So everybody knows that this is the month of loooooovvveeee, right? I mean, it’s February. And even though only one day this month is actually about love, you’ll doubtlessly be bashed over the head countless times over the next few weeks about how in love you’re supposed to be and how lame you are if you are, in fact, a single pringle (like myself). Well, don’t worry. I’m not here to shame you for being single. I’m here to shame your characters being single. Because that’s better, right?
Anyway, before we get into today’s topic, which is writing a realistic romantic relationship, I wanted to quickly remind y’all that I’m always looking for topic recommendations for these posts, which can be sent to me via Twitter and Tumblr Ask, or in the comments section of the corresponding YouTube video to this post, which can be found here. Okay, now back to your regularly scheduled content.
First of all, I do want to say that you actually aren’t obligated to include a romantic relationship in your novel if you don’t want to or don’t feel like it’s necessary. In fact, I know a lot of people who would like less romance in the books they read. I mean, I’m not one of those people, and books without some kind of romantic subplot usually aren’t for me, but we all know none of you care about what I want, right? So don’t feel like you have to put any kind of relationship into your book just because there’s some kind of pressure, because that pressure doesn’t actually exist. Well, except if your novel is a romance. Then a romantic relationship is kind of essential. But other than that, you’re free to do whatever the hell you want.
This post, then, is for those of you who are looking to add a spicy little romantic subplot (or main plot) into your novel. And, I mean, you’d think that’d be easy, right? Take two characters, make ’em smooch, and there ya have it! LOVE! Right? Yes? That’s how that works? Well, not really.
What you really need is chemistry. And no, I’m not talking about the second worst class I was ever forced to take in high school (the first worst was Physics with Mr. Smith, in case you were curious). Nah, I’m talking about the kind of chemistry that makes you fan yourself like a middle-aged woman going through menopause. If a reader isn’t struck by how perfect these two characters would be together, you’re missing something pretty big. And that something could totally break your story, if you aren’t careful.
So how do you create chemistry between two fictional characters? Well, one thing is that you can’t rush their burgeoning relationship. There’s this thing readers like to call insta-love, and it’s a big no-no. Insta-love comes about when two characters meet cute and then are immediately all over each other. Though, this isn’t to say that you need to write a forty-five chapter slow-burn angst novel, either. There’s a nice balance in there somewhere, and that balance depends on the rest of your story. Does the plot revolve around the fact that these two characters need to be together asap? Okay, well then dedicate a chapter to showing them falling for each other, maybe a series of dates or moments that led up to them falling head over heels for each other.
And if your story falls on the other end of the spectrum, where the plot doesn’t require them to get together right away or maybe even requires a slow-burn, then all you have to do is make sure you provide the reader with moments that show why these characters belong together. Trust me, this is the fun part. Provide moments where there’s obvious romantic and/or sexual tension between your characters. You know what I’m talking about. One character gets hurt and the other has to dress the wound. One character is emotional about something and the other character is there to support them. Etc, etc.
Also, don’t forget that romantic chemistry also comes from having things in common. It can be big, obvious things, like rooting for the same sports team, or something more subtle, like a shared sense of humor or emotional trauma. What matters is that there has to be something that ties your characters together, or else why, realistically, would they like each other? (And, yes, your characters should like each other, if you’re going to put them in a relationship with each other.) Even the two most polar opposite people can have at least one thing in common, and that’s usually what attracts them to each other.
Another thing to remember about chemistry is that you can’t just ignore it once you get your two characters together. If you want them to stay together, the chemistry has to stay. Sure, it can (and should) change and evolve with their relationship, but it can’t just fly out the window once you’ve achieved your goal of getting them together. If you let that slide, your readers won’t be happy. They’ll wonder why these characters are even together if there’s no indication that they even like each other anymore. This is especially important if you get your characters together relatively quickly. No matter what these two characters go through from that point on, the chemistry has to remain if you want them to still (realistically) be together by the end of the novel. Even if they’re fighting or broken up, there needs to be that palpable draw between them that makes the reader think, “Yes, there’s something here worth saving.”
And keep in mind that the best way to keep your reader invested in a romantic relationship between two characters is to draw out the big moments (you know, to avoid that insta-love thing I mentioned earlier). Have the characters almost kiss, but then the moment is interrupted. Tease the idea of sex but push it off until the sexual tension is just too much. I mean, if you hit all of the big relationship milestones at once, there isn’t much room for the relationship to grow past that. Just like the rest of your book, it’s all about pacing. Drawing things out for the sake of drama.
And that’s all I’ve got for today! Remember, chemistry is key when writing romantic relationships! Without it, a relationship just doesn’t make sense! Let me know in the comments below what fictional couples you feel have the most chemistry, and which ones just fall flat for you! I’d love to know! (My favorite literary couple is Rose and Dimitri from the Vampire Academy series, if you were curious.)