Minna-san, konnichi wa!
In today’s post, I will be discussing six facets to incorporating romance within your novel, whether romance is your main genre or subplot.
Please note that my current WIP is a paranormal mystery with a romantic subplot and features the MC and love interest in a heterosexual and monogamous relationship. As such, I will be speaking from my own experience of what should be included within a romantic subplot in order to create a romantic connection between two dynamic characters.
However, the elements that I discuss can be applied to anyone writing romance for the main genre, other characters who aren’t the MC or love interest, polyamorous relationships, and various sexualities.
I will also be discussing my own current WIP, Foreshadowed by Darkness, which is book one in The Foreshadowed Series. And I will be referencing from other books/movies. *No spoilers intended* I’ve even applied some of the same techniques to establish relationships between other characters, though I don’t make it as detailed as I would the main characters.
If you want to know my take on writing romance and learn about the six elements of creating a blossoming romance between your characters, and if you’re interested in learning more about Foreshadowed by Darkness, then read on for more below.
Why Should I Include Romance in My Novel?
Let me make one thing clear: You absolutely don’t have to include romance in your novel. It is not necessary nor is it a requirement in order to tell a compelling story.
However, romance is something to consider when thinking of a subplot that can break up the tension and impact of your story’s main genre whether that be action-adventure, psychological thriller, horror, suspense, a cozy mystery, a paranormal mystery, or any of the other genres I haven’t mentioned that fits within your writing niche.
A romantic subplot can be a way to make the story exciting and relatable. And it adds another layer of dimension to the storyline. It can balance out the story’s tension with the relaxed pace of giving your readers another aspect of your character’s life to root for, especially if done right.
What’s the Deal with Romance?
In my years of reading books, watching movies, hearing what other writers have to say, and writing for myself, it’s clear that romance is a pretty hot and trending topic when it comes to genres and sub-genres. Books and movies that seem to feature another genre entirely sprinkle in some romance.
Movies such as Harry Potter, Spider-Man, and The Lord of the Rings incorporate some sort of romance between characters even though romance isn’t the main focal point of the movie. And books from The Savior’s Series feature primarily a dark fantasy adventure storyline with a romantic subplot.
As you can see, whether the storyline features teenagers experiencing romance for the first time or whether it features the hero trying to save the day and get the girl, the inclusion of romance does incorporate a sense of realism, while breaking apart tension to an otherwise dark, gritty, or fantastical storyline.
1. The Encounter
When two characters meet or are introduced, there should be an initial spark, which ignites a fire that fuels the relationship. There should be a reason for the encounter, it should be natural, and it should be sparked by an immediate attraction or an initial loathing.
What I mean by this is your characters can either start off on the right foot or they can get off on the wrong foot, but whatever foot you decide to stand on should set the characters up for future encounters.
A good first encounter, introduction, or impression between your MC and their love interest, or whichever characters you’ve decided to ship, should involve a situation where they are destined to meet or are thrown together by a situation or event, one that usually has to do with the plot of your story.
Here are some examples, which features enemies to lovers and love at first sight type of scenario:
A Walk to Remember, which feature Jamie Sullivan, a shy, awkward high school girl, and Landon Carter, her popular schoolmate. Their difference in social status and the pressures of maintaining the status quo coerces them into keeping their distance and even pushes Landon to belittle Jamie in front of his friends.
In Atonement, it is clear to the reader early on that Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner were former schoolmates at a university, and their disdain for one another is made apparent as they run in different social circles, where subtle passive-aggressiveness takes hold of Cecilia as Robbie thinks about enrolling in medical school, which will most likely be funded by Cecilia’s father.
Many people would argue that Romeo and Juliet is an enemies to lovers tale, but at the risk of singling myself out, it is the families who are at war with each other, not the couple as the story features Romeo Montague who instantly falls in love with Juliet Capulet upon meeting her at the Capulet’s ball in a tale of forbidden romance.
