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.
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.
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.
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.