Jul 18 2009

Six Tips on How to Write Romance

Many books and comics have at least one official pairing in them, either as a main plot element or as a sidestory.


It can be very difficult to write a believable relationship, and it is something that can very easily become cliché and annoying. I have a handful of tips for avoiding the pitfalls of romance writing.

1. Try to be original when you describe how they meet. We’ve seen the Crash Into Hello so many times that it is more fodder for eye-rolling than anything else. Try combining different stereotypical meetings to get something fresh. Perhaps Alice accidentally knocks Bob through an open window, and Catherine runs to help him, spraining her ankle and needing help from Daniel, the creepy guy who never talks. Two words: love quadrangle.

2. On that note, be careful with love triangles, quadrangles and other polygons. If 2+ characters are fawning over the same love interest, there had better be a good reason. Otherwise it makes the object of their affection appear to be a Mary Sue and the other corners of the triangle look pathetic.

3. Try to develop the characters independently before pairing them up. Or at least let the reader see what they’re like when they’re alone. Alice might be a total slob at home, but when she’s around Bob, she’s hardly going to belch.


4. Don’t bring the pairing out of nowhere. If Alice doesn’t turn up before Bob introduces her to his family, it is like introducing her to the reader at the same time. That’s generally not a good idea, because the reader doesn’t know her, and will accept the way she is characterised around Bob’s parents as the way she always behaves. Most people would behave eloquently at a dinner party, and try to hide their flaws. If Alice is introduced there, it may make her look like a Mary Sue. However, if she is shown before the dinner party with her hair messed up and her apartment full of scruffy cats, we will see her true colours and be more interested in her at the dinner party. Will she mess up?

5. If the romance is a main plot point, don’t have the love interest disappear and come back whenever it’s convenient for the characters. If Alice is a superhero, she doesn’t want Bob to knock on her door while she’s fighting ninjas in her living room.  It will be much more interesting if he does anyway.

6. If all the scenes they share are simply about how cute they are together, the story will get stale very quickly. There must be some conflict. For example, while Alice is fighting the ninjas, she may yell at Bob to go away. Understandably, he’s going to be hurt by this, and may bring it up next time they speak. Alice has to explain why she was so angry and why Bob could hear her collection of vases smashing. She can’t exactly tell him that she threw them at ninjas sent by the Yakuza.

28 responses so far

28 Responses to “Six Tips on How to Write Romance”

  1. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 18 Jul 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Originally this would have been a little longer with more detail on two types of romance and more on love polygons, but it ran over the word limit.

    I think it turned out pretty well, though. I should practice writing articles on other things to improve my skills. It’s always good to be skilled in many areas. Except biology, I’m never going to be good at that. Haha.

  2. Wingson 19 Jul 2009 at 12:59 pm


    Overall, these are the romances in my books.
    Book 1:

    Ian/Gabriel and Jazz/Nightshade

    Book 2:

    Drew/Frostbite and Maya/Remembrence

    Julian/Harbinger and Kassandra/Oracle

    I’m debating throwing in Connor for the last pairing and make it a triangle. I’m just afraid of how the fanfiction writers will think (Connor/Darren, anyone?).

    Note to self – For laughs (and in P’s case mental scarring) figure out every possible shipping and name them (LostSiblingShipping – Connor/Darren, Avianshipping – Ian/Jazz…I’m evil).

    – Wings, The Evil One
    – Wings

  3. Lighting Manon 19 Jul 2009 at 1:18 pm

    The booze bone is connected to the smoke bone and the smoke bone is connected to the head bone and that’s the word of the Lord!

    Biology is simple as pie made from the desiccated corpses of our prehistoric alien overlords!

    Some great advice here, and I think the suggestion about the dinner party or parental introduction could be taken to apply on almost all levels. You should almost never show a character outside of their element before the reader sees them inside it.

  4. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 19 Jul 2009 at 4:48 pm

    “Note to self – For laughs (and in P’s case mental scarring) figure out every possible shipping and name them (LostSiblingShipping – Connor/Darren, Avianshipping – Ian/Jazz…I’m evil)”

    I’ve done that before. Here are some of the weirdest, and what my reaction would be if I saw fics posted of FF.net:

    IsaacxTristram (But… they’re twins! Squick! Also, Atalya and Kamari would go crazy mad and pull out the shotguns)

    IsaacxLonnie (Well, they’re not blood relatives, but she’s ten and he’s sixteen!)

