Welcome back to my little discussion on romance. If you remember from my last blog, I pointed out two patterns of romantic storytelling that I I always see that, to be frank, I’m tired of. I feel like we writers can do better. We shouldn’t think that just because we have romance in the story and we follow all of the age-old tropes that it will be successful. Exercise your creativity and try deviating from what we’ve seen again and again. To finish out this little series, I have four more cautions to give.
The Love Interest
In line with assigning two characters to be together from the beginning, don’t create a character and label him or her as the love interest. There is no better way to create a flat character. That character should exist independently and have goals of his or her own and a purpose other than the romance. Think about your own relationships. Do you consider yourself your spouse’s love interest? What a joke. Don’t do that to your characters or you run the risk of creating the kind of characters that everyone hates for being one dimensional, useless, and, to put it bluntly, insulting.
I hate overly attractive characters. I especially hate it in books because the reader has to be hit over the head with it over and over again. In a movie, you have attractive actors and that’s that; we take it in with our eyes and probably forget about it (or maybe you don’t; I’m not here to judge). But unless the director is constantly having the guy losing his shirt or filming close-ups of the woman’s cleavage, we’re not being reminded of their attractiveness at every turn. So please, narrator. Don’t give me the adjective “piercing” every single time you talk about his eyes. Don’t tell me about her thin waist, luscious lips, and large breasts. Does every male protagonist have to have washboard abs? Is every female really thin, slender, and flawless? It’s insulting, so just stop. Tell a story about real people who find each other beautiful for who they are.
Let’s talk sex, shall we? I think I could write an entire blog about this, but lucky for me, someone at Embers Igniting already has. For the sake of not being redundant, you should give this blog a read. There is one caution I would like to provide. Don’t make the entire relationship between your characters physical. If there is nothing between them except for wild sex and talking about wild sex, then I believe you’ve done those characters and your readers a disservice. It’s another cheap trick. Sure, people will probably still read it—sex sells—but I think it’s lazy writing. Just like in real life, a relationship needs more substance to it than sex. If you can’t portray that in your writing, I don’t take much interest in your characters.
Often romance is portrayed in the most romantic and unrealistic way possible. And it bothers me. To begin with, relationships are awkward. People are clumsy and unsure of themselves. So why are relationships so perfect in books? You know how you hate those people that tell you to write only what you know? This is a situation where I agree with those people. If you’ve been in a relationship, then you know that nothing is ever ideal and perfect. You know how badly you botched your first kiss. Women know what it’s like to be staring into his eyes and to ask what he’s thinking about, hoping that it’s something sweet about you, only to hear him say, “I was trying to decide if I wanted pizza or tacos for dinner.” Men know what it’s like to reach for her, and for her to say, “I’m just too tired right now.” There are some annoying beliefs and expectations about relationships and sex that have been fed to us by the media and by stories that are just flat out wrong, and I think that perpetuating them cheapens your story.
Something I cannot fathom is a story that ends when the relationship starts. You’re on the last page, and the couple finally admits their love for each other. Finally. After all this time. It makes me angry because I hate perpetuating the idea that the hunt is the most exciting part, and once you’ve “got the girl” the story is over. If the only tension that keeps the pages turning is waiting to see them get together, and after that you no longer have any interest, then it’s not a very well written love story. Challenge yourself. Keep the story going.
As I said before, this is all about how I feel about how romance is done in current literature. Some of you may be thinking that I’m trying to throw too much realism into works of fiction. I understand that point. I do. But after reading so many recycled romances, I occasionally find one that stands out to me and is dearer to me. These are the ones that make the extra effort, that hit a little closer to home, that give me something tangible, relatable, and real. Even if you disagree with me, I hope that I have at least opened you up to other options or things to consider when writing your story. If you take anything away from this blog, it should be that believing writing romance is easy is exactly the wrong attitude to have about it. Make yourself work for it, and create something meaningful.
By: Rachelle Clifford