And of course, Foreshadowed by Darkness features Vivian Knightly — an investigative journalist and reporter — and Landon Klein — a detective. The two meet as they are both investigating the same crimes that are being perpetrated by a serial killer in New York City, and they instantly get off on the wrong foot. Landon perceives Vivian to be a typical nosy reporter who is in way over her head, whereas Vivian sees Landon as an arrogant male who has no idea who he’s up against.
Despite their initial loathing, Vivian and Landon are forced to work together to solve a crime, just as Landon is roped into participating in a school production with Jamie, and Cecilia is unable to avoid Robbie as he is also a gardener at her family’s estate. And thus sets in motion the build-up of a relationship.
2. The Build-Up
After the two characters meet or are introduced to the readers for the first time, it is important to take the time to build the relationship through constant interactions.
Never rush the relationship and never force any character in an unnatural or awkward situation. This type of situation can be referred to as an insta-romance and even though feelings may develop through initial reactions and decent first impressions, the relationship should never move too quickly, and no one should be dropping the L-bomb within the first few chapters. This tactic of trying to woo the readers and get them rooting for a prospective match may instead come across as unrealistic, creepy, or a cliche, depending on the reader.
Characters need time to get to know each other so they can build healthy relationships, and readers need time to get to know the characters to have a relationship worth rooting for. Tension is a good way to bring your characters closer together and to form the basis of a deep and meaningful relationship.
3. The Tension
Tension is a good way to add depth and bring intimacy to a couple. And a great place to start is with the tension of your story’s overall plot as this is what initially brings them together and what will establish and stabilize a profound intimacy between your characters.
Tension doesn’t necessarily have to come from the plot, though it is a good place to start, it can come from anywhere the characters struggle, such as from society, nature, or even themselves. Tension can also come before or after the couple realizes their feelings for each other.
Referring back to earlier examples:
In A Walk to Remember, Landon begins to fall for Jamie as he spends more time with her which causes tension between Landon and his friends and becomes a threat to a prospective relationship between Landon and Jamie. This results in Landon choosing to defend Jamie against his friends.
Problems escalate in Atonement as Cecilia and Robbie continue to bicker, which lead them to break a vase. Cecilia dives into the fountain to collect the broken pieces of the vase and when she reemerges, Robbie begins to evaluate his feelings for Cecilia, which prompts him to write a letter. Upon reading the letter, Cecilia realizes that her disdain for Robbie is stemmed from harboring feelings for him.
This sets in motion the plot of the story when jealousy ensues and Robbie is accused of a crime he did not commit, thus separating the couple and solidifying their feelings towards each other, which makes the break out of war more bearable.
In Romeo and Juliet, tensions escalate when Juliet’s cousin Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel as revenge for sneaking into the Capulet’s ball, and when he refuses, this leads to a fatal clash between the two warring families.
Secrets between couples are also great for providing tension as well as they can either make or break the relationship.
In Foreshadowed by Darkness, Vivian keeps a secret from Landon — a secret that nearly threatens to subdue their investigative partnership and squash any prospective relationship. This forces Vivian to decide if she can trust Landon enough with her secret and may be the key to fortifying their relationship.
Tension is a good way of solidifying the relationship between characters, but also a way to gradually build up the relationship and to showcase compatibility between characters.
4. The Compatibility
In addition to the above points of building a relationship from the ground up and adding tension to strengthen a relationship, compatibility is a good way to display the cause and effect of a wrench thrown in the path of your characters. In this case, the initial tension or main problem depicted is enough to bring out some of the best but also the most vulnerable qualities of your characters.
Let’s look at a few examples of this:
A Walk to Remember shows Landon defending Jamie against his friends. This creates a rift between Landon and his friends and brings Landon and Jamie together. Landon’s personality becomes softer and his encounter with Jamie becomes a catalyst that sets Landon on a path of seeking redemption and mending relationships. And Jamie’s secret unravels a startling revelation about just how precious life is. Landon’s driven attitude and Jamie’s pure personality make their relationship stronger than ever.
