Not only can a romance liven up your characters, but they add realistic drama and emotion to your novel. If done correctly, they contribute real depth on a level of human need for acceptance, affection, and ultimate happiness. It’s the idea that when two people meet, they change each other. For better? For worse? Either one can be great to your characterization.
Except a badly built relationship can damage your story! Poor romantic choices on a writing level can damage your character’s realistic and relatable qualities and make your writing cheesy or fake. You want a romance that could be real—one where you can feel the relationship changing and growing like a living thing. A great story is about the people, not the just the plot. And you want your people to struggle and fail and ultimately succeed just as much as real people do—even in their love lives.
Here’s a list I put together, based on what I’ve seen and done:
Plummeting Love: Fictional relationships involving so-called “star-crossed love” I refer to as a Plummeting Love. Because they don’t just fall in love, they plummet. It’s fast and unstoppable with a nasty ending. Except they save the nasty ending until after the book is over so you never read about it. I don’t really like this kinda relationship, but if you can make it work you’re more than welcome to, I suppose. But in my opinion, you should never go with the “love at first sight” thing unless you can follow up with something really good. A great love story isn’t about bam, love! It should be about the growing relationship between two individuals. Besides, loving someone is about loving their personality, not just their looks. So how could you possibly fall in love with someone just by seeing them? That’s infatuation. Of course there’s a chance you might be interested enough in their appearance that you go up and talk to them. Maybe love blooms from there, but that kinda thing takes more than just a few minutes. Think of it this way: in reality, you’re hardly going to walk up to a stranger and just make out with them right there, no matter how beautiful you find them. Unless, of course, you were doing it as a dare or you lost a bet.
Unfortunately though, this kinda romance sells. Because it’s hot and sexy and scandalous, and they don’t fluff over romance before jumping into the sex scene. Plummeting love sells because sex sells. I don’t approve of it because I believe in relationships of love, not lust. But if you’re looking to write a steamy “romance” novel, this is the type for you.
Example: Bella/Edward in Twilight; Romeo/Juliet
More than Friends: Pretty self-explanatory. Two people who start out as either friends or best friends and then slowly fall in love. I completely approve of this type of romance because it’s possible while still maintaining that fictional flare. It happens in real life often enough, I’m sure, although I don’t think it’d always work. Sometimes, maybe, but I feel like you ask for more in a romantic relationship than in a friendship. There’s more selfishness involved in a romantic relationship. If one person in the relationship starts asking for more like in a romantic relationship, and the other person sticks with the selfless love of a friendship, that could cause problems. I think it can get pretty complicated, but it could work out if both people in the relationship stick with the same type of relationship, whether it’s the relationship of friends or the relationship of lovers.
Example: Drizzt/Catti-Brie in Legend of Drizzt; Will/Alyss in Ranger’s Apprentice
Typical Romance: Boy likes girl. Girl likes boy. They’re friends first, but skip the “best friends” stage and jump into a romantic relationship that both sides are happy with. Most fictional stories will have this kind of romance because it doesn’t take a lot of effort, since both sides of the relationship want it anyways. I’d guess that most of the time, both people in the relationship are fairly similar and get along well, but like I said its generally for stories that want a romance but don’t want the tale to be about a romance. So most likely they’ll hardly fight and their relationship details will be kept to a minimum.
Example: Wulfgar/Cattie-Brie in Legend of Drizzt
One-sided Love: Also known as Unrequited Love. Basically it’s a relationship where one side chases the other side. Just to keep things from getting confusing, let’s just say a guy likes a girl, but the feelings aren’t mutual. (It’s not always the guy who’s chasing the girl, but it usually is, for whatever reason. Probably because girls like to be chased because it makes them feel special or desirable, and girls would generally be the ones reading a story about romance anyways so the author is writing straight to his audience) Maybe the girl doesn’t care much for the other; maybe she hates him, maybe she doesn’t know him, maybe she’s indifferent, maybe they’re just friends and she wants to keep it that way. Or maybe she likes a different boy. It’s easy to get some real good love triangles in a relationship like this one! So the boy might try to win over the girl however possible. He might simply give her gifts or do romantic things for her, maybe rescue her from danger, or maybe just stay her closest friend because he knows that’s what she wants from him. Or maybe the boy we’re talking about is your bad guy, and he’s one of those mentally unstable people who think that being evil is the way to win a girl’s heart. There’s a lot of variety in this kinda relationship, which is awesome. I think it’s one of my favorites!
Examples: Aragorn/Eowyn in Lord of the Rings; Eragon/Arya in Eragon
Fire and Fire: This is my favorite romance type by far. The simple idea behind it is that opposites attract. More or less. I’ll explain that further in a bit(*). Anyways, this romance involves two disagreeing, opposite kinds of people coming together. For some reason, both sides will be forced together for a set period of time. There’s a lot of possibilities for that. Maybe they have a common goal and decide to team up, maybe a higher power (maybe a king or other ruler) forced them on a common quest. Sometimes the two will already know each other and already hate or dislike the other, or sometimes they’ll be complete strangers, but their conflicting personalities will quickly lead to some conflicts. It might seem like two people who fight all the time could never end up falling in love, but I don’t know.
