Writing a love story requires so much more than setting up a couple of characters and telling an audience how they fell in love. It’s a lesson in capturing the spirit of life and love. It should be messy, brilliant, full of highs and lows.
But how do you develop emotions that speak straight to the core of the human soul?
A good place to start is to write from your experience and from your research. However, ensuring your work is factually sound and that you aren’t filling your story with plot bunnies is only part of the equation. There’s also a few rules to romantic story telling that many authors have found to work well. (Although there’s nothing saying you can’t break the rules!)
Don’t Make It Easy for Your Characters to Fall in Love
While there are certainly those who make falling in love look easy, it’s far from normal and it’s even more challenging to stay in love. Making your characters fall too fast or connect too early diminishes the challenge and let’s face it, just isn’t true to life. Romance and love is complicated. That is what your readers should hear and feel when you’re writing a love story. Make it a challenge for your characters to stay in love to make your story more interesting.
In the sci-fi romance novel, Dark Awakening, Caitriona Sinclair falls deeply in love with Duncan MacKinnon; complicated because he is her abductor. As such, her struggle stems from her need to escape, with her developing feelings for the recalcitrant warrior.
To further complicate her feelings, she’s emotionally bound to a man who is an empath and deeply connected to her feelings. He loves her—and to some degree, she loves him too. But there is far more to falling in love (and staying that way!), and both of them know this.
Love is complicated. And it’s messy. And in some cases, can span more than one person.
Don’t Create Dull Female Characters
Dull, one-dimensional female characters are boring and are the result of lazy writing. Don’t be lazy. Create a character who is independent and in charge of her own destiny, instead of one simply waiting around for a man to save her. Your readers will respect you more for it.
Of course, there are many ways to get there. In Dark Awakening, I wanted to introduce a heroine who most women would identify with, largely because she is flawed. She’s not brave, she’s insecure and wears her emotions on her sleeve for all to see. She’s spent her youth striving for perfection; to blend in and lead an average life.
The very fact that Caitriona is stuck in the 23rd century makes her dependent: dependent on her abductor to care for her; dependent on her Handler to train her; dependent on a hidden society that treats her as their savior.
But it’s also these flaws and weaknesses that not only make Caitriona so relatable but also allows her character to grow and embark on a journey of self discovery. Not only is she trying to find her place in this new century, but she is also trying to discover her own strengths and who she is as a woman. By circumstance, she is forced to expand and adapt. And like many of us who find ourselves in circumstances we never would have dreamed of, Caitriona Sinclair must also meet her challenges head on. She isn’t waiting for the knight in shining armor to rescue her, but neither is she the brave heroine who can wield a sword and embrace death and danger.
Don’t Always Go for the “Happy Ending”
And here’s where my publisher and I disagree.
The original ending to Dark Awakening was not happy. The publisher wanted a “happy ending,” but I contended that love stories with a “happy ending” were worn out and trite. He maintained that readers wanted happy endings. So instead, we compromised and I re-wrote a ‘happy-for-now’ ending.
While I really wanted my readers to feel the heartache and longing between my two characters, I also knew the publisher had a good point about leaving my readers satisfied, happy and fulfilled. The compromise allowed me to still give readers a feel good ending without going the route of the traditional fairy tale ending. My advice to you: don’t be afraid to explore what it means to be in love and challenge yourself to create a story outside of your comfort zone.
Sometimes it’s less about what you do and more about what you don’t do. Keep this in mind while you’re writing your love story and your readers will thank you.
What rules have you broken when writing your novel? Drop me a line below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
February 7, 2017 at 1:28 pm
I am going to disagree on point 3. I require a happy ending as a reader. Require it. It’s one of the reasons I read Romance. The HEA is a core part of the genre.
I feel “ripped off” if I don’t get a HEA. The real world provides enough endings that aren’t happy. I want my escape through reading to be different.
February 8, 2017 at 3:00 am
You are definitely not alone, Elizabeth! My publisher also told me that readers want a HEA or at least a HFN (Happy For Now) ending. On one hand, I can definitely see your / (his) point, but on the other hand, I want my readers to feel the heartache, tension, and real-world connection that comes from a not-so-happy ending. But, to your point, if readers want that, they wouldn’t need to read! Thanks for sharing your insights and the reminder that readers love romance because of the HEA!
March 21, 2017 at 2:02 pm
I’m seeing a lot more “happy for now” endings for series books, particularly contemporary romance or paranormal/fantasy. I think it’s tricky when you write a book, with a significant romance plot, that ends with dissolution between the characters. A friend of mine wrote a series, and the first main romance she developed for three books, she broke up in the middle of the fourth. It wasn’t the right relationship so it had to end, but doing it before the end gave the readers some words to heal through and other things to celebrate.
I agree with Elizabeth about HEA. As a reader, I would be horrified to read a modern romance that ends badly, mostly because of my expectation for the genre. In every romance book, despite all that the author puts the characters (and the reader) through, we feel like we’ve been promised that they’ll be together in the end. If you warn people it’s not that kind of romance, you give it away. And even if you do hint at it in marketing, odds are there will be readers who don’t pay attention and get upset anyway. (I know, I work in IT and have warned people over and over, only to have them not listen and complain later.)