Jul 16 2009
“Love interest” is a degrading term. It brings to mind the shiny-eyed chick, with nothing better to do than swoon over the hero and get kidnapped. But they don’t have to be like that! It only takes five steps to save the mandatory trophy girlfriend.
1. Make her her own character. Ask yourself what she’s like. Was your answer “she loves the hero very much”, or worse, something about her looks? Hard as it is to believe, she probably has a life beyond loving the hero. Find out what she’s like apart from him. Don’t think of her as a love interest. Think of her as a girl, who loves the hero. Develop her the same way you developed the heroes. Why does she act how she does? What makes her stand out?
2. Know why they fall in love. This is vital if they haven’t met in the beginning. Now, pick a movie with a romantic subplot. Any movie. Watch the scene where they meet. Chances are, there’s no meaningful interaction. They talk about nothing important…but he keeps eyeing her like he’s never seen a girl before. It doesn’t work that way.
I’ll admit it’s doable in movies, but it stands out like a sore thumb in written form. Look at it realistically. Ask yourself this: what originally drew them to each other? Was it a personality trait that attracted her to the hero? Why does he love her?
3. Know what makes the relationship tick. You may know why they got together. Why’d they stay together? What is the relationship like? Are they lovesick and in over their heads, or are they deeply romantic? Or maybe they just feel happy when the other room.
Do you really feel like they complete each other? Think about it. Look at them from an emotional standpoint and ask yourself who or what they need. If you don’t think they fulfill each other’s needs, think of how you can change them to fix that.
4. Make her add something. What does she contribute to the hero’s quest? If you could have the sidekick perform her actions, that’s bad. If you could easily replace her with a loaf of bread, that’s worse. If MJ just waits for Spider-Man while robbers loot her house, she may as well be out of town. But if she fights them off with the things in her bedroom, she makes an impact on the story by buying Spidey time.
5. Be sure you have room for romance! Too much is likely to grate on male readers, but a hot trophy girlfriend annoys everybody. Romance can make for a genuinely warm development arc. It can also be a meaningless distraction from the plot. If the romance adds nothing, but you want to keep the character, just make her a friend. If the character is that vital, she’s probably more important than the romance.