Seeing as it’s the day after Valentines’, I thought it was an appropriate subject to talk about romance in the context of literature and writing. I had been planning on writing a long, somewhat ranty post about how we view romance in our society, but then I realized that this is a writing blog and not really a blog for me to talk about social issues, as much as I may be fired up over them (because I usually regret it when I write posts like that anyway).
So instead I’m just going to rip into how people write romance instead. As a quick disclaimer, I will say that I don’t read strictly romance stories (unless Ouran High School Host Club counts), nor do I write them. As such, I am going to be touching more on the idea of romance “subplots” and developments in other stories that aren’t of the “romance” genre, though I believe some of what I say should apply to those sorts of stories as well.
When I was much younger and just starting out writing, I swore to myself that I would never put romance in any of my stories. Yeah, that turned around real fast. Most of my longer works have some form of romance in them now, whether it’s a big part of the story or just a small little kiss between a husband and wife. Now I myself have never been in a romantic relationship with anybody, but I (and many others who have read my stuff) feel that I have gotten the romance bit down pat, as it never feels cheesy or forced. It’s all natural. How do I do this? It’s very simple.
The answer is to treat romance as character development, not as plot development like so many people do. The writing curriculum I took in high school talked about romantic subplots, but I myself am a firm believer in never using them for subplots. I’ve seen many people who have done this and they run into problems such as, “How do I weave this subplot in with the main plot without it seeming weird or forced?” “This romance isn’t working out because these characters don’t connect, what do I do?”
If you let a romance between two characters happen naturally (i.e. character development), instead of saying in the outline “these two people should get together” when actually they aren’t compatible at all, the romance will seem stiff and unnatural and just awkward and embarrassing to read. It gets even worse when people try to do things to make it more romantic like having the characters try very hard to do romantic things together (candlelit dinner, flowers or chocolates, all that cliche romantic stuff you can think of).
“But romance can be part of a plot,” you may say. Yes, it can, but any sort of character development can affect a plot. Having the hero saving a damsel in distress can be driven by his love for that damsel. But it doesn’t have to strictly always be romantic love. It could be a member of his family, or one of his best (platonic) friends. Which brings me to another point.
When writing a romance between two characters, they need to have some former connection first. The whole “love at first sight thing” is dumb and generally feels forced as well. It’s better to have the two characters be friends first and show them as friends before making them be together (unless they’re together from the start of the story, but in this case I’m talking about a “falling in love” story not an “already in love” story). I’ve seen a lot of stories where two characters start to fall in love, but they don’t really know each other before that point and it feels strange. Or there are stories of “hero saves a damsel in distress” and they might not even know each other but it doesn’t matter because once he saves her they’re instantly in love. I think it makes the character connection stronger when you show them as friends rather than lovers for most of it. Now there is a trope of “she’s my best friend and then we fell in love” that can be kind of annoying, but if done right, it’s wonderful.
Romance, in the sense of true love and not just two characters lusting after each other, can be a tricky thing to balance and write correctly. I think part of the reason I was so against it when I was younger, aside from not having any interest in romance, was the fact that all the romance I had seen up to that point was horribly written and cheesy and thus felt fake. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate well written romances between characters and hope that people will fall in love with my characters just as they’ve fallen in love with each other. But please, do not go and be a crazy shipper who sees two characters that just sit close to each other and maybe brush against each other and go wild with fantasies of passionate romances between them.