    IsaacxWill (They ARE close, and it’s a plausible pairing, but they’re both straight)

    IsaacxAtalya (Tristram would kill him and Kamari would be less than pleased with her so-called best friend)

    TristramxAmy Belle (They haven’t even met!)

    LonniexThat Boy She Beat Up That One Time (Aw, troo wub! Wait a second, that’s just random!)

    Finally: EveryonexEveryone in a crazy harem fic. (DO NOT WANT! I’d be like O_O and not touch that fic with a pole that extends to the end of the universe)

    Haha. I was discussing crazy pairings with a friend the other day and looking up the pairings to see if there were any fan sites. Thankfully, the craziest pairing, when searched for fansites, has only three results: LxCake. Seriously, a detective in love with a slice of cake.

  5. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 19 Jul 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Oh, I just thought of a new crazy pairing:

    KlementexAtalya (Tristram would kill Klemente and go on an angsty rant about how she betrayed him, possibly bursting into tears at the same time. Aw, he’d look so cute if he cried. Excuse me a moment.)

    ME: Hey Tristram. (Grabs his arm)

    TRISTRAM: Uh, hi. What are you doing?

    ME: (Snaps arm)

    TRISTRAM: ARRGH! (Bursts into tears) WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!

    ME: Awwwww. Atalya, get in here, your boyfriend is hurt.

    ATALYA: Huh? (sees him) Oh my God! What happened?!

    TRISTRAM: SHE happened!

    ATALYA: (Kills me, cuddles Tristram)

    Aw, poor little crazy genius badass baby. Haha.

  6. Wingson 19 Jul 2009 at 7:09 pm

    Let’s see…*whips out shipping list*

    Canon Shippings:

    Flightshipping – IanxJazz (Since they both can fly)

    KissBattleshipping – DrewxMaya (One of the more memorable moments is when Drew kisses her – in the middle of a fight against her no less)

    Powershipping – AndraxJulian (They are some of the most powergul characters in the series)

    Non Canon Shippings:

    Twinshipping – DarrenxPierce (This one has to come up sometime)

    LightningRodshipping – MegxPierce (Those crazy writers would interpret them as a love-hate relationship)

    Friendshipping – MegxIan (They could interpret Meg’s dislike of Heather as jealousy…)

    LostSiblingshipping – ConnorxDarren (Six year age difference, but they did train together a lot and shared one particularily sad scene)

    Blackshipping – JazzxPierce (They are the darker members of the team…)

    TrueTwinshipping – AndraxElle (They do like shipping twins tgether, those weirdos)

    Mind Breaking Shippings (For P, of course):

    ScarletxAnyone (Squick. He’s 47, people)

    Book2!ScarletxAnyone (Now he’s 21…and younger than the old team. Double Squick)

    PiercexTrash Can Lid (His favorite weapon)

    IanxJazz (Not so bad at first glance, but Jazz is in her black fox form. Or snake. Or horse. Whatever you find Squickiest)

    *rereads list*

    What goes through my mind…

    I must go send this list to P. Between the explanation of what a “lemon” is and the list of Fangirl/boy breeds and how to avoid them, he’ll be insane by the end of summer. Hee hee hee…Yes, I like to torment my friends. Don’t you?

    – Wings

  7. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 19 Jul 2009 at 9:57 pm

    It’s kind of hard for me to torment my friends, because most of them love to discuss fandom related topics. I do love to annoy them with constant Doctor Who, references, though. Haha.

    I just thought up a really random pairing:

    IsaacxHoodie (Sure, it protects his identity and all, but it’s just a piece of clothing! Haha)

    I have seen quite a few random crack pairings, like RyukxApple. God, I found a link to a fic, read half of it and then scrubbed my brain with bleach. Apples do not work that way! Haha.

    One of my favourite types of pairing is the Takahashi Couple, aka Tsunderes in Love. They yell at each other and embarrass each other, and in the most extreme cases may end up physically fighting. Otani and Koizumi from Lovely Complex fall into this category, and I love the way they fight but still care for each other.

