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Writing Romance: As Easy As Math?

Struggling with writing romance? Here are some tips.

Last year, I went to LTUE and attended several days’ worth of panels. It was both enlightening and inspiring but one of my favorite panels was called “Writing a Romance is like Writing a Math Proof.” The panelist mainly discussed LOTR and one of the romances that didn’t make it into the movie (and how much of a shame that was). However, they made some very important points, some of which I would like to talk about today.

I’m going to say up front, that this article is subjective. Perhaps you won’t agree with the points that were originally made or my expansions of those ideas. I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below. 😉

You Have To Prove No One Else Would Work

One of the most important things about writing romance is proving that no other character would work with this particular character. You want to show your readers, through empirical evidence, that this person is right for them while others simply aren’t. This falls under the rule of realistic attraction. There can be various reasons for love to blossom (which we’ll get into in a moment) but this is the key. Provide moments of proof. Not hypotheses, not suggestions, concrete evidence.

This also falls under show don’t tell. We don’t want to hear why one person is meant for another, we want to see it.

I will admit, this sometimes does set up an unrealistic expectation. Especially since, in real life, there isn’t always one person. Perhaps you disagree with this all together and think that there should be many characters a person can be with. However. Be aware that the more time you spend proving that your character could be with anyone is less time you can spend building the relationship between characters A and B.

It leads to a weaker plot overall.

These Characters Work For Healthy Reasons

Now, it is fun to see two characters who are entirely toxic for one another—for examples of toxic characters check out 19 Toxic Male Characters From Romantic Comedies To Stop Lusting Over by Olivia Truffaut-Wong. Also, it’s not only men that are toxic in relationships. Women can be just as bad. It goes both ways.

Anyhow, toxic characters are interesting and they definitely have their place in media. However, that’s not what we’re looking for in the genre of romance, now is it? We want to see that character A should be with character B because they bring out the best in each other. They build each other up, not tear each other down. They contribute to each other’s lives and goals in ways other than just physical.

And no, having sex is not what builds love. It can be the direct result of it, a desire born out of learning about another person, but it’s not what creates that love in the first place. Please, stop. Don’t do it.

It is alright to have a foil for your MCs. A third, and totally toxic person. But, please don’t play this off as a love triangle (this is a personal preference, but…). Especially in a genre more represented by female leads than others, it would be nice to see two genuinely good people but one of them just doesn’t work with the POV character. One of them doesn’t have to be abusive and jerkish to prove that they are not right. They could just be, not right.

An Example

This example is by no means perfect. But take a look at this romantic short.

In this short we see that 1. there is some empirical evidence as to why the first relationship doesn’t work. Everything started out fine. But, in the long run, they couldn’t see eye to eye and, ultimately, one of the partners was holding back. At times the one character does do mean things, but for the most part they are a regular person.

And thus, 2. we get a healthy solution from someone not willing to give all of themselves to another, but willing to share.

So, maybe writing romance isn’t math, maybe it’s more of a science? What do you think? If you haven’t already, go ahead and subscribe. And, don’t forget to share your thoughts below.

By C.W. Spalding

Plot Producer, Character Concoctor, Story Spinner.

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