Growing up, there were two genres I wrote the most: fantasy and romance. I don’t write as much fantasy as I used to, but I’ve carried on writing romance. I never really thought about why until a few days ago.
After a particularly rough and emotionally draining week, I settled down in front of a Nicholas Sparks film. Why I chose to do this I still don’t understand. It was probably something to do with James Marsden. Whilst watching it, I felt an odd sense of comfort. The plot was predictable and the ending was bittersweet, but I still felt better after I’d finished watching it. I’d expected to end up turning it off after ten minutes, but I ended up getting wrapped up. Especially when I discovered an ex-Home and Away star was in it. (Home and Away is one of my guilty pleasures.)
The sense of comfort I felt was similar to what I get when I write romance. I’m not as involved with the characters, but I still find myself rooting for them. I still want them to have their happy ending. And when they get that happy ending, it makes me happy, even if they don’t get to keep it.
Ultimately, romance is as much escapism as it is fantasy. Most of us won’t get the epic love story that we crave because life sucks. If we do find true love, it won’t be as dramatic as it is in the movies: it’ll be far more domestic. All romance stories are over-the-top and no more likely to happen than any of us receiving letters to Hogwarts (sorry to spoil the illusion), but because there’s no magic or crazy technology and they’re just normal people falling in love (genre hybrids not included), we feel it could happen to us. We invest our emotions into those characters and we love them as they love each other. When they’re heartbroken, we’re heartbroken with them.
When you’re a romantic at heart (shh, don’t tell anyone), there’s nothing more comforting than the warm hug of a fictional character. You get all the emotional attachment and can relive the relationship over and over without the boring bits in between.
For me, writing romance is like reliving meeting my partner over and over. Much like I do when I base a character on myself, I pick a trait or two, and run with it. This gives me a starting point for his character and he eventually turn into a whole other person, completely unrecognisable from his starting point.
We all love a good meet cute, particularly when the chemistry between the characters sizzles. That kind of chemistry isn’t easy to write, but when you read or watch it, it’s hypnotic. That’s the most important thing you need to think about when writing any relationship. Coming up with characters whose chemistry sizzles off the page and that stays like it through various situations is difficult to create, especially if it’s something you’ve never felt. It’s very easy for something like that to come across as contrived. How do you stop it from coming across as contrived? Practise, and people watching. It’s as simple as that.
Practise your character crafting, and watch as many different people as you can. The best way to learn how to write relationships is to observe. The couples with chemistry will have a unique way of speaking, of interacting with each other, that will be easy to spot when you see it. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been together, either—if the chemistry is there, it’ll always sizzle.