Getting romance right

It’s Valentine’s Day, so bring forth the obligatory love-centric posts, right?

I don’t know about you, but I’m in the camp where when I’m reading or watching a movie and I see good things happening, birds singing, and especially main characters falling in love, I get suspicious. I sense something’s coming. Usually it’s something bad. Like a dinosaur, a serial killer, or some major natural disaster. Or sometimes it’s just a jealous ex-lover who is looking to stir up some trouble between the two lovebirds. My husband loves taking me to the movies during which I only occasionally (he incorrectly uses the word, “incessantly,”) lean over to tell him when something bad’s going to happen. It’s one of his favorite quirks of mine, I remind him often. As a writer, romance in a story is just a red flag to me.

So when I’m developing my sweet, unsuspecting victims (I mean, characters), and they’re on that cusp of love, I want to make sure I’m not sculpting some predictable storyline that someone else’s significant other will someday (but only occasionally) feel the need to point out. Some predictibility is a good thing, since as readers we thrive on figuring plots out on our own. As writers, it’s important to use romance to add conflict in a way that doesn’t distract, but optimizes our story.

So how should we handle romance when it’s such a subjective thing? To some, it might exist in gifts of flowers and jewelry, fancy dates and sweet words. To others, romance might be in that moment when your sweetheart cleans out the fridge for no reason except to be helpful. (Thank you, honey, for keeping my unintentional science experiments at bay.) Because of this, we can’t realistically write romance that will please everyone, but we can try to make it effective.

Ensure your romance fits your time period.

Claire & Jamie Fraser, main characters of the Outlander series.

I didn’t expect to enjoy Diana Gabaldon’s epic Highlander time-travel novel, Outlander. I figured the explicit content would overwhelm the actual story, but I decided to find out for myself. While her content is definitely not G-rated, she has a wonderful knack for creating romantic tension that is fulfilling. Combining this with drama and antagonizing situations that keep us wondering what will happen next, she uses things that can easily feel cliché (spurned lovers, physical assault, death, etc.). Yet her vivid representation of Scottish culture in the 1700s pulls you in so much that you feel these acts are apart of what might actually occur, rather than plot devices inserted to create tension.

Make your relationships in other worlds relatable to ours.

Cover artwork of Mara Jade & Luke Skywalker. They’re amazing.

One of my favorite romances is between Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade, in Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars EU series, like the Thrawn Trilogy, and The Hand of Thrawn duology. Again, the tension of their relationship is something that is woven into the story to move the plot forward in a believable manner (as believable as Star Wars can be). Within all the drama of diplomacy between different races, smugglers cheating death, insane Jedi, and brilliant evil tacticians, Zahn tackles the budding Skywalker/Jade romantic tension with skill. Their relationship is mainly built on mutual respect and a healthy dose of loving sarcasm. While I can’t wield the Force, I can relate to their rapport with one another, and tons of other folks can, too.

Don’t take it too seriously.

The business of weaving romance into a story can be intimidating. You don’t want to be cheesy, and if your novel isn’t mainly a romance, you don’t want it to take over the story. A simple solution is to take a look at the relationships around you. Take an evening, grab a coffee and go people-watching at the mall. Is that creepy? Maybe. But if you do it in the name of research, it might sound less so. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. If that’s too weird for you, watch your family members and friends for inspiration. When a relationship is close to what you would want for your characters, change it to fit them (on paper, not in real life, that’s not allowed) and let that affect the dynamic between your characters. There are many ways to create relationships that are sincere, that readers can relate to, but the main ones are to allow your characters to be real, maybe a little silly, and above all, loving.


What are your favorite fictional relationships?


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