I got a question on my deviantART page asking me about writing romance. So thought it would make a great subject for a blog post.
Now, I am not a Romance Writer. This tutorial is about how you introduce romance into a story and what to consider when you do. It is not about writing a novel that is predominately romance-based.
Final point, this post is not about writing sex scenes. While romance can sometimes lead to sex, I have already covered sex scene writing.
A place for Romance
Make sure there is a place for romance in your story. Maybe you really want your characters to get together, but the major plot of your story is not giving you much time for it.
Either tweak the story to allow for a romance subplot or consider extending it to 2 or more books.
What can ruin a story is when romance is shoved in without planning.
We have all read a book or watched a movie that had a clunky love scene dumped in the middle. Or a romance blossom from almost nothing because the writer/director wanted the characters to get together without real planning.
This can seriously ruin the flow of a story and piss off your readers.
Not every book needs romance, if you want it then you need to plan it. Even if it is a subplot, you need to make sure it does not affect or stagger the main plot.
You also need to make sure it develops well enough that it is not a sudden revelation to the readers – they don’t like that shit!
So, you’ve planned your novel and worked out the romance. If you know your characters well, (which any writer should) then there will be a natural flow to their romantic development.
You will most likely already know in which direction the romance is going to come. Allow it to grow organically – avoid forcing it too quickly or dragging it out unnecessarily.
Example: if you have two characters that are starting to fall for each other, it might be best to let them learn about each other before you throw them into bed.
Write the Emotion
Writers can often forget to write the emotion. Love is emotional. It might give out a shit load of physical responses which are important but never forget the emotion.
Love is not just an attraction, it encompasses affection, compassion, trust, need, closeness, tenderness, desire.
Even the rush of attraction that can lead to the belief of love, at first sight, will bring about feelings of nervousness, being unsure, the desire to rush in, just to name a few possibilities.
This is where knowing your character is important:
- Are your characters open about their feelings?
- Are they guarded?
- Have they been hurt or betrayed?
- Do they love too deeply and too fast and never have it reciprocated?
- Are they unable to separate fear and love?
- Do they crave tenderness or closeness or the ability?
- Do they want to be who they really are?
Your characters’ personalities and their development will dictate their romance. A man who has been betrayed in love will be unlikely to rush forward and give his trust and love to someone new.
A woman who lost her first love to illness may crave what was taken from her but may feel guilty for loving again.
Friends and lovers
Many romances build from friendships. It is easier for people to become friends first, we gain our trusts in this way. This can then develop as we become closer to each other.
We learn about each other, we know secrets, fears, triggers, vulnerabilities… Building romance from friendship is very organic.
It can often be unnoticed at first. Don’t even realise the feelings have shifted until maybe someone else appears.
Two friends, very close, then someone comes into the picture, flirting and showing a desire to one. Suddenly the jealousy the other feels reveals how they feel.
Romance and relationships are a big ‘changer’ for people so your characters need to reflect this. A romance will shift a person’s priorities, it can make you think differently because suddenly you are having to consider someone else.
Remember characters need to continually grow and develop, this needs to be one of those ways.
Think about people you know, ones who were single and then who got into relationships – remember how they changed? Think about yourself if you are or have been in relationships.
Even relationships change – romance at the beginning can be heady, new and passionate.
Years later there is no newness but they are something else, there can be a deeper bond, a greater understanding and tenderness.
Don’t forget romance can change negatively, people often don’t think about how people change and can find the person they are with is not the same as they were.
This change can be both positive and negative so consider if you want the romance to evolve in which direction.
As can happen in writing sex scenes, so can it with romance – avoid the cringy narration for romance. “His love enveloped her on gossamer wings” – eww!
Just don’t. Make it real, make it paint a true picture, not one that if it was in a movie would have us all giving sideways glances and skipping forward to something more worthwhile.
Don’t use trite terms and fluff to get the emotion and the senses across. That stuff can work in romance novels, but in a novel that is just having an element of romance, you need to do better.
Spread the love around
Also, don’t just dump all the romance in at once*. Spread it around. Build up the sexual tension early, add some longing looks if you want, some interrupted moments where feelings were going to be expressed etc.
Add some tenderness of a squeezed hand or a brushed shoulder. It does not just have to be admitting deep love and then extreme kissing.
Romance can be shown by being there. Knowing when a person needs someone to hold them or to listen.
It all goes back to the show me, don’t tell me, show the growth of feelings between characters, the small things can really pull the reader in. It can often build that “will they, won’t they” that everyone seems to like so much.
It is not so quick and simple. You are dealing with two separate people each with their own neuroses, hang-ups, baggage, emotional shit and you have to build them together.
