I’ve been working on Serpent’s Smile (HH Book 3) as I’ve been editing Rodeo’s Run (HH Book 2). In Serpent’s Smile (out next year), Savannah and Gideon finally share some serious kissing! None of this little pecks on the lips stuff. I’m excited for them. Not that acting on their desires makes them any less idiots. (As a storyteller, I have my reasons.) But the sparks between them are really heating up!
As I’ve progressed in writing this series about romantic chemistry, I’ve gone from generalities to being more and more specific about writing that chemistry and spark between characters who are attracted to each other. So, they’re attracted to each other, know each other exists and respect each other. How do they interact in ways to show, instead of just telling the audience, that they’re either romantically involved or on the way to being so.
First off, the characters need to be comfortable with each other. Comfort indicates a level of trust. Sure, there may be awkward moments of nudity or saying things that they didn’t mean to (because who hasn’t blurted out something every once in a while.) But characters that are comfortable and trust each other, because they respect each other, find ways to get through those awkward moments by talking through it or laughing it off or just giving each other time to get used to the situation.
People who are comfortable with each other tend to talk a lot about every subject. They know they can say things and not be insulted or have to defend their position if the other person disagrees. They are relaxed and don’t stiffen up if the person gets too close to them. Being comfortable means they’re willing to look each other in the eyes.
Because when you respect someone, you earn their trust and they start to feel comfortable around you. (Of course, this is also a great way to betray or manipulate someone and create conflict in your stories.)
Body language is another great way to show attraction. Body language can be subconscious and is easily misinterpreted. (I found this out the difficult way. Though half the time I think it was deliberate misinterpretation.) Characters that are good friends and/or are physically attracted to each other have a tendency to lean towards each other. They smile at each other more and once again, meet each other’s eyes. (Sometimes for long periods of time.)
Body language also translates to physical touch. There are different levels of physical touch that can show how a relationship progresses. A handshake is a greeting touch and after eye contact is the next stage of physical intimacy. (Sounds racy doesn’t it?) From there, physical touch progresses, a touch on the arm, holding hands, touching the shoulder, touching a knee, a hug. Characters that are attracted to each other may sit close together enough that their legs touch or one may sit on the other character’s lap.
Of course, characters that are good friends or family may do the above things. Some of them may even kiss. The fact sadly is that so much of touch has been turned into sexual touch. When touches that are sexual tend to involve more private areas and kissing is more involved. However, characters that are attracted to each other, tend to be comfortable touching each other!
Characters that are attracted to each other communicate with each other. And the way they communicate can be just as important was what they are saying. Characters that are attracted to each other are far more likely to compliment each other and build each other up than insult each other and tear each other down. (The latter just causes lots of hurt feelings, but hey, a cheap source of conflict. Not that I’d be dating anyone who routinely insulted me.) They will be more willing to compromise on things that are important to them if they know the other person in the relationship will compromise on things that they find important. They may tease each other about safe subjects. (Teasing a person about an unsafe subject such as a traumatic event or a phobia irrational or rational may create conflict but will require more conversation and communication to clear things up. And a sincere apology.) Good couples also listen to each other.
(A good rule of thumb in romance and life is if your characters/self aren’t comfortable talking about sex or finances with their significant other, maybe they shouldn’t be having sex or joining finances. See, yet more conflict!)
Of course, there is nothing like having a couple with a cute back and forth code phrase that means “I love you.” Especially, if the code phrase is shown first happening somewhere in the books. But not every couple needs one of these.
Characters who are physically attracted to each other do things for each other without any thought of things being done in return for them. Part of being in love I find is wanting the other person to be happy. Doing things to help make that other person feel happy even for a moment makes me feel good. This is part of emotional labor that often falls more on the women than the men. (Men tend to stop doing this once the initial courtship is over.) Emotional labor are things like baking, doing chores, scheduling family time, child rearing and sending cards. Couples do this by buying coffee for each other or writing cute notes or even having a favorite song. Unequal emotional labor is one of the biggest sources of conflict in a relationship often causing resentment and communication break downs (because people aren’t psychic!)
Of course, every couple is different. I have characters that enjoy verbally sparring and others that are more about compliments, baked goods and cuddles. The key point in writing romance is write what feels natural and feels natural to the characters’ personalities. No two people are exactly the same and won’t romance each other in the exact same manner.
Finding the right combination of what makes characters click and what doesn’t can take effort, work and introspection. There’s no shame in studying the relationships you love in media to determine what about them makes you love them so much and try to mimic that in your own work. Taking from one source is stealing, but taking from many is research!
Good luck and happy romance writing!