In Atonement, Robbie is forced to enlist in the army as a condition of staying out of prison, while Cecilia becomes a nurse and vows to cease all communication with her family. They meet once before Robbie is stationed in France and from there, the only thing keeping him afloat during the war is the thought of seeing Cecilia again. Both Cecilia and Robbie display a tenacious disposition as they harbor resentment from those who betrayed them while keeping the memories of each other alive as motivation to endure the war. This brings about a steadfast side to their relationship, making their love for each other impenetrable.
The aftermath of the duel within Romeo and Juliet enables Romeo to secretly spend the night with Juliet before their initial plan to get married. This sets in motion a plan for Juliet to fake her death so that she can be reunited with Romeo. And even though we all know how this played out, the Montagues and the Capulets’ warring feud causes a schism, which irrevocably sets in motion a love so fortified that it ends tragically.
In Foreshadowed by Darkness, Vivian and Landon are a lot alike in some ways. Their abrasive demeanors toward one another, in the beginning, correlate to the horrors of their past. Although his skeptical nature and immediate denial of Vivian’s capabilities, inspired his initial distrust and reservations toward her, he soon realizes that they are two sides of the same coin as the qualms of the investigation push them closer together and reveal another side to their personalities as Landon’s determination and Vivian’s compassion make them an unstoppable force.
When the investigation eventually turns the tables on Vivian, Landon is forced to choose between the only job that will give closure to his past or Vivian — the person who opened him up to trust and resolution.
5. The Set-Up
Now keep in mind that when you do set the stage for a potential romance, the points that I mentioned above don’t need to be done in any particular order, except for maybe the first point — the encounter. But in some cases, tension can come before or after the set-up. Much like the build-up, tension can come gradually and continually throughout the novel.
Where the encounter sets the stage for the set-up, the set-up sets the stage for a moment of vulnerability between characters, which then leads into “the moment”.
Within A Walk to Remember, Landon begins acknowledging his feelings for Jamie during the school production as they share their first on-stage kiss. And when Landon begins to fall for Jamie, tensions arise as his friends grow jealous of their relationship.
Atonement sets the stage for the future of Cecilia and Robbie’s relationship. Cecilia leads Robbie to the library and reciprocates her repressed feelings for him, which leads to a moment of intimacy followed by an act of betrayal, which sets their relationship on a different course than what they expected.
In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo instantly falls for Juliet at the Capulet’s ball; however, it wasn’t until Romeo sneaks into the orchard where he overhears Juliet professing her love for him in which Romeo lets his presence be known and the two make plans to get married.
Vivian and Landon’s relationship in Foreshadowed by Darkness intensifies when the two leads sit down and have an actual conversation. They both learn more about the other’s past. This encounter allows them to be intimate and will set forth a series of events that may cost one person their job and the other their life.
6. The Moment
It’s the moment that we’ve all been waiting for. That we’ve all been rooting for. So what can you expect?
Well, there are two kinds of moments to consider when building a steady relationship between characters.
- The moment the characters acknowledge and consummate their feelings for one another, which can be done by professing their feelings, kissing, or (in the case of the literal term) having sex, depending on the situation and characters involved. And…
- A moment that sets the stage for the future of the relationship, which may or may not occur at the same time as the first moment.
In A Walk to Remember, Landon first realizes his initial feelings for Jamie at the school production and shares a kiss with her, which does set in motion the future of their relationship as Landon becomes determined to spend more time with Jamie and ends up falling in love with her in the process.
Within Atonement, the moment occurs when Cecilia leads Robbie to the library and makes love to him for the first time. This becomes the set-up for future events, which ultimately lead to Robbie’s arrest and enrollment in the military and it becomes the basis of creating a fortified love despite lack of propinquity as they soon become separated by war.
