It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’ve got romance on my mind.
It was almost twenty-five years ago when my husband took me out to dinner and didn’t propose. I was scared he would ask me to marry him in front of everyone—and although I’m a people person, I’m not into public shows of affection. But he knew that. So one week later we were alone at the top of a hill. The black sky was filled with stars, and he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.
I said, “Yes!” and he spun me around. We spent the rest of the night driving around to tell our families we’d gotten engaged. They were happy but also confused because they thought we were already engaged.
So that’s my love story. But what about writing romantic tension between two characters in a novel (or a screenplay or short story, any kind of story)? Why is it some writers are so good at writing love where others don’t like to do it? I don’t have answers about why some people like to write romantic scenes and others don’t, but I have five tips on how to write romantic tension in your story.
Five Tips for Writing Romance
Tip #1: There’s romance in the waiting.
It’s not that romantic if people get what they want the second they think they want it. Consider Anne of Green Gables. There was romance in everything she longed to have someday. There she’d float along the river holding an iris, living out one of her romantic fantasies. The romance isn’t always about the hand-holding or the kissing. It’s often about fantasy and desire. Make sure you spend time on the longing, or when your characters kiss, there won’t be as many built-up fireworks.
Tip #2: There’s romance in knowledge.
Knowing someone and being known is part of falling in love. Take my engagement, for example. My husband knew I would hate a public proposal. That’s why I was so much happier to say yes when he finally asked me that chilly night on the hill under a star-studded sky. You can show two characters are falling for each other through their actions, which don’t have to be outwardly romantic. In fact, often these non-typical romantic gestures can have the greatest impact.
Examples: One character can show another they’re interested through demonstrating they know them well. They can...
- Show up to help when they weren’t asked.
- Bring them a favorite snack.
- Include them in a conversation.
- Know specific details about their life.
- Invite them to go somewhere.
- Develop an inside joke.
- Notice something about the person.
- Make them feel seen in a way nobody else sees them.
- Listen. Listening can be sexy.
Tip #3: There’s romance in the conflict.
It doesn’t seem correct to say conflict can lead to love, but it can. Sometimes people fight for romantic reasons. Consider these arguments...
- You think you’re better than me.
- You aren’t taking what you deserve.
- I thought you were different.
Sometimes conflict happens because people care so much. This makes sense because if someone didn’t care, there wouldn’t be anything to fight about.
Tip #4: There’s romance in finally getting what you hoped for.
After all the dreaming, waiting, hoping, getting to know each other, and working through issues, the outcome of two characters getting together is sweet. While many readers prefer a happily ever after, it’s possible the outcome won’t be like a fairy tale. If a character finally gets what they wanted, it may not be everything they thought it would be. It’s okay if a character realizes something greater on their journey toward love.
Tip #5: It’s about more than just romance.
If you’re going to write a happily ever after ending (and this romantic girl hopes you do), it’s important that when the characters finally find one another, the outcome of the story is greater than the sum of their love. They must have become better individuals because of hashing out their issues together. They must offer something special to the world. At the bare minimum, they must offer a sense of hope. If you want the characters to go above and beyond their basic job description (fall in love, kiss, live happily ever after) you can have their love story inspire others to greatness. It’s important to consider that love is not the end-all-be-all. Love is better when it can make the people in the relationship better humans.