Love Connection: Writing about romantic relationships in fiction

For centuries the world’s great stories have been built on romance. Petrarch wrote love poems for Laura. Romeo and Juliet defied and sacrificed to be together. Hell, the Greek Gods swapped partners more often than the cast of Beverly Hills 90210. Today’s realm of pop culture isn’t much different: Rachel and Ross’s dalliances kept us engaged through ten seasons. We swooned when, after years of torment, Mr. Big flew to Paris to claim his Carrie Bradshaw. And the movies? Forget it. Even the action hero has a love interest.

So we like falling in love. We like watching others fall in love. As bookish types, we like reading about love. And (drumroll, please) us scribes? We dig writing about love.

Rachael Towne → in Textures

It’s no big mystery. Writing about romantic relationships evokes feelings of our own. It can actually be a vicarious experience.When two of my protagonists hit it off, I get tingly inside; I ache, I yearn.  I know it’s serious when I find myself fantasizing about my own characters (don’t tell anyone). But that’s the effect it has. Writers are the luckiest people in the world: we get to fall in love over and over again.

Like most elements of fiction writing, the Love Connection can be a tricky endeavor. In romance novels there is often a formula to follow. From what I understand, at the end, despite all obstacles, the couple lives happily ever after. But perfecting the art of dangerous liaisons is not the sole job of the romance writer.  I consider my work ‘literary with a commercial bent,’ and regardless of genre, the passion needs to sizzle.

It’s all about pacing; the Love Connection must begin, develop, and (perhaps) end, at an optimal speed.

Here’s a quick guide to the process:

The Initial Meeting:

Whether its new love, old love, or love turned sour, every fictional couple should have a story. I listened to a webinar recently where speaker, Jerry B. Jenkins, discussed ‘situational clichés.’ He used the example of two characters literally “bumping into each other.” He suggested ‘finding more creative ways for characters to meet.’ Concerning the Love Connection, this is absolute truth. Tony and Maria from West Side Story also come to mind: two strangers lock eyes across the room, the backdrop becomes blurry, the sounds fade out…ick. It worked for the Jets and the Sharks, but for your novel, you may want to take Jenkins’s advice. There are countless ways to demonstrate the Love Connection. Go for something that’s never been done before.

The Exchange:

A few years ago I attempted to write a novel about two twenty-somethings who meet and fall in love. There were countless issues concerning the writing (i.e. zero backstory, vague setting, etc.) but one element I did nail was the exchange between my characters, Eddie and Ellie. My writing group loved the flirtatious banter, the suggestive gestures, and the obvious sexual tension. I was starting to think that they were falling in love with Eddie and Ellie as much as Eddie and Ellie were falling for each other. But after several weeks they started asking questions like, “When are they going to kiss? Have sex? Touch each other?” Then it hit me: I wasn’t going beyond the exchange. If they kiss, then they reach a new level. And I was lost at how to handle that.

The Outcome:

Just as in life, the literary romance will take some tumbles. The world that looked so shiny and new has returned to its regular dull hues, and now the sands of time are being tested. This is the hard part. But it’s also the most important part. It’s the bonding, the reckoning, and the agonizing. I feared for Eddie and Ellie in this stage. Would they make it? Lose their spark? I kept the witty repartee rolling because I didn’t want to find out. Hence, I never finished the novel.

Literary love comes in all shapes and sizes. Some are ongoing, some are ending, some are unrequited, and yet others are inevitable. Capturing love the right way can do wonders for your book. It can encourage someone to take to take the plunge, get engaged, or leave an unhappy marriage. But one thing I know for sure? As long as we live, read, and write, we most certainly will love.

Do your characters fall in love? Tell me about it.

26 Comments

Filed under Characters, Plot & Structure, Writing Details, Writing Process, Writing Tips

26 responses to “Love Connection: Writing about romantic relationships in fiction

  1. Carrie Rubin

    I don’t write romance–wouldn’t even know how to do it justice. But my characters still need to have relationships, even if those relationships are peripheral. Hopefully I can make them realistic. :)

  2. Hi Carrie, I don’t write romance either, but my novels and stories often include romantic relationships. It’s really tough to get it right, actually. I’m sure your characters’ relationships will be realistic :) You’re right though, any relationship a character has (even with his mother, etc.) takes some tending.

  3. “It’s the bonding, the reckoning, and the agonizing. I feared for Eddie and Ellie in this stage. Would they make it? Lose their spark? I kept the witty repartee rolling because I didn’t want to find out. Hence, I never finished the novel.”
    I so get this! Because here’s the thing: in Life, we are forced to live past the happy ending, into the reality of the inevitable waning of loins afire lust. However, in novels, we are able to live perpetually within the fantasy. Arousal remains aflame…love realities of the real world may be molded to serve the idealistic fantasy of our readers (& ourselves!). The mess of Life never really has to intrude upon our perfect fantasy of happily-ever-after. Fairy tales are not just for kids…

    • Wow, Sylver! You nailed it. And I’m sure you remember Eddie and Ellie :) Often literature really is a fantasy of happily ever after. My goal with my current novel, however, is to keep it as real as possible. That’s why I’m glad you said this, but it’s so easy to fall into that trap of idealistic love.

