I was recently in the middle of plotting a romance novel when I happened upon a quote from the movie Sleepless in Seattle. (I love quotes. They’re on my list of most favorite things—right up there with sad songs and Red Bull) The line was this: “It was a million little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together.” Wow! If that isn’t what writing romantic fiction is all about!
We all know the building blocks of a good love story. The classic meet cute; that torturous will they or won’t they; that heartbreaking black moment; and of course the happily ever after. Don’t call it formulaic—call it a recipe for success! If you’ve studied plotting for any genre, you know every plot is a formula. Heist movies, action flicks, thriller novels—trust me, once you’ve read about Save The Cat or Hero’s Journey, you’ll never watch a movie again without spotting the story beats plain as day.
Now even in those non-romantic stories there is most likely going to be a love story, or the B plot as it is sometimes referred to, and after focusing on romance plotting for so long, I can’t watch the B plot anymore without making it the A plot. And that’s great, because love is literally all around us, in all different bingeable genres!
The best part about a love story in a television series is it goes on FOR YEARS. Most romance novels only have two to four hundred words to take us through this roller coaster of emotions. And movies? Ninety minutes to fall in love! What? (Thank God for those montage sequences.) But TV gives us seasons upon seasons on binging your ship. Sure, that means cliffhangers and possibly years between the moment that chemistry sparks, and the moment when your ship is finally realized, but it also means you can have a plethora of your favorite romance beats! If you live for the angst of the black moment, a series often gives you multiple. If your jam is that ‘not in a million years’ moment where the characters (falsely) deny their destiny, maybe you get to see those adorable idiots lie to themselves for twelve seasons! Or even better, they can grand gesture over and over and over again!
If you’re always looking for the love story everywhere you go, it’s a great time to be alive. It’s love in the time of Netflix, guys. So here is a romance writer’s guide to the greatest ships on television. What made us fall in love with their love? And what were some of the best romance beats in this ship’s arc? I’ve got a huge list, so I’m just going to pluck one of my favorite’s and get started.
For the first ship in this series, I’m going with a classic B plot romance that BECAME the series after awhile. In the show The Office, we came for the comedy, but we stayed for the romance. That’s right, Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly quickly turned this sitcom into a straight up friends to lovers romance novel! And what a glorious slow burn it was.
This show went on for nine seasons, so we got a lot of epic romance moments, but it all started with the yogurt. This is the moment many of us romance sleuths sat up in our chairs and took note. In one of the many on-camera interviews, Jim just casually mentions that he knows Pam’s favorite flavor of yogurt. It wasn’t a meet cute because the characters already knew each other—something that happens often in a friends to lovers story—but it put these two in the ooooh, something is going on here category, and romance lovers were here for it. We had no idea what we were in for, but we knew it would be good.
One of the key pieces that sold this romance to me was the facial acting of John Krasinski. Can we just talk about the adoration and love sickness that this man was able to convey with just a smile or a gut wrenching look at the camera? When Pam got drunk at the Dundie awards (Season 2, episode 1) and she kissed Jim in celebration, (I adore a good drunken first kiss in friends to lovers) my God, the look on his face! We all felt that heart pounding, OMG moment. Finding an actor who can sell those emotions is the same as finding an author who can really pull you into a scene, and one of the common traits among all of the relationships on this list is that the acting was superb. On screen chemistry can take a B plot to a shippable obsession like nothing else.
This particular ship was an interesting one to rewatch as a romance writer because it followed the formula to a T, which isn’t something we always see on television for exactly the reasons above—it goes on for a long time, the love story is often a B plot, and sometimes the ending isn’t known when the ship starts. But in retrospect, when you binge The Office, you see that Jim and Pam’s story played out exactly like a novel. The midpoint of their relationship even happened very close to the middle of their arc (yogurt to wedding). It’s almost like the writers knew what they were doing all along. The Office was actually a romantic comedy! Who knew? (The shippers)
I’d even go as far as to say Jim and Pam’s wedding was the true end of the series, even though they dragged it out for a few seasons afterward, like television tends to do. Sometimes with television series that go on forever, you get the book and the fanfic and I’m not complaining. We got to see them have a baby and their marriage hit some bumps and come out stronger. More Jim and Pam was never going to hurt.
