Writing romance is one of those big writing topics that everyone talks about. And yet actually writing it well isn’t so easy.
If writing Jane Austen-worthy romance and relationships that leave fandoms squealing about it for years was easy, everyone would be doing it.
And writing strong romantic relationships is so much more than just making your fans swoon.
Writing powerful romance impacts the strength of your story in so many ways. Everything from the plot twists to the character arcs to the themes are all impacted by your romance, which is why it’s so important for you to know how to do it well.
I want to set you up for success in writing strong romantic relationships and give you three tips for doing this with power and strength so that you can leave your readers swooning and squealing and desperately wanting more. In addition, this leaves them with the message you want and effectively communicates your theme to your readers.
How Romance Can Weaken Your Story If Not Done Well
Before we get into everything positive about romance and all the good elements it can add to your story, though, we need to remember how easy to turn romance into a “catch-all” or saving mechanism to “fix” your story, when actually, if not done well, it can weaken the already good elements that you have.
Anything done well can also be done not so well. Romance can strengthen your story, but it can also weaken it. Romance can bring power and impact, and it can also take away power and impact.
So I want to point out a couple of pitfalls that writers can fall into and ways how romance, if not done well or carried out effectively, can actually hurt your story.
1. Taking Away From Your Plot
One of the more common ways romance can weaken your story is to take away from your plot.
Writers tend to over-complicate things, and adding romance is one of the ways we do this. We throw in a bit of romance, and all of a sudden our epic sci-fi fantasy is less about saving the galaxy and more about convincing the astoundingly beautiful queen that the hero loves her.
We add some romance, and our thriller becomes a romance novel with some thrill in it. Or our well-thought-out crime novel becomes more about the mafia king’s daughter than the actual mafia king. Or the adventure saga of a band of men turns into one man’s journey to find his lost love.
You get the idea.
The point is, adding romance can often totally steal the spotlight from our plot. Unless you’re writing a specifically romance novel, you don’t want that to happen. There’s a difference between having a plot with romance in it and having romance as your plot.
2. Downplay The True Emotion Of The Story
Another way that romance can weaken your writing is by sucking all the deep emotions out of the story.
Romance has a lot of emotions and feelings and messiness that you have to swim through, and that can really take away from the other emotions you want to express through the story.
It can make other big things, like sibling relationships and platonic relationships and mentor-mentee relationships look less important and trivial in comparison to the romance, which is not how it should be.
It can also smother readers in a lot of romantic emotions and feelings so that other themes and messages you’re trying to get through are lost.
3. Pull Attention Away From Your Main Character
Your main character has to be the main character.
And I’m not saying the side characters need to be boring or flat or uncharismatic—no. Make your side characters eccentric and loveable and inspiring, but they still need to be your side characters.
Your readers are reading because of the main character. This story is about the main character. So your main character needs to be the focal point and target of everything—this whole story revolves around them.
Romance can take away from that.
It can shift attention to the love interest, or the two side characters with a romantic relationship, and make readers care less about the main character or wish the book was about someone else.
How Romance Can Strengthen Your Story When Done Well
But romance doesn’t always weaken a novel. Done well, a romantic relationship can actually add a lot to your story. It can strengthen elements that are already strong to add that extra oomph.
So, if those above three ways convinced you to never write romance again, here are three points to convince you that romance and romantic relationships can strengthen your story.
1. Add A Layer Of Complexity and Depth To Your Plot
Romantic relationships do not have to detract from your plot—they can actually add to it and give it nuanced depth and a good kind of complexity.
Consider how having to convince the beautiful queen that you love her to save the galaxy adds a whole other level to just being in love with the queen. Or how forcing your characters to find a way to save the mafia king’s daughter and take him down at the same time creates a lot of interesting conflict.
For example, in The False Prince, Jaron and Imogen’s romance adds a complexity to the plot by adding twists and intrigue and betrayal. At first, Imogen hates Jaron, then Jaron’s obvious interest in her puts her in danger (multiple times!), and adds heightened emotions and risk to every action both Jaron and Imogen do.
Romance can add stakes and twists and levels of intrigue and emotional depth to your plot, as long as the romance is woven into the plot, not taking over the plot. Romantic relationships should come alongside your amazing plot to add to it and make the spotlight shine even brighter on it, instead of turning the spotlight away from it.
And when done well, romance can take a mediocre plot and transform it into an amazing story full of twists and turns and betrayals and sacrifices.
2. Craft Heightened Levels Of Emotion
As I said before, romance is emotional and has a lot of feelings—often very messy feelings. But, when carried out carefully, it doesn’t have to take away from the emotions that are already in the story.
It can actually take those emotions and bring them to the surface or expose them in unique, nuanced ways, while also making them carry even more of an impact on your readers.
Elizabeth and Darcy’s romance added all kinds of heightened emotions—and not just theirs either. It made Lizzy’s mom more emotional, Caroline Bingley jealous and exceptionally emotional, and Darcy more prone to long monologues and passionate rants about love, among other things.
It impacted every other character in small or large doses and heightened the whole emotional level of the book.
3. Complement Your Main Character
One of the strongest ways romance can strengthen your story is to complement your main character. Instead of pulling attention away from your main character, when done well it often convinces the reader that this story couldn’t be about anyone else—they can’t imagine this story without this character.
