For a very long time in my pre-original writing career, I considered myself a romantic comedy style writer. The idea that I could write adventure stories with romantic comedy elements in them wasn’t an epiphany of sorts but rather something that gradually happened over time and by rejecting the notion that all urban fantasy or dystopia or science fantasy had to be mysteries and solving crime. I don’t really know how to write they solve crime.
I came at writing through an aspect of trial and error and lots and lots of reading other fiction works. I played with other people’s characters for years and had to work out of a really dark place before settling on creating original characters that I loved as much, if not more, than other people’s characters. All those years writing other people’s characters though gave me a good foundation on which to build my original writing. I had a fairly decent following in some very specific places so, I must have been doing something right. (I hope.)
So, here are some of the things I do when I’m writing romantic chemistry.
Both characters need to find the other character attractive! I mentioned in my post last week about Writing Romantic Chemistry that there are many types of attraction and that physical attraction is usually the first thing we notice about each other. (Unless you’re me and I go, oh, that person would make a good werewolf.) Short, tall, skinny, curvy, flat as a board, round, sharp, blue eyes, brown eyes, brunette, blonde, red head, no matter what your two characters are, the other person should hopefully find them attractive one way or the other.
Many times in my stories I try to find a feature that each character likes about the other, a feature that may set them apart from the 101 other generic romantic lead characters out there, freckles, the odd shape of the eyes, a distinctive hair color, the way the other character smells (very important in werewolf stories), in order to give the reader a point of reference and a way to say ‘this character is unique.’
Acknowledgement that the Other Character Exists:
Now, attraction is all well and good and I know there are readers who love the whole unrequited love angst trope. When I’m writing a couple though, each character has to know that the other character exists in the same sphere with them as a man or a woman to be desired and loved. If one character doesn’t acknowledge the other is there and available then the whole relationship is never going to get off the ground.
In fact, that can be a good conflict. One character loves the other. The other sees them as friend, acquaintance, nuisance, surrogate sibling, insert relationship of choice here. One is physically and sexually and romantically attracted to the other and the other is completely oblivious. It may take work and effort before the one who is oblivious can ‘see’ what is right in front of them. Yay conflict! Yay story! After that you can add some denial and bargaining and unresolved sexual tension. Lots of fun.
In some fashion, characters need to be opposites of each other. Usually I go for either habits or personality traits. Neat freak versus mess. Laid back versus perfectionist. Wing it versus plans and lists. Because as people and readers we like opposites, tall versus short, light versus dark, hard versus soft. Compositionally, something has to be big and something has to be small to make a painting or sculpture or drawing feel dynamic. It’s the same way with fictional relationships. There has to be a contrast in their present or pasts to create a foil or compliment for each other.
Of course, like yin and yang, each having a little of the other inside themselves, the two must have something in common. Something that will keep them together after the external conflict is done. Something more than good sex and kids. (You can’t base your relationship around your kids. It’s not healthy.) Whether it’s a shared love of a certain style of music, sailing, horseback riding, hiking or extreme base jumping. There has to be something that our two main characters do together that keeps them together in the long run.
Sure, they should also have separate interests. Maybe she likes sports and he likes reading or he plays in a band and she knits/sews/makes lace. There needs to be a hobby or a love of ren faires or medieval culture or art shows or beach bathing that they do together in order to strengthen their bond outside of cuddling and sex. (I find cuddling to be very important.)
Lastly, the characters need to respect each other for who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, and their boundaries. Part of respect is honesty and communication and acknowledgement that you cannot change another person. Unless they want to change, who they are now is who they always will be. I don’t try to feed into this fantasy that a man or woman and really good sex can save another person.
It doesn’t work. Period.
Yes. There are people who like to write unhealthy relationships. I get it. That’s fine. And a lack of respect or boundaries and learning about them and how to communicate can make for a really great conflict in a story. Another person realizing that they are wrong and are willing to change in order to be a better person not only for themselves but for their partner or their kids is a very powerful thing. But personally, for me, to feel that there is true romantic chemistry and that a happy ever after is in the offing, there has to be mutual respect.
As I said. I originally felt like I was a romantic comedy writer. I want laughs. I want things to be funny or silly. I like putting characters into outrageous situations and seeing what they’ll do. Love can’t thrive without a little laughter, without people not taking themselves too seriously. (I mean I can be a very serious person, but I don’t take myself too seriously.)
Human can be in the situations the characters are placed in or the way they interact with each other. To me putting a six foot ex-military laid back male soldier werewolf with a five foot two over planner with lists female motorcycle club VP werewolf is funny. He’s clueless about the motorcycle life. She’s been in it her whole life and forgets to explain! Thus, silly things happen. And Gideon is fortunately laid back enough he takes things well. She picks on him about his lollipops. He picks on her about her lists. She’s simply not used to being teased. They get along.
To be clear, I’m not a fan of the Bridesmaids type of humor where people are trying to one up each other and the writers are trying to get you to laugh at a character’s pain. That type of humor just makes me cringe and feel embarrassed and humiliated for the character. My type of humor is more along the lines of Mr. & Mrs. Smith. “Man, these sliding doors really do come in handy.” Good humor is like a good prank. It doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s easy to clean up. Everybody laughs.
Attraction, Acknowledgement, Opposites, Commonality, Respect and Humor, these are the elements that I use when I write a romantic couple to create a spark between them.