Romance. Love it or hate it, it's been around forever.
From William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to Sally Rooney's Normal People, readers have been enamoured with love stories of all kinds. We've cried, we've felt things. And undoubtedly romance will continue to enchant us for years to come.
Many new authors vying to pen the love story of our time typically write romance in a way that seems forced and inauthentic. And believe me, the reader will be able to spot this from a mile away.
One of the most common pitfalls of this approach can be best summed up as insta-love – i.e. when two characters meet in chapter one and fall in love by chapter two. Don’t fall into the insta-love trap!
If you want to create a 'shippable' romance that will have your readers rooting for your couple, your goal is not only to pair them together, but to show the initial attraction and tease your reader with the build-up.
You want them to feel something for the characters. You want them cheering for the pair to be together; you want to give them something to hope for while reading.
Let's take a look at some of the ways you can write a romance story that will make your readers not only root for your characters to finally kiss, but ship them like their very lives depend on it.
Chemistry. Chemistry. Chemistry.
This goes without saying, but you need to show that your characters have chemistry.
This could come in the form of sexual chemistry/attraction, mental/emotional connection or both, and shows how good they would be together.
You could also play with opposing personalities.
For example, is one of your love interests loud, playful, obnoxious and slightly childish? Perfect! Pair them up with a more mature and private person, or someone who typically is a bit restrained and could loosen up a bit.
Your characters should have something that draws them together or something that bonds them. Maybe they have similar morals. Maybe they’ve both had a tragic past, or maybe they’ve both lost someone recently and are just trying to cope.
The more they can find common ground and the more often you pit them together, the closer they will become and the more they will feel for one another.
Introduce the slow burn
Just as we discussed earlier on, your readers don’t want your love pair to meet on page one and profess their overwhelming love for one another by page ten. Most readers crave a slower burn.
Try pitting your characters against one another. A good example of this is portraying them first as enemies, and then gradually as they get closer, show them starting to learn more about the other and becoming good friends.
That friendship can then blossom into something much deeper. Alternatively, trap them together somewhere and have them face the fact that they have to work together to get out of it – or to finally confront what is going on between them.
By showing their gradual attraction and love for one another, you'll get your reader more invested.
Your characters are forming a strong bond, a friendship and then ultimately falling in love, embarking on a lasting relationship that takes not only time but also patience and dedication.
What’s the problem, exactly?
Let’s be completely honest here. Who in their right mind wants to read a book about love doves kissing for several chapters while staring dreamily into each other's eyes? No one.
While it’s nice to read about, you shouldn't center your entire book solely on love. If you want to create a compelling romance, you need to give your reader some sort of conflict.
This drives the story forward by creating issues and problems that will force the characters apart.
Exploring conflict through your characters not only creates delicious tension for your story, but will also have your reader biting their nails and turning the pages, anxious to know the outcome.
It’s all in the chase
Creating a sense of pursuit can give your reader a reason to continue rooting for your cute couple.
Even if you're writing enemies-to-lovers as discussed above, your reader needs to at least see a possibility that they will be together one day.
This can be done by showing one of the characters actively pursuing a relationship with the other character, or simply showing their interest by doing something nice for them.
Give readers that hope, because it's often is the deciding factor as to whether or not they will stick around to see if the happy couple makes it together in the end or not.
We all want it. So do your characters. In order to create a convincing romance, you must show how the characters feel or develop respect for one another.
Respect is a a meaningful and powerful weapon to wield in your story, because it can be the deciding factor as to whether or not the characters ultimately fall for one another in the end.
When you respect someone, you care about what they have to say and how they feel.
One way to show respect between your characters it to put them together and have them just talk. They can talk about the things they like to do, their values, their beliefs, their morals — anything.
As they open up to each other, they may find that not only do they have a lot in common, they also develop respect and admiration for the qualities or abilities of the other person.
This can be a game-changer if that respect and admiration then blossoms into love.
Those cute, awkward moments
Putting your love interests in a situation in which one (or both) of them are feeling nervous, shy or awkward due to the other can be romance gold.
Picture it: one character's eyes lifting, meeting the other's, only to have both dart their eyes away, having been caught staring at each other...
There's plenty of chances here to really take things up a level. Let’s say one of your characters is very bashful when it comes to dancing. But, the other character loves to get on the floor and show off.
This is the perfect opportunity to create a cute moment, but also to show how much it means if one is willing to be embarrassed or awkward for the sake of the other.
Here you can demonstrate the evolution of their feelings, providing proof of how much their relationship has grown.
This can be part of showing their steadily growing connection in small increments and gradually having them come to the realisation of what readers have already seen.
Create some distance
While it’s important to show your characters enjoying being with one another, it is equally important to allow time for them to be themselves and to live their own lives without the other person.
As in real life, no one in your book will want to be smothered with hugs and kisses 24/7 – and each of your characters needs to be fully developed with their own individual identity, too.
Keeping characters apart also gives you a chance to show them longing to be with one another.
In turn, your reader will then yearn for them to finally reunite, shouting from the rooftops just how much they want them to be together – okay, maybe not literally, but you catch my drift.
You can even go so far as to build seemingly insurmountable, unknockdownable barriers in their relationship, creating the awesome tension and conflict you need to write a shippable romance.
Continue teasing your reader by maintaining the distance until the moment is right.
Show the dark parts
We all experience a range of emotions and have skeletons we hide from the world. This is true of every real person and in every real relationship – thus, it has to be represented in your couple's fictional relationship.
Even when adding romance as a main focus in your story, not everything has to be 100% love and kisses all the time. It’s okay to show the downsides, the bad and the ugly as well as the good.
Show your characters confused over how they feel. Show them fighting, resisting, talking about how they feel they can’t or don’t want to be in a relationship.
Maybe one has commitment issues; maybe the other has trust issues. Whatever the case may be, don't shy away from showing their pain.
If they're able to fight through it, they will be a stronger couple in the end – and a much more shippable one, too.
HEA or no?
Today we've talked about love, love, love, but remember: writing romantic elements in a story doesn’t necessarily mean your couple will end up with a HEA (happily ever after).
We’ve all had relationships that didn’t work out (and if you haven’t, then spill your secrets in the comments!).
Similar to life situations, not everything turns out the way we’d hope or expect it to, and is perfectly fine to portray this in your book. Your reader knows this and they will relate to it.
Most romance readers, for example, expect to see the couple ending up together at the end of the book.
It doesn't necessarily have to be a storybook HEA, but if it's a completely unhappy ending that they didn't see coming, you run the risk of disappointing (and losing) readers.
We hope you now have a much better idea of how to not only write romance, but thrill and entice your reader so that they're really rooting for your shippable couple to finally end up together.
Which fictional couple do you ship the hardest? Let us know in the comments!