Characters in love

In one of my writing groups, someone posted the following question:

Hoping I can get some advice here.

I’m wondering if there are some hard and fast rules regarding young protagonists
fallings in love?

How does one show rather than tell?

Or is telling more appropriate?

I just did a workshop on SEX and YA.

Now I write sweet, so I thought this would be something I would never write
about, but the course did talk about kissing and apparently, I did all my
kissing scenes wrong.

Apparently, in YA when there’s a kiss involved you must never titillate the
readers as there might be 13 year old readers.

So I wondered, if I did this wrong, what else am I doing wrong.

This naturally spawned a very interesting discussion, because everybody has different opinions on romance and how to write it. Quite apart from the debate of “how much sexual involvement is too much”, it’s more a question of, “How do two people fall in love at all?”

I had a couple of stories where I wrestled with this problem. This is what I discovered:

Romance is just one more conflict.

Forget about “Writing romance” for a minute. Focus on your characters. What are their likes and dislikes? What makes them tick? What insurmountable problem are they facing in this story?

Next, think about the last time you had a crush, whether it was on someone in a movie or a real life person. There was something about them you found attractive, right? They were cute. They were funny. They were nice. Somehow they touched an emotional chord in you, and you connected with them.

But they may or may not have connected with you. BINGO! Conflict!

People usually fall in love with their polar opposite, too. Make sure your characters have opposing qualities. One is outgoing and the other is shy. One likes gangsta rap and the other prefers ’70s rock. One drives with both feet on the pedals and the other has never had a speeding ticket in their life. Opposites attract. And those qualities also cause conflict between them.

If you’re a new writer and haven’t tackled romance before, it seems pretty scary. I know I toyed with it a lot in fanfic before I got comfortable writing it. It’s really not that hard. He likes her, she likes him, she hides her feelings and so does he, even though he would really like their relationship to go somewhere.

Heck, in Silver Lining, I threw the kitchen sink at the romance plot: Zeff’s slowly dying of poisoning from being roboticized, Knux is trying to build a working deroboticizer. She keeps trying to break it off, even though she’s crazy about him, because she doesn’t foresee any kind of future for them, and he’s spending all his free time arguing with her.

Zephyer and Knuckles

In A Worgen Love Story, an arranged marriage has left Charlotte and Bernard with no mutual love or regard whatsoever. In fact, they don’t fall in love until after they’ve been bitten and are forced to rely on each other for survival, even as they seek a way to reverse the werewolf curse.

Lots of conflict. Half the conflict stems from the romance itself, and two people developing very strong feelings for each other, and being willing to sacrifice, and even die, for their love.

I think this is why I can’t really get in to young people, sixteen and under, having romantic relationships. Unless you can pledge your lifelong devotion and then stick it out, it’s not very romantic. Romantic is Amy and Rory in Doctor Who fighting through the hard parts and growing old together.

5 thoughts on “Characters in love

  1. Yep, Amy and Rory are the best. His undying love like waiting as a Roman soldier. Her in the end as she goes to Rory, yep, giving up ones self for your mate is always the most romantic kind of love. Not sex.


  2. I completely agree with everything you’ve got here, NR. Love is just another conflict. It’s not something that you need to work any harder or different than any other conflict. Good relationships develop naturally and take off in their own way anyways.

    I have one couple that I INSISTED would never be together… but as their relationship developed, they decided they were going to be together anyway. And that’s the best kind of romance. The kind that develops the way that they should develop in real life!

    I think I’ll use some stuff from your post for one of my Weekly Writing Exercises. =D


    1. Rachel: Oh good! I’m glad I could give you some ideas. I also cross-posted this to DA and we’re getting a good discussion on over there. 🙂


  3. This is actually one of my pet peeves related to fiction– the idea that romance= conflict.

    I’m one of those keyed up people for whom a stable mate is blessing and a relief, and I’ve heard someone say we (he and I) have more in common than any other couple they know.

    So I get that it’s not “standard”. But I write what I know, and I have a personal aversion to conflict-as-foreplay that is so “normal” in fiction, so my romance-elements don’t follow that track very much.

    Really it’s more of the– “Oh, we’re stuck together, huh? Might as well make the best of it,” start and can grow from there.

    Life is exhausting. I like (even like my fictional avatars) to have a harbor of some kind.


    1. Sure, my marriage is the same way. We have a great, peaceful relationship. But getting there was no picnic! The dating, the worrying, the wondering if he felt the same way about me as I did about him. That’s conflict, and that’s where the majority of “romance” plots tend to pick up.


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