet Lynne and hear about her writing process. I like this method. It makes great sense!

    1. Hi Karen, I'm so glad this technique makes sense to you. It is very straight forward, and if you write series romance, it fits well with the shorter word count.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  5. What a great post I love your examples because I need examples. They help me say, "oh, yeah, that's what that is."

    1. Hi Donna - I'm with you, examples help open my eyes. The more the better. So glad this blog made sense to you. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. I feel silly for not knowing about the W plot technique. You taught me something new today, Lynne!

    And thanks, Kelly! :)

    1. Whoo hoo Chrys! I'm always happy to teach someone something new. So glad it connected with you.
      Best of luck with your writing!

  7. Great post. I enjoyed your explanation of the W technique.

  8. Hi Kelly - I'm really happy to know that the W plot makes sense to you. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  9. Great, and incredibly clear outlining of how this works! And now I really want to go watch The Proposal again :)

    1. Thank you, Meradeth, I'm glad I made the W clear for you. Yes, I'm ready to watch The Proposal again, too! I Love Ryan.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Terrific analysis of the movie (such a fun one!). I hadn't thought about the W formation of a plot - thanks!

  12. Hi Jemi - so glad you enjoyed the blog, and I agree The Proposal was a fun romantic comedy. I wish we had more movies like that. Thanks for commenting.

  13. That's a really good W plot example!

    1. Sherry - so glad you liked it. That movie made doing the W fun.

  14. That's a really good W plot example!

  15. You outlined the steps and the beat perfectly. There is a formula, but it's one we love.

  16. Hi L. Diane, I hope I don't come off contrary, but all genres have "formulas" as I mentioned right up front, but it's called plot structure. All the great adventure stories follow the mythic structure that Joseph Campbell called The Writer's Journey, yet plot structure doesn't equal formula. Every story is different like the authors. Does that make sense? And I'm glad the steps for W made sense with The Proposal as the example. Thanks for commenting.

  17. Loved hearing Lynne explain the W plot for romance. I think the examples really helped to explain it. There are basic plot formulas in each genre, but the twists and turns and characters make the plots different for the reader. :)

    Best of luck!

  18. Hi Jess! Yes, that's exactly what I'm trying to say. I just don't care for the word - formula - because it has a negative connotation, especially in romance, everybody's favorite genre to tear down.
    Fiercely supportive of the romance genre here. :)

  19. This is so helpful. I'm going to bookmark this post to read it again. Congrats to Lynne on the release.

    1. Hi Medeia, I'm so glad this blog was helpful to you.
      thanks for commenting.

  20. Hello, Lynne! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  21. I learned so much when I wrote romance. The community of writers is SO supportive of each other. I think because many romance writers are also avid readers...unlike children's writing, where your readers don't (yet) write at all and can't really help you learn to be a better writer!