    I’m going to put Isaac and Kamari together as a Takahashi/Battle Couple, but with Kamari as a Tsundere and Isaac as a Nice Guy who is wary not to push her Berserk Button (but ends up doing so anyway, resulting in a Megaton Punch) but there will be moments to show that Aw, They Really Do Love Each Other.

    Wow, that was the most Trope heavy thing I have ever said. Haha.

  8. B. Macon 20 Jul 2009 at 2:41 am

    Hey, Whovian. If you have more ideas about love polygons, would you like to try an article on those specifically?

  9. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 20 Jul 2009 at 6:08 am

    “If you have more ideas about love polygons, would you like to try an article on those specifically?”

    Yes, but I really have to get this homework out of the way. I’d rather be writing an article about love polygons than a feature article for English class, but I’ll get around to it soon, I’m halfway done. I even managed to twist it into something interesting.

    I’m writing about a lack of positive role models in the popular teen fiction books. Needless to say, Twilight gets a mention. I just hope my teacher doesn’t judge me on my dislike of Twilight, because she loves it. I’m also going to mention that characters who are Mary Sues aren’t good role models, because they create an impossible standard that may discourage readers.

    On that note, can you think of any other character from other books who aren’t very good role models? I’m stuck. Thanks!

  10. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 22 Jul 2009 at 3:03 am

    Hi, I just finished an article about love polygons and emailed it.

  11. B. Macon 22 Jul 2009 at 3:31 am

    Thanks. I’ll get right on that.

  12. HUsheron 22 Jul 2009 at 4:54 am

    Ah, an article sent by the Gods. I’m in the middle of a romance scene in my novel right now and completely stuck on it.
    Set back in the year 1796. The characters, Brooke and Ivy, meet at a Regency ball. Brooke’s sort of the annoying, arrogant type at this point and Ivy’s quite haughty. She says no when he asks her to dance and he’s so put off that she refused him that he tries everything he can to get her to dance with him. Finally they do, and they get to talking… and that’s right about where I lost it. One: Ivy can’t be too flirtatious because her family are there and she’s engaged currently, though she doesn’t love the man. Two: They could be overheard at any minute and thus, can’t talk about anything too serious.
    Any thoughts? Playful banter can only go on so long.

  13. XoXoPhyreon 27 Jul 2009 at 10:29 pm

    This was really helpful. I have a few relationships in my story, not all are the same. I have:

    Pyra & Ultra Atom- She’s white, he’s black. I wanted to do an interracial relationship and chose these two characters because it opened up a lot of story ideas. She’s the boss’s daughter and a fashion model. He’s a single father with a rough upbringing. I want to touch on his thoughts that she’s too good for him and her feelings meeting his daughter for the first time. Also, how his family would feel with him dating a white girl.

    Onyx-He’s dating a civilian and is also gay. Its a BIG twist on the Clark Kent and Lois Lane type of relationship.

    Lastly, Ouickstrike & Hornette-Quickstrike has a budding crush on Hornette. I wanted to use them to bring an uncomplicated youthful relationship to my story. Its the only relationship that just seems to work. That way the readers don’t feel like all my characters can’t get a break when it comes to love.

  14. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 28 Jul 2009 at 5:59 am

    “This was really helpful. I have a few relationships in my story, not all are the same”.

    I have a few, too. One of the main relationships is between a white American boy and an African-American girl, one is a close friendship between an African-American boy and a Canadian girl, one between an Indian-Australian girl and an English boy, one is a relationship between two white Australians and the main character’s parents are a Japanese man and a white Australian woman. Okay, make that a lot. Haha.

    I try to keep a diverse set of characters without letting it turn into a group of tokens. I’ve countered a few stereotypes and added different elements to them so they’re more three dimensional. I didn’t create them based on race or religion, I thought of the characters first and then randomly chose a background for them, later adding extra things on top, like clothing and accent.

    I’ve implied a couple of other relationships, mostly between minor characters. Those are the relationships that don’t really matter to the story, so I’ll let readers decide if they’re heterosexual or not. Haha. I’m not against any pairing of characters, as long as it’s not incestuous, paedophilia or otherwise morally wrong. If it doesn’t make sense, like the characters never meeting or something, then I’ll just shrug and say “whatever makes you happy”. Haha.

