This is probably the best article on this website. If you can grasp this simple method of generating real, warm, turned-on romances for your characters, you will have a career. Nothing sells like romance, and if your relationships are realistic enough to spark real energy in your books, no matter what it is—Fantasy or Contemporary or Mystery—you will hook your readers.
Everyone loves a love story. But it isn’t a love story unless the characters really do love each other. However, making two characters really click in a story was a challenge for me for most of my writing years. And from what I’ve read, it’s a real challenge for other writers too!
Remember, a romance is not just two characters getting busy. In fact, in real romance, you might never have a steamy scene at all! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because two characters claw at one another in lust that you have a romance. Lust by itself is unsatisfying both to your readers and to your characters, you need more. You need charisma! You need the Spark. And when you have the Spark, usually your lovebirds respect one another too much to do something disgusting.
My romances didn’t always work out. Back when I first started writing, usually my method was this: I would make up a female character who was supposed to fall in love later in the plot. Then I would make up a male character that I *thought* should be just her type. I would frame up the story, work out the plot, and start writing only to watch my characters play out their roles like bored, dutiful actors in a play, never really clicking or being that interested in one another. They would get married because they were SUPPOSED to, but who wants to read that?? Bah.
Then in a couple of other stories, as if by chance, two characters that I did NOT intend to fall in love would suddenly find one another wildly attractive, and I would have to work in a romance sub-plot, all the while wondering, ‘how the heck did that happen?’
Very recently I was given the key in a wild strike of inspiration, and I have used it since then. It’s ridiculously simple, and it works every time.
The key to making believable romances depends on using and understanding the core-concept method of making a character described in How To Make A Character. Every character in a story has a keyword, a core concept that describes their essence. If you just focus on the character you have made, really thinking about what makes them “them,” you should be able to settle upon a single word or phrase that really sums them up.
If you can’t do it with your own characters, do it with movie characters. Think of the one word or phrase that describes them perfectly. Some typical ones are: “burned-out detective.” “Mischievous sex-kitten.” “Steely-eyed cowboy.” Each of these keyword phrases should automatically conjure a character to mind that you know from a book or a movie.
Yes, your character is more complicated than this, but they will boil down to one word if they are a good character with a solid foundation. If you can’t boil them down to one or two words, you might not have a strong character to start with.
Now the key to romance is so obvious, a child could do it. All you do is match keywords. Put two together that are pretty close to the same concept. I’ll give you some examples from my own stories:
In the disappointing romance story that didn’t work out, my male character boils down to “dreamer.” On the other hand, my female character boils down to “scholar.” Although they sound on the surface like they are the same type of person, and they can get along ok, the truth is that they are sort of opposites—the dreamer likes to think outside the box, while the scholar is all about rules and shoulds—and they don’t really generate much energy. At their core, they just have too much conflict between their two essential words. Also, if you notice, their words are pretty boring, and so were the characters. These kind of people just don’t make waves.
On the other hand, in the story that unexpectedly transformed into a steamy romance before my eyes without my permission, the female character distills as “determination” and the male character comes down to “discipline.” These guys fit like a hand in a glove! They really admired one another... determination loved the discipline, and discipline was super-impressed by determination, and before I knew it they were giving one another The Lean. And these were supposed to be enemies!!
Other examples. In another of the stories where a romance sparked spontaneously, the female was “fiery/hotheaded” (she was even a redhead) and the male was “passion”. Duh. That obviously works. Yet another: the female was “slinky” and the male was “slick”. In another, the female was “justice” and the male was “righteousness.” In another, the female was “drifter” and the male was “explorer.”
In another, the female was “doing it right” and the male was “getting around the rules,” but although this story at first glance seems to be the exception to the Romance Engine rule, it isn’t. If you think about it, they really are focused on the same thing... the identical thing actually... which is the Rules. They are both in fact obsessed with The Rules, each in their own way. But since one is for the rules, and one is directly against the rules, you end up with this push-pull dynamism that makes them both crazy. This story also happened to be my funniest romance ever; these two drove one another up the wall, and their romance was more of a war which ended in them both grabbing one another and ripping things off in a sort of fight-love scene.
There is a trick to making a believable, hot, passionate, full-of-juice romance in your stories. And the trick is this: you have to let the characters themselves fall in love. May sound strange, it’s not actually. It works. If you have matched your characters based on the keyword concept, this alone should produce a dynamism which will become obvious while writing.
Once that dynamism has begun to show up, the key is to let the characters have the steering wheel. Let them do what THEY want, not what YOU want; if one has a sudden irresistible urge, go with it. A romance is a wild ride; it will mess up the rest of your story if you do it right. It will take you places that you as the author never intended to go, and your characters certainly never intended to go.
If written correctly, your characters will take on a life of their own and make their own decisions, be driven by their own passions totally separate from the author. You have to let them live. Don’t be afraid to fall totally into your character’s heads and let go. Write from the gut. Write by instinct. And write whatever needs to happen, whether your mother would like it or not.