If you’re determined to have a romantic subplot in your story, then writing a healthy and realistic romance is imperative. You’ll want to create an aura of love and balance of tension around your two characters before your readers will love and root for their relationship.
You want your readers on the same page of your characters, and for that to happen, they’ll need the flutter and the breathlessness and the blushing cheeks that often come with a new and exciting romance. And if your readers don’t get that, it’s unlikely you’ve written a romance worthy of your novel.
Realistic Romance Versus Instalove
Realistic romance can be difficult to find and even more difficult to write. What we often find instead are insta-love situations, or romances that happen too quickly and are often based on outward physical attraction.
When writing romances that take ten seconds to get to “the good stuff”, we deprive our readers of the flutters of the heart and quickening pulses they desperately desire. And they can’t feel those things, because these things are built over time—not in one paragraph.
Some of my favorite romantic scenes are more like nudges and notions. Something quick but also leaves you wanting more. Like when your characters see their crush walking down the stairs in a beautiful ballroom gown—or jeans and a tank top, whatever works—and they feel this utter breathlessness they can’t explain.
Writers and readers feel the same way about character romances. We all want to see our favorite characters find true love. We want more happiness in their lives—usually, because us writers are making their lives more complicated with every page.
But nobody’s happy when people fall in love in a matter of sentences. That level of insta-love just leaves readers frustrated. They might even put the entire book down, which is the total opposite of what writers want.
To write a worthy romance, we need to understand what a real romance looks like, what it feels like. We need to understand the internal and externals signs of attraction and know the physical and mental reactions people have when they’re falling hard for someone.
What do realistic relationships look like?
WHAT IS LOVE? According to the Merriam-Websters dictionary, love is a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties.
Just like in real relationships, in real life, with real people, the characters in your novel need to have key relationship milestones. They’ll need to meet and initiate the first contact. They’ll need to go on that first date or run into each other somewhere on the street. They’ll need to kiss and eventually do other relationship-things that are both relevant and appropriate for your story and target demographic.
However, what they don’t need to do is engage in toxic activities that perpetuate unhealthy relationship goals.
PHYSICAL SIGNAL OF LOVE includes, moving closer to each other, smiling at nothing, a glowing expression, strong eye contact with little blinking, focusing on the other person’s attributes, a yearning look, unconsciously parting one’s lips, a light, bouncing step, nonstop talking or laughing, leaning against each other, using pet names or terms of endearment, nervous behaviors such as twiddling one’s hand, flirtishly speaking, sharing secrets with one another, putting your hand around the person or arm around their shoulders, preferring to spend your time with that person and possibly ignoring other friends, offering gifts in various forms (time, thoughtful gestures, or physical gifts), doodling hearts and names on everything, doing things the other person enjoys regardless of person enjoyment.
INTERNAL SENSATIONS OF LOVE include a fluttery stomach, a racing pulse, hastened heartbeat, hyper-awareness of the other person and of yourself, weak knees or legs, a tingling or electrical jolt as accidental touches, getting tongue-tied.
MENTAL RESPONSES OF LOVE include general euphoria when near that person, appreciation of that person, losing track of time when you’re near that person, mental fuzziness or daydreaming of that person, feeling safe and whole when together, possible jealousy of that person.
CUES OF LONG-TERM LOVE include, the exchange of possessions, staying over at one another’s house, embracing their friends and family as your own, sharing and discussing each other’s finances, enduring hardships together with open discussion, putting the other person’s needs or desires first and foremost, intimacy, sharing hopes and dreams with one another, future planning together, living together, a partnership or marriage.
In short, readers want to root for your characters. But that doesn’t just happen. That level of trust and commitment is earned; not given away. First, they need to know your characters make such a spectacular couple, so they can then draw their own conclusions as to why they belong together.