Romance can pull a character toward growth and healing and finding their truth, showing a story through their eyes that your audience will never question whether it should have been through someone else’s.
Elizabeth and Darcy both learned to be a little less prideful and prejudiced throughout the book. Lizzy realizes that judging people and being prejudiced toward them gets her nothing, and Darcy realizes that being prideful and snobbish doesn’t win him any favors with anyone.
Their romance pushed them along their arcs, foiled each other, and taught one another truths in a way that would have been impossible apart from their romance.
When done well, romance can bring out your main character and shape them in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without the romance, and really round out and complete the character so that your readers love them and want more and more, never questioning whether this story should have been about them in the first place.
3 Tips For Writing Strong Romantic Relationships
So now that we’ve covered the ways that romance can weaken and strengthen your story, let’s get into how we can practically do this.
How do we craft romance well? How do we carry out romantic relationships in our writing with power? How do we strengthen our stories with romance, instead of weakening them?
1. Develop The Characters Themselves, Not Just The Romance
First things first, above anything else—focus on the characters.
Not how the characters complement each other. Not how the characters impact and influence each other. But on the characters as individual people with individual goals and plans and arcs and truths that they have to learn.
And then, once you have the characters themselves down, focus on how the romance adds to them each and complements them together. Once you know who the characters are before they fall in love, then focus on how they fall in love and how they impact each other and round each other out and help teach and grow each other.
But you first have to craft the characters as individuals, because if your readers don’t care about the characters, they won’t care about the romance, or the romantic relationship, or anything that it affects.
In The Hunger Games, we wouldn’t care about Katniss and Peeta’s relationship unless we had first cared about Katniss and Peeta as individual sympathetic characters. In Pride and Prejudice, we wouldn’t care about Elizabeth and Darcy’s romance unless we first cared about Elizabeth and Darcy as people with goals, wants, and dreams.
You can take any Disney couple, Jane Austen couple, or couple from literature that is famous or well-known and well-loved, and see that before you loved their romantic relationship, you loved the character.
A lot of times writers can do this halfway, and develop one character in the romance, but completely leave out the other. Readers might end up loving one character in the romance and not the other, which means they won’t love the romance.
So craft your characters well. Make them sympathetic and original and multi-faceted—make your readers love them and care about them and root for them—and then focus on the romantic relationship.
2. Focus On How The Romance Affects Each Character’s Personal Arc
Bouncing off of that, once you have characters that your readers love as themselves, you can start developing the romance and focusing on how this specific relationship adds to each character’s arc.
Every character has an arc—this journey that they go on to stop believing their lie and start believing the truth (or vice-versa if it’s a negative arc). An arc of growing and changing and transforming throughout the story to become a character that is strong and adored by readers.
Your romance has to directly impact this arc.
Either it helps them realize their truth or pushes them toward finally realizing their lie was a lie. Maybe this romance is one character’s greatest fear, and the other character’s greatest desire. Or one character’s arc is fulfilled by the other character’s.
You could go on and on with the scenarios, but the point is the romance needs to add to the arc, make them grow, push them past their comfort zones, and have a direct impact on their story.
One amazing way to do this is to have the characters foil each other—one character’s lie is the other character’s fear, whose desire is the first character’s trauma, and so on.
They are opposites or contrasting in some way, which can weave in a lot of conflict and enhance your message and theme, and, in the end, do exactly what you want: make your romantic relationship strong and powerful.
3. Make Your Romantic Relationship Add Something To The Story
In addition to that, you have to make your relationship add something to the story as a whole.
It can’t just… be there to be there. It can’t just be there to say you have romance, or as a marketing technique, or as a selling point.
No—you have to think intentionally about your romantic relationships and have them add something to the story. Enhance the story. Grow the story. Give the story a message. Expand and add depth and texture to the story. Add emotional layers to the story.
For example, the romance between Katniss and Peeta adds complexity and twists to the story, tension, stakes, and so much more. It gives both of them conflict toward each other and other characters in the story, and packs an extra punch to every twist and turn. It also adds emotional complexity and layers to their motivations.
No matter how you do it, or what they add to your story, your couples and every romantic relationship must add something to your story—you can’t just have the romance be a cute little addition to make things more complex.
You can’t just have amazing characters with epic arcs and really deep romantic tension that adds to the plot without a conviction behind it all.
You can do both of the first two points and still fail if it doesn’t have a reason to be in the story and a powerful message behind it.
Romance Is Not Easy
But it can be done well. It can add power and impact to your stories, leave your readers with conviction and your theme, and make your story complex and intriguing.
Your romantic relationships can have fandoms squealing about them for years. They can hit your readers hard and make them cry. You can have people making fanart and Pinterest images and so on.
You just have to take the time to craft them well. And that’s why we’ve crafted a free resource for you with specific questions to ask yourself about your romantic relationships. It’s important to know what to do, but it’s just important to know how to practically implement this knowledge, and asking yourself questions is one of the best ways to do this.
Don’t worry about getting this perfect the first time—but definitely do try. Don’t worry about getting everything right, just try to get something right.
Our words are powerful. Our characters can create an impact. Every relationship we write and every plot we think up is impactful.
You can make a difference with your words, you just have to get out there and write them, and take the time to make them strong.