I know. We already did a relationships post. But we didn’t do one focusing specifically on ROMANCE. So now we’re going to.
I’m not even sorry.
Now, I write science fiction and fantasy, not romance, but I love a good romantic subplot. Emphasis on good. Because, let’s face it, a badly done or even *cough cough* toxic romance in fiction is annoying as all get out.
Problem is, really good romances are complicated to write — at least I find them complicated. I’m always looking to learn more about how to create healthy, realistic, swoon-worthy romances in my stories, and part of how I do that is by drawing inspiration from fiction.
So let’s do this. We’re going to look at several fictional romances, and see what tips we can glean from them.
Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon remain one of my favorite TV couples, even though the show ended years ago. They’re adorable together, but the appeal goes deeper than that.
One of the things that makes them such a fun couple is their contrasting but complementary traits. Jane is crafty, cynical, pragmatic, and kind of rule-breaker. Lisbon is clever, optimistic, idealistic, and a rule-follower. If they didn’t like each other, these contrasting traits would be ripe sources of conflict (and do cause conflict all the same), but, since they do like each other, their different personalities make them pretty unstoppable when they’re working in partnership. Jane brings the underhandedness, while Lisbon brings the plausible deniability. Just… watch the show. They’re a little bit scary when they work together.
The point of this is that some of the best relationships (in my opinion) involve two characters combining their disparate traits to become one super-person (yes, super-person is a technical term — leave me and my weird phrases alone). Maybe the lovers in your story don’t “complete” each other, but they do combine to form the best version of themselves.
The Lunar Chronicles: Winter
So… I love Winter and Jacin’s relationship in the Lunar Chronicles. That actually doesn’t have much connection to my point, but I just needed to say it.
Since Winter is told from multiple POVs, we get to see all the characters from a bunch of different perspectives. And my favorite aspect of that is getting to see the difference between how all the other narrators perceive Winter and Jacin and how the two of them perceive each other.
It’s basically like this:
Other Narrators: Wow, Jacin, is so cold and calculating, and we’re pretty sure he hates absolutely everyone and everything. He already sold us out once, so we don’t trust him either.
Winter: Jacin is a literal ray of sunshine. He loves me so much, and he’s so kind, and nobody bothers to understand him. He’s only cold because he has to be in order to survive in this terrible situation. He sacrifices everything for the people he loves.
Other Narrators: Winter is kind of… weird. She seems pretty crazy, and we’re not super sure can trust her. Besides, her episodes put us all in danger. She’s really sweet and brave, though, and we know she loves her people and wants to help us.
Jacin: WINTER IS EVERYTHING. She’s brave and brilliant and deserves to be queen. She sacrificed her sanity in favor of her principles, and I respect that so much. She’s so much kinder than I will ever be, and I will literally do whatever it takes to protect her.
See? Well, obviously you see because it’s pretty clear. Jacin and Winter love each other, know each other best out of everyone, and tend to think the best of each other. This is made evident by the way they treat each other, think of each other, and speak of each other.
I’m really tired of using the phrase “each other”.
*screams into the void* Okay, moving on.
When you’re writing a romance, remember that love and familiarity cause people’s perceptions to change. The closer two characters get, the more they will understand and know each other. Making that clear through the way you write them will make your reader buy their relationship and love.
Plus, it’s really, really fun and adorable to read.
Agents of SHIELD
Wow, it’s been a minute since we talked about Marvel. Don’t worry (I’m sure you weren’t worrying), we’ll soon fix that!
In the Agents of SHIELD fandom (of which I am a proud member), Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons are basically the god tier ship. I mean, people ship other couples (*cough cough* Philinda forever), but Fitz and Simmons are THE couple. At least, in my opinion. Again, this doesn’t have much to do with my point, but I needed to say it.
Their relationship is a great example of how to write a sweet, comfortable romance (in which the pair keeps getting thrown into terrible situations and almost losing each other, but not the point) that developed from a close friendship.
Fitz and Simmons know everything about each other. They’re aware of the other’s faults, flaws, dreams, and desires. They are the other’s safe place. They can laugh at and tease each other. They were friends before they were lovers, and they continued to be friends after they fell in love.
Remember that the deeper a romance becomes, the more comfortable the pair is going to get together. Your two characters might have whirlwind, magical beginning to their relationship, but as they get to know each other and settle into their relationship, things are probably going to calm down and become more everyday.
But everyday doesn’t mean boring or un-shippable (another technical term), as we can see with Fitz and Simmons.
Don’t be afraid to let your two lovers be human together. That’s one of the best things about a long-term relationship — two people just being themselves side by side. Let them mess with each other. Let them bicker. Let one of them stage an inquisition to prove that their partner did in fact eat the last of the Nutella, and THEY SAW THEM DO IT.
Yeah, I don’t really know where that last one came from, but the point still stands. Not every romance needs to be swoon worthy — at least not the whole time. Let your couples be dorky best friends too. If that fits with their personalities, of course.
Fiction Informs Fiction
One of the most helpful ways to develop your craft is to study the stories surrounding you — whether books, movies, or television. Ask yourself why you love this particular story, or why this romance warms your heart. Answering can teach you more than you might expect (or maybe you’re way more perceptive than me, and you totally expected it — I don’t know).
What are some of your favorite fictional romances and why? Let me know in the comments below — I’d love to chat!