Romeo & Juliet sets the stage for a relationship doomed by warring families. Romeo’s encounter with Juliet during the balcony scene as they profess their feelings for one another and agree to be wed forms the basis for what is to come later in the relationship as Romeo’s initial refusal to battle Tybalt will undeniably lead to destruction and death and will inevitably prelude the doom that is bound to occur before the impending nuptials.
And Vivian and Landon’s deep and meaningful conversation allows them to profess their feelings for each other before becoming intimately involved within Foreshadowed by Darkness. Their profound intimacy and general propinquity trigger a series of events that will test the sincerity, certainty, and fortification of their relationship.
What to Avoid When Writing Romance
Here are some things to avoid when writing romance:
When writing romance, NEVER rush or force your characters into a premature relationship and never relay the L-word within the first few chapters of the story. It’s okay for your characters to have an initial attraction and a deep like for one another from the get-go, but still, allow the characters to take the time to get to know each other before arranging for any upcoming nuptials. And definitely take the time to build up to any pivotal moments in their relationship, such as a profession of love, a first kiss, an act of intimacy, or an I Do.
When writing romance, NEVER involve characters in a relationship where one or both persons have committed an unforgivable act. If you do fashion a character who was involved in any unspeakable acts, then you’re setting the relationship up to head for a disastrous road. And your character will be unlikeable to your readers unless you intend to make them unlikeable, which in this case you are inclined to do so, such as when crafting your villain.
When writing romance, ALWAYS consider the type of romance you want to tell whether the romance is based on initial attraction or an enemy to lover type of situation.
You MIGHT consider creating a situation where the couple may not see eye to eye right away as this creates drama, heightens the tension, showcases the characters’ differences, and highlights their similarities. However, the direction you decide to take your characters’ relationship and the type of romance you want to display is completely up to you. So you do whatever makes you comfortable and happy. 😉
When writing romance, ALWAYS deliver at some point. It is okay to tease the reader with a prospective romance and a gradual build-up to the moment that your readers have been waiting for, but don’t take too long — like the last chapter of the book long — and don’t spend the entire book teasing the reader and then failing to deliver.
Also, DON’T underdeliver or backtrack on the romance. For example, I once read a book where the couple doesn’t even get together till the end of the book and when they did get together, they ended up hating each other, the characters involved said horrible things to one another, and the protagonist committed an aggressive act towards the love interest. And it left me feeling like: What the heck did I just read? 😧
Sources that Might be Helpful
Here are some articles and videos that might be helpful when writing romance, a romantic subplot, or romantic relationships. These go into detail about some of the tropes, acts, or tips that I mentioned above, and may cover aspects of romance that I haven’t covered in this post:
Storytelling Tropes: Insta-Love (Article)
3 Unforgivable Character Sins (Article)
How to Write Romance (Video)
How to Write a Healthy Romance (Video)
10 Worst Romance Tropes (Video)
Also, check out Jenna’s other videos. She has one specifically for writing kissing scenes and sex scenes for those who want more in-depth details on how to write those specific scenes.
How to Write Romance in Your Novel (Article)
Thank you for staying with me this far!!! This is my first informational post as I tend to ramble on. I tried my best to relay relevant information based on research, and my own experience.
I’ve made this post just in time for Valentine’s Day and wanted to come up with a Valentine’s Day-inspired topic that ties in nicely with fictional writing.
I hope that you enjoy reading it just as much as I enjoyed writing it. And if you have any additions, alterations, or advice of your own, then please leave them in the comments below. Just note, that the points I’ve mentioned above are what I implement in my own writing and it is what currently works for me and my writing process.
If you want to stay up-to-date on new posts including when I’ve made progress on The Foreshadowed Series, then feel free to follow me or any of my social media links below.
I will be back with another post next Friday at 10:30 AM PST. So stay tuned!!!
What are some of your favorite romance tropes? Or what is the best piece of advice you have for someone writing romance? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, ja mata ne,