Romance in Writing: Don’t Force It

Photo credit: helen sotiriadis on Flickr
It seems that nowadays the vast majority of novels have some aspect of romance intertwined into the plot. The why is understandable— romance is exciting, and real, and it's a part of our lives that we writers like to write about (and readers like to read about). As an added bonus, romantic subplots provide great plot opportunities, twists, moments for character growth and tension. It makes both readers and writers happy.

Sometimes romance is the core of the novel, sometimes it's a minor subplot, and oftentimes it fits somewhere in between. But while romance can work really well in novels of various genres, writers need to be careful not to force something into the writing that doesn't belong.

I once wrote a WIP where I had the romantic subplot all worked out: my protagonist was going to fall for Character A, while Character B fell for my protagonist. There would be unrequited love, and guilt, and all sorts of lovely tension-building things that I enjoy writing about. 

I wasn't very far into my first draft, however, when I realized I was going to have a problem—you see, Character B was very quickly falling for my protagonist, and while said protagonist was initially resisting his advances...well. Her resolve was weakening. And she didn't really care much about Character A after all.

I had a decision to make: I could either refocus my protagonist on her planned romantic interest for the rest of my WIP, or I could forget my original plan and just let the relationships play out the way they wanted to. I'll admit that at first I resisted a little—I had a plan already and I didn't really want to deviate from it—but I very quickly realized that Character B was a force to be reckoned with, and he wasn't settling for anything less than the serious romantic interest, whether I liked it or not. So I adjusted my plan, and in the end I'm confident that I got a better story out of it.

You see, there's this fascinating thing that sometimes happens with writing, and while it sounds slightly crazy to non-writers, it seems that many of us writers experience it whilst writing novels: sometimes the characters take a life of their own and start running the show. Sometimes those plans that we originally had while brainstorming simply don't interest our characters, because while we're writing and we really begin to understand our cast, we start to realize that sticking to the original plan doesn't always fit their character. Sometimes that means those romantic subplots that were going to be fabulous just aren't meant to be, and sometimes it means that you have to adjust the climax, or the plot twist, or various other important plot points throughout the course of the story.

When it comes to relationships, this is especially important to pay attention to.

The thing about romance, is that in order for it to work, there needs to be chemistry between the two parties. This is true for real life, and true for writing, so when two characters don't naturally start to flow towards each other in your writing, you don't want to force it. On the other hand, when two characters who you didn't plan to gravitate towards each other do, you may want to seriously consider letting it unfold the way it will.

After all, you may just be pleasantly surprised with the results if you do.

Have you ever read (or watched) a story where the relationships felt forced, or alternatively, the relationships worked very well? How did it affect the story?

9 comments:

Al Diaz said...

That has happened to me. I have had different plans for my characters and they change them. I have also forced things and the result is garbage and catastrophe.

Robin Red said...

Mmm hmm preach, Ava. I hate it when it happens, but sometimes I feel like the characters stare at me from the pages and just stomp their feet and shout "No". I gave my protagonist two love interests (typical), but I had not decided who her true love would be. I knew if I picked one, things will get out of hand... She ended up falling for the guy that I didn't even realize was a third love interest.

Ava Jae said...

Forcing your characters to do things they don't want to do usually doesn't end well. It's one of those things that we often have to learn the hard way.

Ava Jae said...

Yes! Forced romance never works.

Ava Jae said...

Go figure! I do happen to like it when our characters surprise us, although it can occasionally be a little jarring to the plot. But worth it for the greater good!

Andi-Roo said...

I'm so glad to have read this, because I've been wondering which of my characters are going to "mix it up" romantically... and none of the combos seems likely, which was leaving me feeling like I must be doing something wrong. Their chemistry all works in their various platonic or mentor/protege relationships, so I guess I can rest easy leaving well enough as is. Thanks for giving me the permission I need to drop a fruitless chase down the wrong path! :)

Ava Jae said...

Absolutely, Andi! In my experience relationships work best when they come together naturally (both in real life and on the page). If two characters start to gravitate towards each other, great, but if not, I wouldn't worry about it. :)

helen sotiriadis said...

thank you!

Ava Jae said...

Absolutely! Thanks for the picture--it was totally perfect. :)

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