Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Four Tricks to Writing Great Romances

I adore a good love story and abhor a bad one, but what makes a love story good or bad? Lots of things help - quality writing, avoiding cheesy lines, not having stupid characters who screw their lives up for the sake of drama.

But there's more to it than that. Some romances are so wonderful that no amount of bad writing and cheesy lines can make readers put them down. Some love stories do more than make me swoon; they touch me so deeply that they stay with me forever.

What makes them so special?

Writing romance is a complicated process, to be sure, but I had a few epiphanies that really helped me.

Epiphany #1

Someone once told me anger is a secondary emotion. You only feel anger after feeling something else: disappointment, hurt, betrayal, frustration. Before you can soothe your anger, you have to get to the root of the initial emotion that caused it.

I believe love is a secondary emotion. Before you can love another person, you have to feel something else: admiration, respect, comfort, interest, amusement, attraction, trust. We don't spontaneously love people. Our love is caused by definable reasons.

The worst love stories, IMO, are the ones where the characters fall for each other for no reason that I can understand. They meet, they have a conversation, and they're dedicated to each other for life. (In some books, they even skip the second step.) In order for a love story to feel genuine, readers need to know why the characters are drawn to each other.
Epiphany #2

Keep in mind to show not tell. This will do two things: 1. Save you from melodrama. No one wants to hear a monologue about how a girl will do anything for some guy, but we do want to see her make sacrifices for him. 2. Make readers fall in love with the character too. If you can make your readers want to be with your MCs by demonstrating an attractive personality, you've practically won the battle already.

Epiphany #3

Don't rely on physical attraction. It sounds obvious, but I'll tell you why: physical attraction is the only emotion your characters can feel but your readers cannot. A movie can get away with having a dumb story when the actors are sexy, but readers can't see the people in your books.

Readers can love your characters for every other reason under the sun, and you can stimulate temporary sexual attraction by writing steamy love scenes, but readers will never lust after a character in a book.

Epiphany #4

There are some stories where the characters make eye contact and up pops this miraculously eternal relationship, but despite how ridiculous it is, we still ache for the characters to be together. Take Romeo and Juliet, for example. Romeo sees Juliet walk through a room and they decide that very night to risk their lives to get married. It's stupid, but in rare instances, we love it.

My theory is that in most of these cases, it's their dedication to one another that keeps us going. My favorite love stories are about characters who will do anything for the person they love, no matter what the sacrifice.

In this Shakespearian play, many of the lines Romeo gives Juliet have religious connections; this demonstrates to us that his dedication to her is equal to a worshiper's dedication to God. That's the kind of love people should have toward one another, and that's the kind of love that draws us along through the play, right up until they each decide to die rather than live alone.

This dedication is the only reason the first Twilight book worked for me. I think Edward is bossy and controlling, and I hate how quickly she up and decides to be in love with him, even though he's nothing but a stalker and a jerk. Still, I enjoyed it. I admit I got warm fuzzies when I read that line: "I was unconditionally, irrevocably in love with him."

I know her love for him is absurd, but I can't help it. That's an amazing line... I wish I had thought of it first. It's that unconditional, irrevocable love that made me want to finish reading that book.

I'm sure there are many other tricks to improve love stories, but if you can at least use these four, you'll be well on your way to writing a great romance.


  1. Oh my gosh, thank you so much!! This is just what I needed before I go into the whole editing process today. Now I know how to fix things!!
    BTW I agree about Twilight. I didn't read to the end because I got kinda bored with it, but that line was awesome.

  2. I enjoyed your epiphanies. I have to admit, I'm a fan of the star-crossed loves scenario. There's something about crossing the line of forbidden love that is dramatic in and of itself.

  3. Yes! Thank you for this. I think it essentially boils down to the need for there to be something special and compelling about EITHER the initial attraction OR the relationship itself. Both is nice, but if one is super excellent, we can do without the other.

  4. I think the best love stories are the one where the couple is tested over and over and always comes back.


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