  4. The toughest part for me is when characters are just getting to know each other and are keeping secrets. Writing good dialogue is next to impossible. LOL

  5. ‘I kept the witty repartee rolling because I didn’t want to find out. Hence, I never finished the novel.’
    I did something similar before I figured out that my characters were actually telling me that I needed to write them a novel. I wrote for myself, and since love scenes are my absolute favorite scenes to read, that’s what I wrote. Just my characters meeting and getting to know each other, sparring and flirting but never getting to first base. It was fun, but it was missing something.
    I continued to write, looking for that spark, and only found it when I started to fill in their back story. As their needs and wants became clearer, their story deepened, and … well … they got further than first base. ;)

    And I liked what you said about writers being the luckiest people in the world! We truly are. We can go anywhere in the world, and in fact, anywhere beyond it. If we can imagine it, we can go there!

    Do Eddie and Ellie still have a chance to get together someday?

    • Getting past first base is always a good sign :) We seem to have a similar experience with this notion. I absolutely love the pre-first kisss stage, but any story worth its salt must go beyond that. I agree that developing back story helps. I love when characters taken on a force of their own and tell YOU to write them a novel! I think that’s when you know you got the gift–when you’re no longer in control.

      Eddie and Ellie? Eh, probably not. Eddie does something bad, and his actions would likely end the relationship. That’s probably why I couldn’t finish it. I love their early connection so much. But I don’t know…talking about it again is triggering a renewed interest…

  6. The why of a romance is crucial to me: why do two souls feel drawn to each other? Is it only physical? The hottest flame soon burns out. Is it from mutual hurts? The loneliest burn from the inside. Is it two kindred souls finding the missing piece in the other? To me there is almost an audible click when the key finds the right lock in love. :-)

    • Hi Roland, thanks for stopping by. I agree with you. Why two specific people are drawn to each other is utterly fascinating. Is it literally ‘chemistry’ as in biological make up? Is it a higher power, like fate or destiny…we don’t know, and that’s what makes it so covetous. I try to set up a construct in my stories so that in some ways, it ‘makes sense’ why two people fall for each other. But it’s true what you said, it’s essentially a mystery. Even for the writer creating it!

  7. It’s a pity you didn’t finish the novel, I recall hitting a wall when two characters suddenly were given an intimate opportunity and I ummed and arrhed about for it for a while, until I realised, this was just another writing test, an exercise – and I could always leave it out. So I forced myself to write a love scene as a writing exercise and what a great learning curve that was. I actually liked what I came up with and left it in to my surprise.

    I also had a similar experience when anticipating writing a major confrontation between two characters, I didn’t really want to be there, but again, I just pushed myself, hoping that by getting into the zone of writing, I’d be somehow carried away by it and not left wondering what to write. And again, it worked. It’s all about facing the fear, the anxiety, that person that sits on your shoulder, the inner critic and saying, so what, I’m going to do this anyway, just to understand what’s going on with me as I write. These things I remember as really significant learning experiences, they teach us so much. It’s not so much about writing romance (not my genre) but about pushing our own boundaries.

    • You’re right, Claire–it is a shame I didn’t just push through and finish my novel! I suppose I could go back, but I’d have to start from bottom up. Who knows though. Might be worth it. I have since finished a separate novel, and like you I pushed myself through in this case. I hit the same roadblocks, but was determined to see it through. My strategy these days is to do a lot of thinking about these difficult scenes…in the shower, in the car, etc. That way, when I do sit down to right I’ve essentially already let my subconscious do all the work.

      Thanks for stopping by! Glad we connected :)

      • Totally get that thing that happens when we distance ourself temporarily and do something meditative or repetitive, hanging out the washing in the sun is where many of my writing problems get resolved. Love it!

  8. Quanie Mitchell

    I always seem to be writing about women who are getting left at the alter, kicking a man to the curb, or almost running over her love interest’s foot in Sears’ parking lot! When my characters fall in love tragedy seems to follow. I may need to reevaluate things….

  9. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a big time writer of love and all it’s foibles. It’s my favorite subject to explore, next to the mystery of writing and writer’s quirks. It’s harder to sell a love story to a literary pub, unless of course, people die or lose a limb, but on the other hand, romance books are big and sell a lot of books.

  10. Great post. I do write romance and always struggle n the middle…what happens after the initial meeting but before the drama. Ugh! I’ll read anything with romance in it. You are right, we love to fall in love.

    • I love reading about love too, and I love writing about it even more. I can’t seem to get away from it. But it’s true…it’s a powerful human emotion that people can’t seem to get enough of.

  11. Great post, Katherine. My first book was a romantic fantasy, so there was a lot of romance and relationship-forming going on in there. I tend to write darker material now, so while I edited I had to get in “mush-mode” to really fine tune it. :) I also managed to pep up the courting period, since I’d apparently written a solid meeting and relationship, but the courting was lacking. (This might speak to my dislike of dating, perhaps?) All solved now, and I also fall in love with my characters (shh!). Thanks for a good post, and it’s true—as long as we live it, we’ll be writing and reading about it!

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one! What kind of dark material do you write? Is this also fantasy? I bet the lovin’ can be pretty steamy in a genre like that :) And you know, you’re right…they way we write about romance may be a reflection on our own love lives!

      • Yes, it’s dark fantasy, and it certainly can be steamier, though it doesn’t always have a romantic element. As for the way we write…art mimics life, right? :)

  12. I really enjoyed your post, Katie. It’s given me a lot to think about with my own writing. Thanks! I hope you’re doing well, and it was nice to see you pop onto my blog recently. :)

  13. Abrielle Valencia

    Good post Katherine! I don’t really read romance novels. I typically read books on self-help, spirituality, finances, or leadership. LOL. However, you’ve made me look at certain movies/shows differently. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be one for romance (book wise), but I will forever be a sucker for love and happy endings. :-) Can’t wait for your next post!!

  14. Pingback: Whole Lotta Love (in Books) « Eva Rieder

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