Now even though this is a comedy (romantic comedy) don’t discount the angst we had to endure to get to that HEA. The black moment in this series was PAINFUL. So we’re fresh off all of this cuteness, best friends getting closer and closer while we root for them on the sidelines, and then we get to season 2 episode 22 (smack dab between the yogurt and the wedding). The midpoint, the false defeat (or victory)— there’s a lot of different terms but in all stories, it’s the point where everything changes. In most romance novels this is where they fall in love, but not always. What’s important is that it’s the moment where the protagonists’ (which we now realize have been Jim and Pam all along) journey changes. In this story, it’s when Jim confesses to Pam that he’s in love with her. They kiss. It’s beautiful. We’re all cheering on our couches, but we come to find out, like we usually do at this point in a story, that it just wasn’t their moment. Both characters still have so much to learn before their story and love can be realized.
So Pam utters the heartbreaking response “What do you want me to do with that?” And. We. Cry. Yes she’s still with Roy (argh!) and we knew it wasn’t going to work, but man we wanted it.
So now where do we go? That’s right. Stamford. Eye roll. Sorry to any team Karen stans out there, but this was the worst! All of season three was like salt in a wound. But we romance readers knew it was coming. We want to earn that HEA, so we suffered through it to get to that moment that everyone remembers when Jim rushes back to Scranton, bursts into Pam’s camera interview, and asks her if she is free for dinner. Vindicated, shippers! Hallelujah.
Side note: I always found it interesting how once Pam and Jim’s love story became central to the show, the appearance of the characters changed. Pam also lost her old lady shoes and cardigans in favor of brighter colors and more fitted clothes. Jim lost his shaggy hair and wrinkled, too-big shirts, and all of a sudden John Krasinski was sorta hot. Fast forward to Jack Ryan and yeah, the shippers called it.
So we get this Grand Gesture moment where Jim and Pam finally realize they are destined to be together, the timing is right and now all that’s left is to enjoy the heck out of our ship sailing. Like I said before, TV gives us multiple beats to enjoy, so the third act of this love story was super fun. We definitely got a few more Grand Gestures, including my favorite, the rainy proposal. If that wasn’t an iconic romance moment, I don’t know what is. Jim is soaking wet, down on one knee, proposing while Pam cries tears of joy and it couldn’t be more perfect. Thank you, whoever wrote that scene, you knew we were watching and you delivered.
One of my favorite novel writing beats that we sometimes have to forgo in a television series due to unexpected series cancellations, or when the B plot gets less importance than this particular story, is the final image. This is the picture the author puts in our heads to close the story. Often times in romance it’s the epilogue. In old westerns it’s the riding off into the sunset moment. All genres use it and it’s one of my favorite scenes to craft as a writer. It’s when you get to tell the audience, thanks for taking this trip with me, here’s a mental souvenir to remember me by. Well, we definitely didn’t have to miss out in this story. The final Jim and Pam moment was iconic. I actually remember where I was when I watched it. I might be a little television obsessed, but I’m willing to bet most viewers remember this episode and that’s why I think of it as the real series ending. The wedding.
Again for this moment, it’s Krasinski’s face that is burned into our memories. The scene flashes back and forth between the wedding the two of them planned and the secret moment when they snuck off and got married on the boat. The final image we are left with is that smile. The one that told us to sit up and watch these two, and the one that expressed every single beat afterwards. This time it’s happy and satisfied and so deeply emotional, and somehow he was able to do that in a way that wordlessly closed the book on these two in the most fulfilling way possible. We watched this entire love story play out on this man’s face and the final image was so apropo that again I have to wonder if the writers are actually penning romance novels and we just don’t know about it. If they aren’t, they should be, because this was one of my favorite love stories of all time.
So there you have it—the first on my list of of a romance writer’s guide to the best ships on television. Stay tuned for more heros and heroines of the screen as we explore the romance beats that make us fall in love in the time of Netflix!