1. Character chemistry develops naturally. What I mean is, not all characters are going to have this hot-and-heavy physical relationship five minutes after they meet each other, even if they have an electric first impression, and the true emotional core of a melty romance takes time to build. Some characters can't stand one another off the bat, but then slowly, these little moments of connection naturally draw them closer together in a way that doesn't feel forced. Consider ELEANOR & PARK, for example – their relationship build-up wasn't rushed at all. Each time the characters were in a scene together, their connection grew deeper in some form, but the author provided the time for this to happen organically, and in accordance with their personalities. Character chemistry is related to pacing. A melty romance has a natural pace to it – too fast, and the reader might question the chemistry; Too slow, and that emotional resonance might just not be there. (For the record, when I was querying a year ago, an agent told me that my main characters went from strangers to so-in-love too quickly, and that she didn't buy it. Something I've been working on this last year.) Melty romances have to ring true!
2. "Forbidden Fruit" and "Opposite Worlds" romances build tension. Forbidden fruit romances are, as the name suggests, forbidden in some shape or form. This could be as a direct rule (i.e. parents not allowing the character to date someone) or on the emotional level (i.e. protagonist doesn't want to tell his best friend he's in love with her, for fear their friendship will end.) Consider ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. When Anna first meets Etienne St. Clair, he has a serious girlfriend. He's off-limits! But totally hot! What's Anna to do? She can't not be attracted to him. Anna's swooning – and the eventual, satisfying, emotional connection between the two – makes this romance oh-so-melty. Opposite world romances play the opposites attract card– think Aria and Perry in UNDER THE NEVER SKY. Aria's from an enclosed city (a "dweller"), and Perry's a "savage" Outsider. How could two people so different fall in love – and how can their romance ever make it, given the realities of their world? That tension contributes to great, page-turning plot. In DIVERGENT, for example, Tris and Four fall in love, but Four was a leader of Dauntless and she was a faction newbie under his training. This has a bit of opposite world romance too, but not entirely, because of Four's birth faction. In your book, consider the external factors at play, and see how you can dial up what's at stake for the romance to boost reader interest, grow the characters' emotional bond with one another, and make it meltier than ever.
3. Love triangles are popular – but not always necessary. Love triangles are obviously not a new concept, but it does seem like as of late, there's an abundance of them in books. I'm not opposed to love triangles, don't get me wrong. And at the writing strategy level, I totally understand why it could keep a reader immersed in the pages, and the fandom fun of preferring one love interest over another (Team Jacob!). But I find myself increasingly attracted to books where a love triangle isn't needed to create a melty romance – I think it's because it feels less gimmicky to me as a reader right now. Back to ELEANOR & PARK. It was always just them. And that's all I wanted there to be. They hooked me to care about them as individuals, and then as a couple. Their love story is one that lingered with me long after I finished reading the book. Romantic plot lines can have a love triangle, but it's not necessary to make it resonate as sexy & melty with the reader.
4. Romantic chemistry needs to be off-the-charts. When a romantic connection builds in a natural way, and the characters' emotional and physical connection is unstoppably strong it just leaps from the page, that's melty. To rev up the romantic chemistry between your characters, consider investing time into multiple facets of their relationship. Do their emotions and intentions ring true in what they say, and don't say, to one another? Are there enough external conflicts that challenge either the overall health of their relationship, or the status of the romance altogether? Is there enough sexual tension between them? This doesn't have to mean the act of sex, either – it can be related to their physical awareness of one another (Talia wrote a great blog post on this which you should totally read.) Also, melty romances are ones that readers root for – We believe the couple is meant for each other, and they belong together. We want their love to endure the test of time! Character chemistry must be founded in emotion first and foremost, but adding in tension, physical connection, and external conflicts build a melty, romantic cocktail for the reader.
What else should we add to this list? What makes a romance "melty" to you, as a reader & a writer?
I was talking with an agent the other day, and she mentioned that YA books doing well in acquisitions/sales had a "melty romance."...