Romance is like Horror. Everybody does it, but not everybody’s good at it. Plus, it can make you gag.
I don’t speak as some multi-award-winning romance writer or anything like that, but I’m a guy who’s edited a lot of books, read a lot more, and seen countless romances in movies, TV shows, even video games. And I’ve seen a few trends that make the good ones stand out.
So, here are a couple quick tips for writing good romance for any of those formats.
1. Give Them a Life
What were you doing when you met that special someone, or just someone who meant a lot to you for a short time? That’s right: you were living your life. You had a job or school, hobbies, friends, family, worries, struggles, a life all your own.
So should your characters. Good romances don’t spring out of the ether. They come at the culmination of two lives intersecting.
Even in a period piece like Pride and Prejudice, a time when women pretty much just sat around and waited for a husband, Lizzie Bennet was helping her sisters, going to social gatherings, dealing with her crazy mom, and pondering her future. She existed in her own sphere.
Characters who just sit around waiting for romance to happen aren’t cute. They’re sad.
2. Tell Me Why They Like Each Other
If you get everything else wrong, please get this right. Chemistry is the foundation of good romance. The two have to work somehow. So why do they?
I have no idea why Bella and Edward like each other. So I have no idea why they go through all their struggles together. They just…do stuff. That’s not romantic. It’s just baffling. Give me a flipping reason!
Back to Jane Austen, Lizzie caught Darcy’s eye when she didn’t pander to him like everyone else, but challenged him to be a better person. She reciprocated once she saw the changes in his character and the lengths he would go to her for family’s honor.
Or go a different route. In Gone With the Wind, Scarlet’s final revelation is that she doesn’t truly love Ashley at all, but merely the idea of him built up in her head. Love can sometimes start for bad reasons, but there’s still a reason.
You can give your characters any number of reasons to like each other, but please, please, please, don’t stop with “they’re attracted to each other.” That’s a decent starting point, but you must move beyond it. Heat fades. This is romance, not smut (unless you’re writing smut, which is another beast). Why do the characters stay together?
Or…why don’t they? Remember, failure is an option in romance. Casablanca is one of the most romantic movies of all time, but the characters don’t end up together. And you remember Romeo and Juliet, right? But you must ask…
3. Tell Me Why They AREN’T Together (If Applicable)
I once edited a book where two characters liked each other, but did nothing about it for 200 pages. They just shared flirty looks and heated stares.
In the words of Scott Pilgrim, “This is boooorrriiiing.”
This tip won’t apply to all of you, but if you have lovers who can’t get together, why not? In Romeo and Juliet, their families hated each other. In Casablanca, she already had another man. In Final Fantasy X, it was improper for Tidus to love a holy figure like Yuna. And in good ol’ Pride and Prejudice, the characters hated each other for a while.
Speaking of that, the I-hate-you-now-I-love-you trope? I get it. It’s hot. But you have to do it right. The reason everybody roots for Lizzy and Darcy is because you feel BOTH the hate and the love. Make your reader feel both extremes and the logical shift between them.
Because I swear if I see one more I-fell-on-you-now-we-have-to-kiss-even-though-we-hate-each-other moment, I’m going to scream.
The same goes with breakups–temporary or lasting. Don’t do the thing where the guy misunderstands something and storms off without waiting for an explanation, or where the girl overhears the wrong part of a conversation and refuses to listen to reason. That’s forced tension. Throw that crap out with the rest of the trash. Make me cry, not slap my forehead.
In Conclusion…write PEOPLE.
In bad romances, characters and settings exist to fuel the romance. In good ones, romance blooms naturally out of the characters and settings.
Good romance is two people coming together at a specific point in their lives and trying to wrap themselves around each other for all of time.
Think of what made you fall for that special someone, why it lasted or didn’t last. Take tips from real life because that’s what makes good romance: real life. The laughter and heartache alike.
Now go write that.
If you do write romance, why are your characters together, or not? How do their lives intersect? Let me know in the comments.