  15. The Jedi Penguinon 27 Jun 2011 at 8:34 am

    As a romance writer, I must say this is sound advice. Another point I’d add is don’t let your characters fall in love too fast, especially if your story is predominately romance. Half the fun of the book is wondering when the characters will realise their love for each other. After they do, keeping them apart is fun too, whether by circumstance (“Our families hate each other”) or by assumptions (“I love her, but she’d never love me back”) etc. Once the main couple becomes official, things get boring because the main goal has been accomplished in the readers eyes, and there’s an even greater risk of gushing about how cute they are together, how perfect the are for each other, etc. If your story has elements of other genres and the couple has something to do besides live happily ever after after they get together, than you can get away with pairing them up sooner, but you have to be careful.

    I think that’s enough of a rant for now xD

  16. Grenacon 06 Nov 2011 at 9:19 pm

    I removed the romance from my story because it started to make me uncomfortable. I felt it made the book too girly and besides, it’d take a loooooong time to develop. Nevertheless, I will write about it…someday.

    I’m starting to feel like romance would be off-putting in an otherwise action oriented story :B

  17. B. McKenzieon 06 Nov 2011 at 11:54 pm

    “I’m starting to feel like romance would be off-putting in an otherwise action oriented story :B” If you want to write an action-romance, I would recommend doing it. I am pretty sure there are enough women out there that can handle action that you’ll be okay. (I’m less sure that there are many men out there that can handle a lot of romance, but I think you could do a little with repelling too many men–see Harry Potter, for example).

  18. ShyVioletson 12 Nov 2011 at 9:26 pm

    My skills at writing romance are abysmal but I have at least one pre existing pairing that in necessary to the plot and I have no idea how to pull it off o.O

    The pairing is between Melody Knight (my MC Theo’s mom) and he live-in boy friend Jack. Melody is a police investigator and Jack is a reformed thief who now is basically a stay at home dad. (he does do some security consulting for corporations and such). Melody is also very strict and unyielding while Jack is go with the follow and relaxed.

    I need tips desperately o.O

  19. aharrison 26 Jul 2012 at 6:59 am

    I’ve been working on the details of a story that will work with four characters told from the perspective of one. And part of the team conflict centers on a love triangle, but I don’t know if it would be too cliche/unworkable. I have DJ the PhD candidate who’s writing her thesis and because she’s technically a “college student,” suffers from the perception that she’s “just a kid” to a certain degree even though she’s only two to three years younger than the other characters in reality. There’s Persephone who has the whole mysterious past thing going for her and consequently suffers from a feeling that her life is out of her control although she’s not consciously aware of that. And, there’s Derek the oldest of the crew who’s sort of the average Joe and the straight-laced, chivalrous one.

    Persephone is a wild child and lives her life perpetually on the edge. This attracts Derek who’s never been able to live to out of control and free as a cop and responsible person. Part of Persephone’s control issues play out in that she likes to get attention from people, and she’ll flirt with anything if she can keep that attention. However, she found out a long time ago that if it never goes anywhere, she can play that attention for all its worth for much longer. In other words, she never really intends to go anywhere with Derek in any serious way. She’s playing for control although that’s not how she understands it.

    Derek is attracted to her because she represents the kind of unbridled, unrestrained freedom he wishes he could have at times. He lives his life hemmed in by rules and laws and responsibilities. Sephi does not, and while you’d never get him to admit it, he envies her that freedom even though he knows it gets her into trouble with society and the law. She’s something he can’t have even though he thinks he really wants it.

    DJ came to the city running from her past in several ways, but the first is that she’s defying her heart. She’s determined to live life on her own terms and see how far she can go on her own under her own talents. What she really wants and has always wanted is hearth, home and family, a dream that was shattered by a bad experience with her high school flame and her family. Derek is the kind of guy she’s been raised to believe she should be looking for even as she tells herself she’s done with all those silly little girl dreams.

    The way I am seeing this develop right now. I never get an open romance develop until the end of the story. The closest I get is some flirting and maybe a little more early on between Derek and Sephi. In fact, I have some essential plot points turning on a couple of men DJ winds up dating. The two men in the group, Derek and Darius, take a more brotherly tack with DJ due to her perceived “youth,” and the whole thing manifests more as a growing friendship between Derek and DJ that coincides with a growing nastiness between Sephi and DJ as Sephi starts to see the challenge and DJ starts to realize that she really likes Derek as more than just a friend. And poor Derek gets sort of caught in the middle without really understanding why, but guys are often oblivious like that.

