Friday, February 13, 2015

The Key to Writing Romance Your Readers Will Love

I'd like to address an element that has been bugging me for some time that can make or break a romance storyline. The thing is, all too often characters are purported to fall deeply in love with each other for no apparent reason and without ample time to even do so. Thus, there is a plot thread or even an entire novel wrapped around a relationship that has very little basis--which causes readers to care very little about the story. Admittedly, this has been a flaw in my own writing whenever I try to insert a romantic thread and have only recently discovered the true problem with boring, dispassionate love stories.

When I'm watching a poorly written chick-flick on the Hallmark Channel or browsing through romance books online, too often I wonder, "Why are these people in love? Why do they want and need each other so much? Why should I care?" An example of such lack of "chemistry" and basis for romance would be the movie Love Comes Softly--in my opinion, at least. Maybe I'm just missing it, but I don't see a particularly spectacular reason the heroine and love interest should be paired together. It makes sense that they are both lonely and need someone to share life with, but there isn't much reason the lead characters in particular should be paired, it seems most any other decent person would do. Love comes softly indeed--so softly you can't even hear it, in this case.

As an author, you can't just tell your readers "and they were deeply in love and would even die for each other so they are going to get married and you should be thrilled" and expect readers to get emotional about it. You must show why and how those elements of romance and true love arose. How is the character's life different with or without her significant other? Why must the character be paired with THIS particular person and no other? What is going make your readers ship these characters? Why should your romance story be your readers' OTP?

One of my all time favorite love stories is Pride and Prejudice. Why is this love story so provoking? Because Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are just so perfect for each other--both are prideful, both hold prejudice against each other initially, both enjoy witty banter, both are stubborn and cynical, yet when they see virtue truly appreciate it. All of these things and more make them seem as though they were made for each other. When reading the book, we feel that Elizabeth could never love any man but Darcy, and vice versa. The King and I is another great example--both are interested in each other's cultures, both want to better the world around them, and both have a very strong sense of "the way things should be." As in Pride and Prejudice their similarities at first cause conflict but end up making the better understand and love each other. In both of these examples, the characters have attributes that make them complimentary to each other, the characters are complex enough that it is extremely unlikely any other pairing could work, and the two have gotten to know each other well enough to reveal their deepest attributes to each other.

If you still have difficulty giving your romantic pairing a good basis, it might help to forget about the romance element altogether for a moment and consider why any relationship is significant. What makes the parting of two best friends so sad? What makes a person away at college miss her family? What makes some siblings love spending time together? What makes a student remember a particular teacher all his life? The deepest of love stories don't have as much to do with infatuation as they do a deep connection--someone who understands her better than anyone else, someone who makes him want to be of exemplary moral character, someone who makes her want to suck the marrow out of life, someone who makes him feel like he's no longer an outcast of the world, etc. These type of connections don't often happen and go much deeper than just someone to hang out with who has a few things in common.

Your romantic storyline will fall flat and fail to impassion if two characters suddenly "fall in love" without explanation, reason, or build-up; however, you can enthrall readers when you give a strong basis for why your characters are in love.