In honor of Valentine's Day, I thought it would be a good idea to post my thoughts on romance and how to write it effectively into a novel. Now, I don't write in the romance genre, but I will always have an element of romance in my books. Why? First of all, I enjoy it! When I'm reading a novel, I always think that some sort of romantic story arc edifies the overall story. Romance can be done really well, or really poorly in a story, and as a writer, I've tried to imitate what I think is the best of what I've seen, and avoid the worst. Here are some of the common pitfalls I've tried to avoid in writing romance into my books...
1) Romance that moves too fast.
Romance in a story ought to be a slow burn. It is so much more satisfying to watch two characters slowly grow together over the course of a novel, or a series of novels, than to watch them meet and fall head over heels in love in the first fifty pages of the novel. The progress of romance from hints to resolution is meant to leave the reader with a sense of satisfaction, and if you reach that resolution too soon, the reader can lose interest in the rest of the progress of the character development. It's not as though every romantic story arc in a story has to be long and drawn out, but the ones that are the most important often ought to be. The tension leading up to the declaration of love is more interesting for a reader than much of what happens after. Along these lines too, this is especially true if the author has two characters almost immediately jump into bed with each other. Where do you go from there? If you're going to write a speedy romance into your story, you'd better have a darn good reason for doing so!
2) Why do they love each other?
As often happens with romances that move too fast, this one is tied in with the first pitfall, but I thought it was big enough to be worthy of its own point. Sometimes characters fall so instantly in love that I, as the reader, simply don't buy that they could possibly BE in love yet. This doesn't always happen with the romance moving too fast, either. Sometimes the characters who are supposed to be falling in love are so wrong for each other, I simply can't see them together. Authors sometimes get married to an idea in their heads (such as two disparate oddballs falling for each other) and they hang on to the idea like bulldogs even when they may have written another character into the story that the reader can clearly see would be a better choice for one of the characters who is supposed to be falling in love with someone else (boy, does that sentence make sense?). This often happens when authors try to write clever love triangles. Either way, that loss of secondary belief is the kiss of death to a novel, for me at least.
If it's too sappy and sentimental, it makes my gorge rise. If I can't picture myself or someone else saying or doing what's being described in real life, I'll never buy it in a novel. Romance doesn't have to be overly gooey. Enough said.
4) Age-inappropriate expressing of feelings.
This happens all the time in young adult novels! The two characters falling in love, who are supposed to be maybe sixteen or seventeen, talk and behave like full-grown adults in the expression of their deep love for each other. Now, it's NOT that I don't believe teenagers can fall in legitimate love, because I do. But teenagers have a certain vernacular about them that is different from how adults think, speak, and behave when they are in love. I try very hard to keep my teenage characters acting like teenagers, even when they are in love. The expression of love matures as people mature, and sometimes YA authors lose sight of that and write their teenagers as if they are adults.
5) Surprise! They're not actually getting together!
Authors can get really high and mighty about their art sometimes, and can take it to the point of refusing to bow to crass commercial expectations (nose tilt, superior expression). This sometimes takes the form, in a novel, of an author hinting all along that two characters are going to end up together, and then never bringing those hints to successful resolution. This drives me, as a reader, CRAZY! If you're going to lead the reader into thinking that something is going to happen, then for the love of Pete make it happen. To do anything else is just mean.
These are just a few that came to me off the top of my head, and you may not agree with me on all of them, but that's okay. :) I've so enjoyed getting to the romantic parts of my bigger story (the story arc that covers all six books), and because I knew the end when I started writing the beginning, putting in those little tidbits here and there that would lead to the coming together of two characters was so much fun. If you've read all the way through book 4, hopefully you'll appreciate going back and seeing how Darcy and Tellius interacted in book one when they were really just children. And there's a new romance blooming in book 5... but I can't say much about that yet. Those of you who know my style best will have seen it coming from a mile away.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.