On March 24, 2010, Marzo wrote, I’ve always wanted to try incorporating romance into my stories, but I’ve never really known how to write a romance well without it seeming, I don’t know, too sappy? I don’t know if you’ve answered this in a different post, but do you have some tips for writing romance?
I’ve never written a book that was only a romance. Most of mine are fantasy adventures with romance as one of the plot threads.
There must be many approaches to love and romance, and I hope other writers reading the blog will post theirs.
Even if you’ve never fallen in romantic love in real life, I’d guess you’ve fallen in like and in other sorts of love many times – with a new friend, a pet, a person you’ve known forever but have just come to appreciate. How does it happen? How did it happen to you?
Often it’s an accretion (if you don’t know the word, look it up!) of incidents and character traits that produces like and love. Somebody says something that expresses exactly how you feel but have never been able to put into words, and you feel a deep connection. This may be trite: a smile that lights up a face can flip my heart. Humor, as long as it’s not at someone’s expense, draws me in. Maybe the smile is a tad sappy if all there is is a smile, but along with other details, the sappiness fades to unimportance.
Details count in writing love as in writing everything else. The reader needs to know exactly what the heroine said that flew straight into the hero’s soul. And the reader needs to be told enough about the hero to understand why he felt so touched. For example, my late and much missed friend Nedda often told stories on herself and laughed uproariously. I adored the stories and the loud belly laugh, but someone else might have been embarrassed by one or both.
When I want people to fall in love I think of them as jigsaw-puzzle pieces that need to fit together. This bit of him has to satisfy that place in her that’s been starved, and vice versa. Maybe I see it this way because of my parents, who remained in love for forty-nine years until my father’s death. My mother finished college (at the age of sixteen); he didn’t complete high school. He loved having a brilliant wife. My father was smart, too, but very modest. My mother loved my father’s innocence and sweetness. She could be a wee bit tart. He loved her complexity. They argued sometimes, but fundamentally they filled the aspects of each other that needed filling.
So think about what your characters need and even crave. In my Princess Tale, Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep, I echo my parents’ relationship. Princess Sonora is the smartest person on earth by a factor of ten. She’s eager to share her knowledge, but no one wants to listen. Prince Christopher is curious about everything, and people tire of his endless questions. They are made for each other. In another Princess Tale, The Fairy’s Return, Robin makes up jokes for which he is scorned by his father and brothers. Princess Lark thinks his jokes are hysterical. Everyone treats her with kid gloves, which makes her feel stifled, but Robin doesn’t. They are also primed for love.
Turning to pets: Any domestic animal needs care and calls on us for protection. Protectiveness is part of love, in my opinion, and a mutual part, too. The boy isn’t the sole protector. He’s watching out for her, and she’s got his back as well. In Ella Enchanted, for example, Char arrives in time to keep Ella from being eaten, but she saves him and his knights by making the ogres docile. A common enemy can help bring your characters together.
Pets again: Puppies misbehave. Our Baxter is nine, and he still misbehaves. Animals can’t hide their feelings. We know when they’re happy, frightened, stubborn, jealous. We see them at their worst and love them anyway. They’re naked literally (unless decked out in a vest or party hat) and figuratively. Of course, they have no choice, but their freedom makes us free. We tell our pets our secrets and let them see us cry and pound the pillow. This kind of intimacy and acceptance is part of love. In my novel, Fairest, Ijori is aware of Aza’s self-loathing and loves her anyway, and she forgives him and loves him even after he lets himself be convinced that she might be part ogre. King Oscaro loves Queen Ivi, who is riddled with faults. When we show characters fall in love despite their frailties, we create depth and move light years away from sappiness.
Another love and like-maker is admiration. I usually – not always – respond in kind to being highly regarded. I think better of the person who thinks well of me, and so can characters. Being loved can be a turn-on. In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland’s admiration sparks Henry Tilney’s love for her.
Fun can lead to love. For this post, I looked at romantic moments in some of my books. The heroes and heroines are having a terrific time together. They thrive on being together. Mutual admiration ricochets back and forth, and each feels at his and her best, wittiest, most interesting, handsomest-prettiest, most awake.
Underlying everything is the physical side of romance, the chemistry. You can be subtle with this, too. There is the heightened sense of being alive, which readers will recognize. Pleasure in one another’s company has a physical aspect. The two can simply stand near each other and feel the air shimmer between them. Their eyes can meet. Eye contact is powerful, can be hostile, can be romantic, especially if the gaze is soft. In a romantic moment one character can notice his breathing become shallow, another can feel warm in a chilly room. One or both can blush. I just googled “signs of romantic attraction” and read that hair touching, licking lips (one’s own), dropping the gaze and then looking back, leaning toward the other person – all can be indicators that an author can use.
And you can make up your own. For example, suppose Maryanne has a scar next to her right eye. It’s tiny, but it embarrasses her. When she’s attracted to a boy, she puts her hand on the spot to cover it. Then she thinks that may look silly, so she takes her hand away and extends her face a little. You, the writer, put her through this quick sequence a couple of times at a party to introduce it. (You don’t want to overdo.) Then, two days later, she sits next to a particular boy at a school play and does it. The reader understands instantly what’s going on.
Or Jeff becomes clumsy in the presence of someone who interests him. Stuart pulls his shoulders back and widens his stance. Sharyn rises on tiptoe.
I heart making people fall in love!
Here are some prompts:
• Working from the fairytale “Beauty and the Beast,” write an early scene between the two. The Beast, although severely handicapped, wants to win Beauty over. What does he do? Contrive the scene so that he has at least a little success.
• One half of a romantic relationship has hurt the feelings of the other. Show the offender winning back the affections of his beloved.
• It is the night of July 4th. The graduating seniors of the town high school have collected to watch the fireworks. Penny and Nick flirted for the last four years, but nothing came of it. The next morning Penny will leave for an out-of-town summer with relatives, and in the fall she goes to a distant college. She wants Nick to remember her forever as his lost opportunity. (Maybe she’s a little annoyed at him for never making a move.) What does she do? Write the scene. She may succeed or not. Go with what happens.
Have fun and save what you write!