As we’ve already discussed, writing healthy and realistic romances is tricky. That’s why this article is dedicated to discussing the dark side of toxic love and relationships. There will always be mistakes when writing romance, but we writers should do everything within our power to craft great relationships.
But by crafting people who are actual people outside of the relationships you’ve built for them, you’re ensuring they have their own story with other opportunities and challenges that will make readers engage with your story.
These 5 common pitfalls are things you want to avoid when writing a romantic narrative into your story.
Forestall insta-love like the plague.
What’s the best way to get readers to put your book down? Write about your characters falling in love within the first chapter. Instalove might seem common, but it’s best to avoid them when writing romance into your own stories.
The best way to avoid insta-love—or too-quick romances—is to take time and several chapters between the first meetup, first sparks, and any actual moment of togetherness.
Think of it like this: If you wouldn’t fall for someone this quick, it’s unrealistic to expect the characters in your novel to either. And it’s also unrealistic to expect your readers to care about a relationship they don’t even know or understand.
Active partners are always better than passive partners.
Making one partner—or even both in some cases—passive is simply unrealistic when compared to real-life love. If there’s no conflict or tension or questions between partners, what makes your readers want to root for their relationship to survive?
Your readers—and your characters—don’t need validation for every move they make. They don’t need someone to simply follow them along their journey. Bring a more rounded support character closer to the forefront if that’s all you want.
But just like every other character in your story, romantic characters should have a purpose in the story aside from just being there and looking pretty. An easy way to revise this is to actually look at your characters and ask yourself this: If I took this character out, what would really change?
If the answer is nothing much, you’ve got a passive partner who requires some attention.
Stop glamorizing abuse in all its forms.
Abuse doesn’t come in one or two colors. It’s an entire array of colors and shades that come in all shapes in size imaginable. It’s more than physical and sexual; it’s also financial, cultural, mental, and emotional—and I’m probably missing a few, too. But just because they aren’t widely recognized, doesn’t mean they aren’t valid forms of abuse.
I honestly believe this is one of the most overlooked aspects of romance—especially in young adult—because some forms of abuse, such as jealousy and overprotection, mist seem like different levels of love to the inexperienced.
But that’s why it’s all the better to get more eyes on your manuscript. Ask specific questions of your beta readers and editors and research the topic heavily.
Avoid codependent relationships.
Another dirty part about relationships that isn’t healthy, whether in real life or written inside your book’s pages. However, quite unfortunately, we see it shown in a wide array of genres.
Your characters are their own people and should act like individuals first and foremost. The relationship you’ve bound them to shouldn’t make them any less independent.
It might make them strive to be better or feel more support from another human, but they shouldn’t need their partner in order to survive or experience life. And they definitely shouldn’t hole themselves inside their rooms for half a year because their boyfriend dumped them.
Always allow vulnerabilities into relationships.
It’s a pretty well-known fact that people bond on deep, emotional levels. We aren’t finding our soulmate by knowing what their favorite color is. I mean, there’s probably some nuance to getting to know someone on that level, but to form a strong bond, we need certain commonalities and profound understanding. Or least a willingness to learn and grow.
The romantically involved characters in your story need to have that same foundation to make their relationship seem real. Your story needs to have real moments of trust and openness for your characters to bond and grow closer.
So, unless you’re writing a specifically toxic relationship, it’s best to avoid the above pitfalls in preference of healthy, loving relationships. The next time you’re writing romance, be sure to write deep emotional connections that take time and energy to form because that’s the best way to captivate your readers.