For as long as I’ve been writing non-animal-centric stories, I have been trying – somewhat unsuccessfully at times, I might add – to include a romantic subplot in most of them. As a reader, I’ve always had the softest spot for knee-wobbling, toe-curling kisses, romantic partners who would fight and even die for each other, support and respect that defies logic, and of course, the tension of running into danger to save one another.
What always frustrated me in my own drafts, however, was that I’d come up with great ideas for potential scenes and romantic arcs, only to be thwarted by a seemingly impossible villain: a lack of chemistry. My leads needed to be together, but didn’t want to be together.
I finally found a solution to this problem, in the form of a question that someone asked me about one of my WIPs…and I realized that this is quite possibly the most fundamental question you can ask yourself and your characters when it comes to a romantic pairing:
What is the reason these characters are actually drawn to each other?
As a younger, inexperienced writer, the only criteria I applied to my romantic pairings was that one was the main Male Character and one was the main Female Character – so they were destined for each other. Those, as you can guess, were the ones that fizzled out from a lack of chemistry. They had nothing to connect them on a deeper level other than plot necessity.
In reality, people jive romantically because there is something that draws them to each other. Whether it’s a shared interest or hobby, something in their mutual pasts that they can relate to, childhood friendship blossoming into attraction, or even a religious, social, or political synergy, there has to be some angle to add depth to the relationship. Something to bring your couple together and also heighten the chemistry between them, so that if they’re left alone in a room together, they can talk, not just kiss. While physical attraction is certainly one way to guide characters into a romantic arc, eventually the good looks without a deeper tether becomes shallow, and your readers may begin to question what’s actually keeping this couple together.
So if you’re a writer who likes to include a romantic subplot – or several – in your story, I encourage you to ask yourself that question this week: What is the reason these characters are actually drawn to each other? Feel free to share your answers in the comments section below!