Characterization Part III
Characters in a Romance
This is not a how-to post. It's not even a suggestion post. It's a disjointed list of the things I find personally important when it comes to writing characters who are in romantic relationships.
I will readily admit that the romantic elements of any story are not my strong suit. Chemistry, sex, relationships...I write better friendships and action sequences. So please take this week's WW post with a grain of salt, or skip it altogether if that's more your speed.
Alright, on to the list:
- I want every character in my books to have value as individuals, which means I don't ever write anyone solely for the purposes of providing someone with a love interest. I want them all to stand on their own, to have their own hopes and dreams, and problems. I can't force it - that's why, sometimes, when readers request that I write a book for so-and-so character, I can't give them a firm answer because I haven't found "the one" for him or her yet.
- In that same vein: no cipher characters. No females who are empty shells into which the readers can pour themselves so that they can feel they are personally experiencing the romance that unfolds. Reading is the ultimate vicarious experience, yes, but I prefer love stories in which both parties are fully-fleshed, believable, and in which their love feels real and important. I'm happy for them - not wishing I was one of them, if that makes sense.
- If I could pick a theme song, it would be "That Don't Impress Me Much" by Shania Twain. "Okay, so what, do you think you're Elvis or something? Whatever." Okay, so the leading man is a biker, a firefighter, a cowboy, an MMA fighter, a Navy SEAL. Why? There's that old "why" question again from Part I. His profession, his name, his tattoos - none of those things by themselves are what make him lovable. And I want him to be lovable - to the audience, sure, but mostly to the person who's falling in love with him.
- It's not enough to simply describe both parties as attractive. They have to be attractive to each other, and that's a total package kind of deal. Physical traits play a part in it, sure, but it has to go deeper than that. There has to be compatibility, mutual interests, real caring and emotion. In a really great love story, it doesn't matter what the characters do for a living or how much money they have - we, as the audience, are starry-eyed because their love is so perfect and meant-to-be.
- Making a "Why" list can be a great way to figure out the characters' romantic journey. Why are they drawn to one another? Why each other specifically and not someone else? Why are they resistant? Or, why are they falling so quickly? The more time you spend asking yourself about the reasons why they work, the stronger the relationship is going to be on paper.
- Remember that you want the audience to fall in love with the couple as a unit, but, as previously stated, if the romantic elements were removed, the individuals in the couple should still have compelling emotional journeys throughout the novel.
- Names don't make characters sexy; characters elevate names to sexy status.
- Not every reader wants the same kind of romance. Got an idea that doesn't fit the mold? A hero who isn't alpha? There's someone out there who wants to read that (probably me!).
When I'm writing, it's always characters first, romance second. A little spice and sex won't magically make boring, flat characters more interesting, nor fix a weak plot. In my approach, if the book is a cake, the romance is the sprinkles and candles on top. I like to think of it as people we love falling in love with each other.