Adding a love story into a book can seriously up a writer’s game or toss the writer down a very rocky mountain of embarrassment.
Operating on the assumption that nobody wants to be tossed off a mountain to be eaten by vicious reviewers, I will give you five pointers on how to write a romance that will have readers swooning over the love story you’ve concocted long after they turned the last page.
1) Start with an interesting premise…
that sets stars dancing in your eyes.
You have to be excited by the story you want to tell. Be it a traditional romance, dystopian YA, or steampunk fantasy, it has to be a tale like no other. I know, I know, you probably have a giant list of all the stories you want to tell (in my case, it’s an Excel spreadsheet) but that doesn’t mean any of those stories are fit enough to become a novel. So my advice is to go through the list and think of each and every one as a friend you will be spending a lot of time with for the next few years. The story premise you pick has to be exciting and romantic, yes, but it also has to have room for character development, thematic depth, and mind blowing (metaphorically speaking). It also has to have the ability to carry itself because in the future, as you’re wading through your draft and none of your characters are talking to each other or to you, you will have the urge to click that red button with an X and forget about the 43,785 words of utter garbage you spewed out on to the page when you thought you were writing. And if there isn’t something that will motivate you to finish the story you started, it’s going to turn into a DNF project that will mar your conscience forever.
So what is it, that thing that will autopilot your story when you can’t? Is it your desire to show true love, to save the world, to bring joy to the lives of your readers? Whatever it is, find it and pair it with the story that your mind has been whispering to you about the entire time you’ve been reading my blog.
They are probably a match made in heaven.
2) Develop your characters into flawed human beings…
that they are supposed to be.
Humans aren’t perfect, okay? And even if they were, perfect humans do not a perfect story make. Alright, repeat after me, perfect humans do not a perfect story make.
Mary Sues and Gary Stues are boring and predictable and unrelatable. The love story you’re trying to tell will not make people’s hearts beat if the girl is a perfect, beautiful princess who does no wrong and the guy is a perfect, handsome prince who does no wrong. See how boring that sentence was?
Hey, wake up!
Try this instead, the girl is a blind, daughter of a jail-keeper and the guy is an idealistic priest who’s to be executed for illegally helping soldiers of the Roman Empire get married. Now, wouldn’t you want to know how that story ends? Why with the guy being executed, right after healing the girl’s blindness and sending her the very first valentine in the history of valentines.
And yes, for those of you familiar with this story, I am indeed referring to Julia and St. Valentine.
What a difference, am I right or am I right?
So make sure that your protagonists have believable flaws and character arcs that develop as the plot unfurls. If you are writing about a princess, make her the kind of princess nobody wants to be their next queen. As for the prince, give him some questionable morals, such as wanting to murder his step-father for treason. And let the fun of trying to make them likable and relatable and in love begin.
3) Put obstacles in between their eternal love…
and I don’t mean a page long fight that gets resolved the next page.
You can have quarrels, sure, but make certain they have at least some kind of an impact on the love you’re writing about. What purpose does that quarrel accomplish? If you don’t have a legitimate answer (and no, adding drama doesn’t count as a legitimate answer) ditch that scene. Make sure the obstacles tie in with the bigger conflict and the themes of your story.
Every romantic fight, just as any fight scene, has to have high stakes to make it interesting. Their fights have to reveal something about themselves, their relationship and help the couple grow by strengthening their love. With that being said, the obstacles that arise between a couple also have to come from sources other than themselves. For example, if anybody is familiar with Korean Dramas, a lot of the conflict comes from the family of the rich playboy who falls in love with a poor country bumpkin. It never gets old.
Or, you know, you could use alien attacks to keep your couple on edge. Whatever you want.
Be creative and make sure that everything ties in with the plot. That means no random bursts of amnesia that get healed the next morning without leaving a dent in the relationship.
4) Think of every romantic cliché that’s made you cringe…
and avoid it like the plague.
Don’t get me wrong, romantic clichés can do wonders for the romance if done correctly (check out the drama Autumn’s Concerto for real life proof). Just think of kissing in the rain, gazing at the stars, sharing deep dark secrets, getting a makeover! Unfortunately, more often than not, those clichés are executed with a sloppy laziness that douses the amore in a fire resistant coating that makes it effectively impossible to start a spark, much less a fire.
So my advice is to make a list of every cliché that made you want to hurl in the bushes and… avoid using it to create the mood in your book.
A few of my personal pet peeves are:
-Love at first sight (am I supposed to believe that those two idiots fell in love after their multicolored eyes met for the first time? Yeah, not happening)
-Love triangle (if done well, I think it adds tension, but most of the time it makes the protagonist look like an indecisive ninny)
-Love stalking (do I really need to explain how creepy it is when someone stalks you? Trust me, it’s very disturbing and kills all the romantic vibes)
-Couple vision (I didn’t know what else to call it but what I mean here is when the love interest becomes so prominent in the protagonist’s life that the latter forgets about the existence of his or her family and friends)
5) Don’t rush it…
and ruin the magic.
Stop trying to get to the kissing scenes without doing all the work, for goodness’ sake. Be patient with your characters, take the time to fall in love with them and discover their endearing quirks. What makes them tick? How did they meet each other? What did they think of each other when they first met? Who was the first one to fall in love? Who was the first one to admit it out loud? What dangers/troubles did they go through for each other and why?
All of these are vital questions if you want to write a slow burn romance that comes close to the real magic of love.
So go ahead, take this advice that I bestowed upon you in honor of Valentine’s Day and whip up a bit of love magic for your book.
(The enchanting art of Cupid and Psyche belongs to Ninidu on DeviantArt)
I post tips such as these and more every Monday, so don’t forget to follow PlatinumWriter. And if you have a question about writing that I could answer, comment below.