Did you ever have to do something really scary, and you just weren’t sure you were brave enough to face it?
OK, let me be clear, that’s me and romance in my stories. Real-life romance I’m pretty good at. I have a wife and I love her bunches. We do all the things you would expect a happy couple to do. But in those moments it feels so natural and normal.
That isn’t how it feels when I’m writing. When I’m sitting in front of my computer, romance becomes the THING I MOST FEAR. So for those of you who find writing romance easy, I’ll take any tips you can provide. Honestly. Anything.
You see, when I’m romantic, it’s between me and that special lady. It’s very visceral, and I don’t have to think about it. I function on instinct. Also, I’m directly involved – emotionally speaking – and the benefits and rewards of being romantic are something I am personally invested in.
But when I’m writing a character who might fall in love with another character, there are several things that hold me back. Stop me if you’ve been here before.
1) It’s not me. I love my wife because she’s a good companion to me, and I think she’s beautiful. She says and does things that I find appealing and funny and attractive and, most importantly, I want to make her happy. When I’m writing a character, I’m not having that experience. In fact, it’s very likely something about one or both of the characters bugs me.
2) It’s detached. Holding hands, sitting close, smooching, these things are real and intimate and in the moment. Writing about holding hands, sitting close and smooching, well, that’s very analytical. And because it’s analytical, because it’s detached, I can’t get lost in it.
3) I have to plan when characters spontaneously fall in love. Love has always been a gut-level experience for me. I’ve never thought “This person would make a good marriage partner. I should consider fostering an romantic relationship.” Either I fall in love, or I don’t. I was never able to plan it in real life. In fact, the thought seems very alien to me. So planning my characters falling in love feels very artificial to me.
4) I’m afraid I’ll do it badly. This one is probably the hardest for me. I’m fairly confident in my writing in general, but with romance, I lack that surety. There are people out in the world who will judge everything I write by the one thing I write badly. But worse, if I feel the story needs romance, then that’s just it; the story NEEDS romance. I want to do it right, and to allow the readers to enjoy it.
So there are my issues. But they don’t change the fact that I will have to write romance sooner or later. In fact, the trilogy I’m working on right now has a romance occurring at the end of the second and into the third books. I know this has to happen. I just don’t know how I’m going to do it.
I am a huge fan of Harry Turtledove, the well known alternate history master. I only have two issues with his writing. The first is he could cut his number of POV characters in half and it would still be hard to follow. And second, his romances in-story feel like he said “Character A has to fall in love with character B for event R to occur.” The writing becomes rigid and stiff in these areas, and it’s hard to miss.
I want to do better than that. But how?
And so I ponder. I have an outline for the second book, but I haven’t started the actual writing yet. I plan to work on that later this summer, so we’ll see if I can improve by then.
And interestingly, I know full well I could remove the romance if I really wanted to. It gives the characters motivation and makes them deeper and more sympathetic (and one of them will really need your sympathy by then!), but I could remove it. I won’t, though. I’ll master this ogre called ‘romance’ and make it do my bidding. Romance shall serve ME! Ha! Haha! Muhahaha!