I’ve been dealing with writing romance lately. Not the genre but the plot component, the seemingly inescapable phenomenon that crops up when writing fantasy, science-fiction, historical fiction, and just about any other genre, provided you have a few single characters floating around.
And I’ve written about how authors can woefully get a romance wrong before, and about a writer’s recipe to marrying off the wrong couples. Making a good, solid match isn’t easy, because we authors often have a lot on our minds, especially if our novel isn’t primarily or solely a romance. We’re thinking about the rest of the plot, the villains, the action or adventure. We don’t have that much time to worry about which character is right for whom…and why.
So today I wanted to look at four things that will help you make good, character-driven matches when it comes time to pair off your characters.
- Examine the competition…and I don’t mean an array of attractive single characters. Look at what they want in life. Does he or she even want to be married or in a relationship? Every character is faced with a love triangle of sorts–to stay single or to abandon the status quo in favor of a relationship–and it’s your job to figure out which is more valuable to them. Do they value their independence, or do they want affection and belonging? Are they ready for commitment, or are they still wanting other things: a career, adventure, excitement, etc. This is what a romance is “up” against, and you need to define the competition, in your mind at least, if you’re going to write a believable story.
- Explore their hearts and needs. What qualities would attract them in a partner? Are they mature enough to where they’d be drawn towards someone who complements them, making them a better person, or are they single-mindedly focused on “chemistry” and nothing else? Not every romance is going to be a happy one, because your characters are flawed, and if they pursue a relationship based on certain flaws, they’ll end up hurt. Let them. You have to follow where they lead. They might regret it, but, as a writer, you won’t.
- Experience a couple different options. The nice thing about writing is that you can actually try out a relationship for “size” without having to drag in divorce attorneys if it falls apart. See how being with someone affects the character and whether he or she responds to their partner in a natural, believable way. Is there chemistry? Is there the making of a friendship? If you, as an author, have to work to throw the characters together, stretching the plot to “make it happen,” it’s probably a good sign that this relationship isn’t meant to happen.
- Expect it to matter. You can’t just write romance for the sake of getting an extra demographic to read your story. It needs to fit, and it needs to make sense. It should add another dimension to the story and the characters, whether they make a wise decision or a poor one. One of the things I like about books like “Can You Forgive Her?,” Anna Karenina, or “A Portrait of a Lady” is the exploration of relationships. The consequences don’t end when someone gets married. Being with someone presents a whole range of new complications for you, the author, to explore. It isn’t just “happily ever after.” Do your characters have regrets? Is he learning to love his spouse? Is she drawn to another man? Will they stick it out, despite their differences? Are they helping each other grow through their pettiness and grow up? What do they fight over? What don’t they talk about? And how do they feel about their decision, about whatever they lost when they said “I do”?
Ultimately, a romance is a big deal for the characters involved, and while it may be a minor plotline for your book, it is a major life-changer for them, and it is usually heatedly contested by readers, so take the time to work through it and get it right (even if that means a romance that goes nowhere or one that falls apart).
Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by svklimkin and placardmoncoeur, Creative Commons