In one book I read, the girl wanted a dream house built, and the guy was the main architect and construction leader person. She had to work closely with him until the house was finished to make sure everything was being built like she wanted it while still following the rules of construction and whatnot. But anyway, after they’re forced together, that’s when the fun starts. Maybe it’s just the fact that it seems so strange and unlikely that makes me enjoy this time the most. I think the technical reason that it works so well is because it highlights their individual personality traits so well. The fact that they’re so different makes their conflicting traits stand out. Antithesis, its known as. Also, they’re bound to share at least some traits, and since there’s not very many of these they’ll stand out too. Emphasis through isolation. Maybe both of them are really stubborn, and that’s why they fight so much. Maybe one is more selfless and argues with the other to do what is right, but the other is more selfish and argues to do what is in their own best interests. A single fight between the two not only highlights their shared trait, their stubbornness, but it also highlights their conflicting traits, selfishness and selflessness. It’s great for fleshing out your characters and filling them with life. There’s no better way to reveal someone’s passions than in a well-worded argument, I think.
It’s freeing, in a way, to not worry what someone else thinks of you. Both sides will be themselves and act as they always do because they’re not trying to impress the other person. Two friends might lie about their true feelings on an issue because they don’t want to hurt the other’s feelings, but that’s not a problem in this kinda relationship. They’ll be straightforward and honest about their position on an issue because they don’t really care if their viewpoints conflict (since they know they’ll conflict, anyways), and if they feel strong enough about it they’ll fight to uphold their beliefs. At the same time, since they have a common goal, they won’t let their dislike for the other get in the way of their mission. They won’t lie to the other or trick them because that might endanger their chances at success. They might argue over how to get something done, but in the end they want the same thing, so they’ll eventually learn how to work together.
I think it’s really good to start a relationship off like this. You might not be completely trusting at the start (which is good, because you should be careful with who you give your heart to) but you’ll start off the relationship with honesty and a need to work together. Even though they disagree, they’ll have to learn to at least listen to the other’s point of view and rely on each other’s previous experience for the point of the mission, which will eventually lead to acceptance and trust. Plus, of course, you’ll already know what it’s like to get in an argument and you’ll already know what the other person is like when they’re angry, so future fights won’t crush your budding relationship. I hear a lot of couples say that they’re so in love and they’ve never ever fought and all that, but every real relationship has its disagreements. Some are bigger than others, and the big ones sometimes end a relationship because the couple tried to avoid arguments and so they don’t know how to get past those fights and move on in a relationship. I think fighting in a relationship is good because it lets off pent up steam and lets the other person know how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. A couple that starting off fighting more often than having a friendly conversation will be more than familiar with how to get over a fight and move on.
Examples: Beatrice/Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing
Abusive Relationship: One person in the relationship is abusive towards the other, either verbally or physically. It’s not healthy and it’s not happy. Sometimes the abused wants out, but stays for a variety of reasons: obligations, finances, delusion, fear, etc. Sometimes the abused doesn’t want out because they don’t realize getting out is an option—which can be fun to play with, especially when a more worthy lover opens their eyes to the happiness they could have. I’m sure it’s also possible that both parties are abusive, and it’s just one angry household of fighting. Was the relationship abusive from the start? Or did it begin as a typical romance—they started off dating, and at some point someone got abusive (**). This is also good for exploring the characters’ relationships outside their romance: what do their friends say about it? Their parents/siblings?
(*) Okay, about opposites attracting. And this doesn’t just apply to the Fire and Fire relationship—it can go for any opposites between your characters. In general my belief is that opposite personalities attract, while similar values attract. A disagreement over what’s right and what’s wrong can cause some serious moral arguments—not the kind a couple should have to fight over. They should in general agree that killing or raping someone is bad, for example.
(**) This is a good point to keep in mind—a relationship doesn’t have to fit one of these types to a T, nor does it have to fit just one. It’s very possible to jump between types, as long as it makes sense of course. It might be hard to provide a solid transition, but it can add drama and tension. The jump from any relationship to an abusive one is easier to imagine, but think of other possibilities. Maybe it starts off as a superficial Plummeting love, and a couple weeks down the road they realize they don’t get along all that well. They fight, they argue, and they’re not as “star-crossed” as they think. They are now a Fire and Fire type. The passing of time might change a relationship, too. Maybe in their youth, a couple fit the More than Friends type, but years later one’s feelings have drifted away while the other now suffers from Unrequited Love. It can be a mix and match as long as the jump makes sense!
Types of Love (not necessarily romantic)
Follow for twice daily writing excitement!