You may have heard that the golden rule for writing a relationship is that if they have to kiss for your reader to know they’re in love, you haven’t written a real relationship. But what does that actually look like? How do you write something that your readers will ship? Here are my top five steps to create a love story that your readers will fall in love with.
- Opposites attract but they must have something in common
A really common problem of book relationships is that the two characters are exact opposites. One is quiet, the other is loud. One likes rap, the other likes classical. One likes small towns, the other likes cities. Every single thing (or pretty close to it) is opposite. And while that can cause a spark of attraction initially, that’s it. Now they can have differences, in fact, they should. Just remember that being opposites and having differences are not the same thing. Differences are good and allow them to create a partnership where one is sometimes weak and the other strong and vice versa. But, when they are polar opposites, they are in constant opposition with each other and this is unsustainable for a relationship. Either it will feel completely forced and unrealistic or very toxic where one is constantly sacrificing who they are. Instead, allow them to have commonalities. Create situations where the characters can bond over things they have in common. Let them share a cup of coffee and talk about their love of travel. Have them bump into each other at a local spot that both of them love.
- Let them love the same things
Want to build some chemistry fast? Let your character and their love interest love the same things and realize this. My favorite way to do this is to let your protagonist describe something meaningful to them. A book that changed them, a song they listen to on repeat, a spot in town, etc. Then let them explain why they love this thing to someone besides the love interest. Then at some point, let the love interest explain why and how they love this same thing or place to the protagonist (though make sure the reasons aren’t identical. That feels forced.)
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder
When the love interest isn’t around, let the protagonist’s thoughts wander. This doesn’t always have to be romantic. “Ben would have already gotten us lost if he were here.” If you aren’t in a perspective that allows thoughts, let us see them talk aloud to someone else about them, especially if the other person isn’t the one who brings them up. “We need some computer expertise.” “Oh, I know someone who would be terrible. Sherry can barely email.” This works very well when the person talking about them either denies or hasn’t yet realized their feelings. It allows the reader to feel like they have figured something out and are knowledgeable about the character. This creates a great connection to the character and adds complexity to their emotions and actions.
- Action, actions, actions
Unless you are portraying a toxic relationship, words don’t mean anything if they aren’t backed up. Show your characters doing things for each other, helping with the dishes, braving the parent meetings, shoveling their drive, making them dinner. If the only time we see them acting loving towards each other is when they say I love you or have an intimate scene, you have a bad relationship on your hands.
- Don’t make it simple
Readers love a love story that doesn’t come easily. And one person being hesitant isn’t usually enough. Raise the stakes. Is there someone standing between them? An arranged marriage, a parent, etc. Is there a rule? Can’t date a boss or coworker, can’t date a client. Is there a personal issue? Health is taking them away, their families hate each other, they vowed to be single for x years. Make them overcome these challenges. This will have your reader rooting for the relationship. You want your reader to be emotionally invested in these characters. When things do work out, your reader will get a sense of victory, for themselves as the reader and for the characters.