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.
7 thoughts on “3 Tips For Writing Good Romance in Any Medium”
I went through a stage where I loved romance novels and read them vociferously. Then one day I kind of woke up and realized they were all the same formula over and over and over. On top of that, the two main characters never seemed to actually get to know each other. They spent the whole novel bickering but somehow having steamy love scenes as well. Even at the end, when they revealed their true feelings, I couldn’t figure out why they were in love.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Haha, yeah, that’s what I like to avoid. They have their place, sure, but that’s more steam than actual love. Although it’s infecting YA these days. Blarg.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I really dislike prairie romances. When I tell fellow Christians this (especially silly older ladies) they react to this statement like I had said kicking puppies is my favorite hobby, or I enjoy burning Bibles and American flags. I dislike most Christian romances because they are not true. By this I don’t mean that they’re fiction as opposed to biographies. They claim to be based on reality or historical reality, but the characters and situations do not ring true. Give me a good fantasy any day! You don’t expect to meet a unicorn in the garden. Having the picture perfect romance described in most category romances by Christians is really as unrealistic as finding a unicorn. Ain’t gonna happen!
It’s a common problem in Christian romances unfortunately.any are too scared or forbidden to be realistic instead of idealistic. But now I see a new problem in Christian romances. Cringe worthy Young adult tropes. He’s cute but so frustrating. Ugh.
Uh oh. Do they encourage dating as a missionary project? Or maybe as a means of character reformation? Very Bad Idea.
Young Christian women and teens should be encouraged to read “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Bronte. Set in Regency England, a sweet but naive girl of 18 deliberately marries a handsome, charming rake several years older. She thinks it’s the right thing to do–that she can love him into reforming. She lives to regret it.
The novel is definitely not a “Regency romance.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
@Rachel Nichols — Would you say “A Walk to Remember” is an example of a missionary dating romance?
I am not qualified to say since I never read the book. Or saw the movie. What is your opinion Zoe?