Make sure your characters spend time together. You can’t exactly develop any feelings if they barely in each others’ company.
It can be while running from zombies while defending the castle while standing on the beach watching the ships, or while being robbed by bandits. Doesn’t really matter just make sure they have several encounters that allow for them to build a feeling.
*This happens a lot in movies where there’s a bomb and they have 5 seconds to defuse it…so the characters take this moment to share a long, passionate kiss.
Deciding that this is a great time to show their emotions they have been constipated with throughout the whole movie. I mean for the love of all that’s chocolate, get a grip!
It is unbelievable and annoying. Yes, a life/death moment can shift your priorities but not when there’s a bomb you can defuse. That’s a big ol’ nope!
More than just the physical
This may just be a pet peeve of mine, but the idea of writing characters to be romantic when they know almost nothing about each other is a cop-out.
We see it in movies where some guy or some girl starts falling for someone they saw… which, let’s be honest, means it is just physical. They know nothing other than what that person looks like.
That is not romance, that is a sexual desire which is totally fine and can even LEAD to romance but don’t dress that up like it’s anything more.
This sort of stuff includes a run-off of assets to someone, usually a friend, where the character says “she is wonderful, so beautiful, her eyes, her smile…” yeah we get it, she has a face and you like it. That’s not really deep enough to touch actual emotions.
*Gets off my soapbox*
So make sure your characters have actually interacted, that they have talked, that there has been some vulnerability, some sense of emotion and blossoming of actual feelings that go beyond nice abs and good tits.
Romance is one of those areas where people fall into stereotypes. Women need men to prove their love and men are just lusty animals.
Things like these are pretty one dimensional and do nothing for your characters.
My personal preference is not to have romance happen to early in a story – I like to have such things build up. I’ve read series’s where the couple get together in book one and their relationship can become pretty boring to read.
This then seems to be when writers shake things up by almost destroying the relationship just to get them back together again later. I’d prefer the romance to have built up slowly.
Will they, won’t they
This leads us to the Will they, Won’t they – we’ve all read books or seen movies/shows that included characters that you just didn’t know if they were going to get together.
There was a tension and it got close and then OMG something happened and they couldn’t say it! The tension!!!
This can really work – but be aware if you drag it on too long without even a little hint of it going a step further you can lose your readers’ interest. If on book 7 they have not even shared a kiss or shown each other some sense of feelings, then you may be taking it too far.
The idea is to build on each encounter, raise the stakes a little more. With romance, you are working with both emotion and often sexual desire. This gives you a lot more scope than you think.
Use your senses to create romance. It is not just people saying I love you.
It should include body language, closeness, all five senses that show the reader just how close these characters are getting. Our memories are built up from all the senses so use them.
Always remember the age of your characters and of your potential readers. If you are aiming at teens you may need to consider the level of intimacy you want to write about to make it appropriate.
Also, unless you are specifically trying to be creepy, just be aware of the ages of your characters in this romance. Having one character 13 and the other 20…err not good.
Also, can we get away from teenagers dating people in their 20s and above because the teenager is “so mature”. Just. No.
Move the story along
Like an unnecessary sex scene, a romance scene that just seems to stutter into existence can be more annoying than enjoyable. If it doesn’t truly develop the characters or move the story along cut it.
You can hint at a love scene, hint at where they are going with it but we don’t need every detail every time.
You can’t please everyone
Write for yourself first and foremost. I say this because readers can get very invested in your story. They can identify with your characters and catch up in the love that develops.
However, you can end up with people annoyed that your hero ended up with Character A not Character B etc. It happens, live with it and don’t start re-writing your story to suit everyone.
Unless you wanted it, don’t have your characters fall out so the hero can have a romantic fling with character B then get back with character A.
If this is to satisfy the emails you received saying “Why did [insert hero name] get with [insert love interest] he should totally have got with [insert another character].”
It’s great your readers are invested but they should not dictate your novel away from where you want to take it.
Romance without Sex
Let’s also address the fact that sex is not a necessity with romance. Not every romance needs to end in sex.
I think this needs to be discussed because I’ve seen people write Asexual characters with the assumption that Asexual = no interest in any form of romantic connection.
On the contrary, Asexuals are people who experience no sexual attraction. Now some Asexuals have no sex drive whereas some have an extremely low sex drive, often described as feeling a little hungry but with no inclination to eat any particular food.
This does NOT mean they cannot or do not have or want romance. Many Asexuals are in relationships and are very happy.
So if you decide to write an Asexual character, unless they are an Aromantic (not romantically attracted to anyone) then don’t just assume that their lack of sexual attraction means they can’t be written into a romantic relationship.