  20. JVKJRon 28 Nov 2012 at 5:26 pm

    The book I’ve been writing will have somewhat of a love triangle.
    Alistair/ Alastrina (they aren’t related, I’ve only recently realized how much is sounds like they are and I’m planning on changing one)/ Cathaoir.
    Alistair and Alastrina are pretty much friends at first (first three books) and they become develop more romantic inclinations later on.
    Cathaoir is initially a sort of neutral figure in the story, but once he takes a side, he and Alastrina become each other’s greatest allies. The two have similar roles, and differences that complement each other and, as a whole, are the perfect team. They share a (metaphorical) bond that can’t ever be broken.
    I guess I sort of spoiled who Alastrina is with in the end.

  21. acharaon 29 Nov 2012 at 3:09 pm

    I can’t help much with the romance, but I would just like to point out hat Cathaoir is “chair” or “seat” in Irish. I wouldn’t be able to read that story with a straight face. Sorry.

  22. B. McKenzieon 29 Nov 2012 at 4:37 pm

    “I would just like to point out hat Cathaoir is “chair” or “seat” in Irish. I wouldn’t be able to read that story with a straight face. Sorry.” If the book had an Irish language edition, I think the publisher would probably change the name in the localization if the Irish editors thought it was an issue. My main issue with the name would be that most non-Irish people would probably have a hell of a time pronouncing it.

    If I were localizing a book into the U.S., I personally wouldn’t rename a character with the surname Seat, particularly if the book is an biography of the Member of Parliament William Seat. (Actually, I’m 99% sure there there’s never been a MP William Seat, but it sounds sort of plausible, doesn’t it?) With the surname “Chair,” I might, unless it’s supposed to come across as odd and/or supernaturally British (e.g. like Mr. Bean or Roald Dahl’s Charlie Bucket).

  23. JVKJRon 30 Nov 2012 at 4:48 pm

    It is an actual name- I’ve checked. Not a popular one, but it is used. It does have Celtic/ Gaelic roots, but when used as a name, it doesn’t mean ‘chair’. I’ve checked numerous sources, and they all have the meaning (as a name) as ‘fighter’, ‘warrior’, or something closely related t that. As a name, it does NOT mean chair.
    I check these things, though I admit I made a mistake with two other names.

  24. Dr. Vo Spaderon 30 Nov 2012 at 8:42 pm

    B. Mac, in your professional opinion…what is it with vampires and triangles?

  25. B. McKenzieon 30 Nov 2012 at 10:37 pm

    “What is it with vampires and [love] triangles?” Most works aimed at women tend to have more convoluted romantic arcs. Vampires are overwhelmingly female-oriented, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they had more soap-operaish romances than, say, James Bond or the average superhero. In my experience, most men will RELUCTANTLY tolerate a simple romantic arc (particularly if it’s tied in closely to action), but romantic soap operas do not resonate with men.

  26. acharaon 01 Dec 2012 at 6:14 am

    Actually, JVJKR, the name you are looking for is Cathrach which extends into the names of Casey, Caithsaigh, and Caithrach. I’m theorising tht Cathaoir is a corrupted, anglicized version of one of these names that was adopted as the true meaning.
    Even if Cathaoir did mean warrior, that would not be the first meaning coming to anyone’s mind because it is so commonly used as seat that no one would look further.
    It is a name, you’re right, but most of the Irish and Scot-Gaelic view it as a ‘fake’ name like Star, Princess, Zowie-Bowie, Apple, etc. I’d advise you to change it, but it’s up to you!

  27. Edna E.on 09 Oct 2013 at 8:35 pm

    I have a question regarding romance. (I hope this is a good place to ask it…)

    Long story short, I’m trying to write on a graphic novel in which most of the supporting cast (three out of four characters,) are factory-created humans made from the same batch of DNA. (So genetically, they’re all siblings or cousins.) In thatvlight, would it be too creepy if one of them started to feel romantically attracted to one of the others?
    (Note that they are all legal adults and completely unable to reproduce, so western cultural taboo is the only weird thing going on here.)


  28. B. McKenzieon 10 Oct 2013 at 5:49 am

    “Genetically, they’re all siblings or cousins. In that light, would it be too creepy if one of them started to feel romantically attracted to one of the others?” Yes.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply