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Writing Romantic Relationships

I'm up on the blog chain again (again! so soon! eek!).  This time Sandra chose the topic, which is

Do you write romantic relationships in your books? If so, what do you do to show the attraction between your characters? What problems do your characters encounter? What qualities do you think make a romantic relationship work in fiction?

I do write romantic relationships in my books.  Relationships in general fascinate me, but the romantic dynamics of a good couple are even better.

What do you do to show the attraction between your characters?

I try to show attraction the way real people show attraction. They look at each other more than at other people, they're comfortable in each other's space, they talk about the person often and with feeling.

What problems do your characters encounter?

In real life, finding and getting along with your “other half” is difficult. Have you ever read a story in which the characters constantly misunderstand, insult, and stonewall each other, yet by the last page you’re to believe that they will live happily ever after with none of the conflict that filled every page before the last? In real life, it doesn’t work that way, and it shouldn’t in fiction, either. Conflict is the engine that keeps every story going, and the love relationships between your characters are one of the most important parts of that engine.

A problem I see in some fiction is that there is no reason for the characters to fall for each other or be in love -- other than the fact that they're both excruciatingly hot, of course.  As in real life, your characters should be attracted to the people they're attracted to for a reason.  What attracted your character to the love interest in the first place?  What needs does the love interest fulfill?  Why is the love interest different from all the other men and women out there?

In real life people choose the partners they do for all kinds of reasons, some of them noble and romantic, some of them less so.  For example, maybe they had great "chemistry" with the person. Maybe they had a lot in common.  Maybe they need to feel needed.  Maybe they wanted to get out of their parents' house.  Maybe they were ready to settle down.  Maybe they needed someone to help them parent a child.  Regardless, there is definitely a reason other than that someone needed them together to make a particular storyline work.

And once people are together, why do they stay together?  Doing couples therapy was always a fascinating endeavor, because couples with enormous problems would come in and complain about each other and the relationship -- but still want to make it work.  They still loved each other.  And they could usually tell you why.

In my stories, relationships are usually messy.  People say the wrong things,. have affairs, and hurt each other -- sometimes accidentally and sometimes on purpose.  Ex-partners create havoc, hidden histories drive wedges, but in the end love always prevails for me.  I like to pretend to be pragmatic and sensible, but the truth is that I'm a hopeless romantic, and in my stories, love really is the greatest power of all.

What qualities do you think make a romantic relationship work in fiction?

I'm most drawn to fictional relationships where there is a strong, identifiable reason for an attraction at the same time there are problems (internal or external to the relationship) that are trying to tear the couple apart.  Right now I'm writing about a couple with tons of chemistry and lots in common -- the only problem is their respective peoples hate each other.  In other stories, I've let misunderstandings or mistakes be what kept the characters apart.  For me, the attraction to each other has to be stronger than the problems, but not by much. The characters have to keep coming together the way a pair of magnets will.  They might push against each other, but inevitably, they snap together and hold on.

What do you think, dear readers?  How would you answer Sandra's questions?  I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts!  Also be sure to check out Kate's answer -- she's next in the blog chain!

8 Comments:

  1. Kate Karyus Quinn said...
    I like how you talk about in the last section that for romance to work the couple need to have lots of conflict between them, but keep being drawn together anyway. I think that push and pull is what has always drawn me to the romance genre.

    Love the stuff about the couples counseling too - that's a really interesting insight!
    christinefonseca said...
    What a great answer!!! (Now, what on earth am I going to say on this topic?)And I agree, conflict is definitely a necessary component to any story - especially the romantic ones. Nicely done, Carolyn!
    Michelle McLean said...
    I know when I read a story where the characters almost get together and then don't because of some stupid reason over and over again it drives me nuts. I don't mind so much if they actually are together for a bit and then split, or if there is a good reason, even a stupid misunderstanding, that I can get behind and think "okay, I can see how that might drive a wedge," then it's okay. But it's got to be believable. And I love the happily ever after endings :) Fight all you want, as long as you are together by the last page :)
    K.M. Weiland said...
    I always find the source of conflict in chick flicks fascinating - mostly, because it often seems forced. The writers came up with two character who were perfect for each other and then had to somehow had to manufacture a way to make sure there was two hours' worth of conflict between them. Being able to balance the warmth and the love of a relationships with the necessity of conflict is a lot harder than it sounds.

    Love the picture for this post, BTW! That's a story in itself.
    Sandra said...
    I agree that the couple has to be together for a reason. I see the "hotness" thing a lot in urban fantasy, and while it must satisfy someone's fantasies, it's not a realistic depiction of a relationship, IMO. Make me want the couple to succeed as a couple. Make them stronger as a couple than they are alone.

    Great post!
    ElanaJ said...
    Great point about having two people get together simply because they are excruciatingly hot. That made me laugh out loud. I think the reason people get together is because somehow, some way, the other person gives them something they don't have. Patience, wisdom, tolerance, a different point of view, whatever it may be. They "complete" you, so to speak. They are what you are not, so together, you are a whole unit. Does that make sense? Probably not. Le sigh.

    Great post!
    Kat Harris said...
    Darn it. Conflict was the answer I was going to give.

    A problem I see in some fiction is that there is no reason for the characters to fall for each other or be in love -- other than the fact that they're both excruciatingly hot, of course.

    I love the books/movies where the hero and heroine are older or not the movie-starrish looking people.
    Annie Louden said...
    This was a great post. For some reason when I think about romantic relationships in fiction, I don't give them too much credit. But that is a great point about having the skill to write about a relationship with conflict but still having the people come back to each other. That is weakening my stereotype of romance in fiction being "fluff." Also, not sure where that stereotype came from.

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