Earning Romance

I'm a self-confessed hopeless romantic who believes in love at first sight and soul mates and even true love.  Books are a wonderful place to explore these concepts and nothing gets me turning the pages more than a great romance.

The best romantic writers make it look easy.  But there is so much more to a satisfying romance than boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.  It has to be earned.  I love good chemistry as much as the next person, but I need to know why these two belong together, why they can't be just as happy with some other hot person who makes their blood run hot.

One of the dangers of writing romance is that the couple comes off as superficial, and the reader never invests in the emotional connection between the characters.  This is something I struggle with.  I fell confident I can infuse enough tension and fireworks to make it clear the couple is attracted to each other, but that's just scratching the surface.  How can a writer show the growing emotional ties that make the reader swoon?

I don't pretend to have the answer, but here are some things that I like to see.

1.  Complications:  A couple earns their romance by overcoming obstacles to be together.  Maybe its a past indiscretion, a competing love interest, a fear of intimacy, a family feud, a class distinction, a lie.  Sure, you can have a couple meet, grow closer and live happily ever after, but as readers, we're more invested (and interested) if the couple has to work for it.

2.  Real Intimacy:  I'm a huge fan of Spencer/Tracy or Bennet/Darcy style banter in romance.  I love it.  But while flirtatious arguments can build the tension, there has to be something more.  Quieter, real moments when the couple shares personal experiences and begin to really understand each other.

3.  Chemistry:  I know, I know, chemistry alone does not a romance make. But even the biggest obstacles and true intimacy won't get me invested if there is no chemistry between the couple.  Without chemistry, the story might as well be about siblings or best friends.  The romance can be sweet or sexy, but there has to be some real attraction between the couple.

4.  Likeable Characters:  Even with all of the above in place, I can't care about a romance if I don't like the people involved.  I don't want Pollyannas, but each partner needs to have some redeeming qualities that make them likeable.  As a reader, I want to fall in love along with the heroine, but I can't do that if I can't relate to her.  And I want to fall in love with the hero.  For me, this is what keeps me reading into the night. Give the characters some flaws and quirks that make them come alive, but don't forget to make them sympathetic and lovable.  That's really the point, isn't it. 

Some things that I can do without in romance:

1. Obstacles that are Too Easily Overcome:  Nothing makes me feel cheated more than an obstacle that keeps the couple apart for the entire book, but could be easily overcome if the couple just talked to each other.  Usually this involves a misunderstanding that is obvious or readily explained.

2.  Characters that are One Dimensional: While this is true of any book, it is magnified in romance.  Romance is all about the characters and how they come together emotionally.  No emotional depth equals death to romance.  

3.  The Happy Ending:  What?  No happily ever after?  Get out the hankies.  Some of the most romantic stories involve characters who tragically never end up together.  Think Romeo and Juliet, Gone with the Wind, Love Story. You care about the love story even though it doesn't end the way you hoped.  Why?  Great romance is about the journey, not the end.  It's about believing in this couple and their destiny even when it doesn't end well.  Talk about earned. 


Great post! And I'm thrilled to hear my current WIP is nailing all these points. :D

Ohhh, the obstacles that are too easily overcome I totally get! I hate it when it's just a simple misunderstanding. All the things you mentioned are very true.

Found this post via Stina - and it's great! I'm a sucker for a good romance, and this breaks it down nicely.

Thank you. Stina, I'm glad to hear your WIP is hitting on all of these points- sounds like something I'd love to read!

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