As a self-proclaimed lover of all things romance, I am always on the lookout for a fantastic new love story. Whether it be in a book, a television show, a movie…it doesn’t matter. Just give me my fix and let me clutch at my bleeding heart and sigh with giddy contentment.
I thought of this the other day while watching The X-Files. I know, I know, there’s not much of a romance to the X-Files, but what little subtle hints they weave into the overall story arc quite literally leave me breathless and begging for more. Perhaps it’s almost TOO clever of the writers…I mean, you go through nearly the entire show’s nine full seasons and are still aching for Mulder and Scully to kiss. The few times they do, it’s the most extraordinary, heart wrenching thing you’ll ever see.
So see, fellow lovers of love, romance does not always have to be overly emphasized. In fact, some of the greatest love stories of all time are the ones that are the most subtle, the most drawn out, the most painstakingly real. Because love is not always perfect, and rarely is it instant and wonderful. Instead, love in real life is a process, a compromise, even. And romance loses its believability when it’s rushed, perfect, and conflict-free.
Take for example one of the most timeless romances in literary history, Scarlet and Rhett from Gone With the Wind. Now THAT is a romance that had problems. Their relationship starts out as prickly, confrontational, and downright volatile, but when they do start to have affection for each other, as each of them grows as a character, the fact that they fall for each other is all the more believable. And of course, the very idea that they don’t end up together is just another component of what makes this romance so memorable. It’s a long process, one of indecision, passion, and conflict, but it makes for such a fantastic love story.
Another show I caught the first season of last year (haven’t caught up with it yet so my information may be a bit outdated) is Downton Abbey. But something I found so fascinating with the show was how they did the romance between Mr. Bates and Anna. I think I read that they are married now so I’ll have to catch up with the new season, but in the first season they merely courted each other. Or rather, Anna courted Mr. Bates, and he was so reluctant, so hesitant…it was divine. The few instances where they strained toward each other, barely touching, the affection so clear in their eyes, was incredibly romantic. As a viewer, or reader if it’s a book, there does not have to be blatant sexual overtones for a blossoming romance to be properly conveyed. In fact, in the case of romance, more times than not less is actually more.
Any fan of Jane Austen will of course agree with me. We all remember the complicated relationship of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and the lifelong friendship turned affectionate love between Emma and Mr. Knightley. There is a reason these love stories have stood the test of time. They evoke emotions within us that are unforgettable, and leave us thirsting for more. Why do you think there have been so many spinoffs of Pride and Prejudice since Jane Austen’s death?
But in any event, you might be saying to yourself, “But all of these love stories are a century old, how does this relate to modern day romance?” Well, I’d say that similar principles can be applied to a modern day romance as well to ensure that it is just as timeless as any of the classics. If you are a writer, read on and pay close attention. If you are a reader, take note of my tips and see if they are applied in most of the romances you read. I guarantee you that the best romances will have all of these qualities.
First of all, any romance needs to have two very well defined, individual characters. Each character must be able to stand on their own, with their own personality, back story, physical attributes, goals, pet peeves, and desires. I always love to think of my characters in terms of astrology, and match them up accordingly. If you have a female character who is blunt, aggressive and feisty, then she is most likely an Aries or a Leo. Take that and give her a leading man who embodies the characteristics of a compatible sign such as a Libra or Gemini. He should be carefree and loose, clever and witty. He should be strong enough to handle the heroine’s fiery outbursts without getting burned in the process, but he shouldn’t be the type who would want to hold her down, either. Think of what each character wants out of the relationship. As an aggressive woman, she probably desires a man who will treat her like a queen, a man who will stand by her side, not above her, but at her side, and go on adventures with her. He, if he’s a Libra, may be looking for a woman who’s smart enough to keep up with his intellectual pursuits, but fun enough to enjoy parties and socializing as he does. As an Air sign, he probably doesn’t like messy, drowning-in-emotions types, so he’ll prefer her blunt and frank nature. And she, as a fire sign, probably hates stiff rule-followers, so she’ll appreciate his relaxed attitude. Just make sure the relationship makes sense. Give it some serious thought, and if something seems off, then tweak one of the character’s personalities a bit.
Secondly, a great love story needs to have some conflict and a solid direction. Maybe your heroine and hero are on an adventure together, hunting down a criminal or an ancient artifact. Make sure they argue, disagree on where to look or who to talk to. Let each of them boldly present who they are to each other, measure each other up, and then slowly but surely come to appreciate each other’s annoying quirks or habits. If they’re already making out passionately in the first chapter, you’re doing it wrong! They need to progress as both individuals and as a couple, moving toward a concrete goal or purpose. There has to be a reason for them to fall in love, they shouldn’t just fall in love because you say so. Give them realistic emotions and make sure they never, ever fall out of character. If she’s a true Aries, she will never write him a secret love poem quietly expressing her flowery feelings. No, she’d rather charge up to his face and announce her intentions up front, that way there’s no wasted time. This is why it’s so important to know your characters before ever beginning to write.
From a reader’s perspective, I know I can’t stand it when a romance is stereotypical and forced. I also HATE it when the two characters are “perfect.” Give both of them some flaws. After all, they’re only human. Give her a scar on her chin from when she fell off her bike as a kid. Make him obsessed with something the heroine finds silly, like country music. Whatever will make them individual, unique, and memorable. A great romance always has memorable characters.
Thirdly, draw the romance out. This is what will make a modern day romance just as effective as the timeless romances. Don’t rush the love story, no matter how eager you are to see them kiss. Make sure that it makes sense for them to kiss at the moment when they first do. If you have a few moments of “almost” kissing before the final deed, then I can guarantee that final moment will be all the more special. Take a page out of Downtown Abbey’s book, or the X-Files. Have the characters give thought to each other and to forming a romantic bond before it is actually formed. Love at first sight, while a fantastic concept in certain applications (Disney being one of course) does not fly when you’re reading or writing a romantic fiction book. Readers these days, myself included, prefer a drawn out, intense, conflicting love story to some “I-know-we-just-met-but-I’m-in-love-with-you-omg-you’re-perfect” thing…yeah. That’s so boring! Spice it up and make it realistic. Give readers a reason to keep reading all the way to the end.
So there you have it, my two cents on the beauty of a great romance. I always strive to make the relationships I create in my stories both real and exciting. I try and create characters that are not just Mary-Sue carbon copies of what’s been done, but instead make them multi-dimensional and flawed. If neither of the characters are very interesting, then the love story itself will fall flat before the story has even begun.
And a wasted love story is a very sad thing indeed.
One last thing…watch this clip from my all time favorite movie and everything I explained above will make complete sense. 🙂 Happy Romancing everyone!