"Your romance is dorky."
If this sounds familiar, congratulations! You're a writer, Harry. Welcome to the first episode of:
Ellie Raine's School of Wordcraft and Scribery!
Romance can be the most intoxicating part of your story. It can also be the most nauseating.
That’s why it’s imperative to pay close attention when crafting a novel, movie, or comic. Even if your story’s central element isn’t romance, you must pay close attention to it. A little romance on the side can be a great improvement, or a great wart on your manuscript’s otherwise handsome nose.
I’ll speak as a reader for a moment. There seems to be a trend with romance (non-erotica) in stories that have the same cringe-worthy beats that I’d like to bring to light.
**Please keep in mind, I'm primarily a fantasy writer. My focus is typically on worldbuilding and adventure, so this advice is for romance as a side-plot**
Now let's get started!
First: Less is more.
Your characters know their names well enough. While slipping in a few oh, John’s andoh, Jane’s can add an effective conveyance of deep emotion, it lessens the thrill each time it’s said. Less is more. Repeat: less is more. While writing, placing softly spoken names in your manuscript is a strategy game. Add too many all over the pages, and it sucks away any romantic implications you were trying to make. In short, it gets old. It gets wrinkly, smelly, dementia-ridden old.
And from an erotica standpoint, the same advice may apply, though loosely. Sex scenes are awesome, and having a name moaned in the heat of things can get a reader hot and bothered like no tomorrow. HOWEVER, again, saying names too many times can grow bunions on your manuscript’s feet. And don’t get me started on blatantly saying the words ‘penis’ and ‘pussy’ like a thirteen year old. Innuendos are far more effective. Make it a challenge, think of all the colorful names you can give a guy’s juicy squirt-gun or a girl’s moist cavern. Don’t just vomit ‘penis’ every three words. Tone it down. Less is more.
Second: It’s about what you DON’T say.
For me, as a reader, I want the couple to finally say those three magic words: “I love you”. It’s the focal point of a budding romance, the fireworks finale on New Years Eve; it’s what we’re all waiting for.
So don’t give it to us.
Seriously. If it’s going to be said, keep it to a minimum of one or two moments in the entire manuscript. If you say it too may times, it loses its magic. Again, less is more. It’s the reason we want the romance.
Unless, of course, your characters were together to begin with. That’s a different animal, but even still, overusing the magic words will lessen the magic.
And even though I want to read I love you more than anything in a book, what I really enjoy is to see the love, rather than hear it.
Placing a gentle hand over your lover’s finger while they stare at the setting sun can just as easily tell us they’re in love than if they’d said it.
Third: We like someone for their virtues. We LOVE them for their flaws.
Good romance is beautiful. GREAT romance has ugly, beloved depth. This one concept is the root of all fantastic romance. If you look back through your manuscript and realize your protagonist’s only reason for being head-over-heels for the love interest is “they’re so pretty”, it’s time to get your nails dirty and dig deeper. Have them notice a few physical flaws in the lover, like pudgy sides, or some acne scars on their face. Show us these characters aren’t perfect Gods (unless they ARE Gods, then by all means, ham up the gorgeous). Show us their battle wounds, their mature wrinkles, their flappy arms. You don’t have to make them hideous, just human.
And that weird, annoying tick they have, where they pick at their bloody fingernails or have a crazed, neat-freak streak? Yeah, your character better be irked by it, and even get frustrated, but by Gods, they’d better love them for it, too. Basically, if they have a trait that got under the protagonist’s skin, but then they walked out of their life, your protagonist will suddenly notice they can’t live without that annoyance.
That’s what they ought to love. That’s what we’ll love about them, too, and love the protagonist for appreciating it. Pretty models in dresses are great for cover art (I’m looking at you, Young Adult) but if there isn’t more reason for the love, then no one cares.
So, romance, however small the amount, can be essential to your story. Pay attention, and steer clear of these detrimental trends.
Special thanks to Sean Taylor for the subject! Check out his