While in earlier posts we discussed world-building, characters, and plot, this post is going to talk about relationships. While some of these aspects apply to all types, this is going to focus especially on romantic relationships in fiction.
First thing, however. I am a Christian and do not write smut in my books. If I do write romance, it’s clean and innocent because I don’t enjoy writing the dirty stuff. If you do, that’s your thing, but I don’t.
Now that we have that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to business.
Not going to focus a whole lot on this, but remember that familial relationships can be good and can also be bad. Most importantly, they need to be realistic. If everything’s smooth sailing, fantastic. That doesn’t necessarily mean that every family is perfect, but not every family has a gazillion issues either. If you do have tension or problems, they need to be realistic in the sense that there’s a legitimate cause. A problem with many beginner writers, myself included, is that we have tension or problems without having a reason for it in the first place. For instance, let’s take the familiar evil stepmother trope. Why is the stepmother evil? Is it because she’s jealous of the affection that the child has from their father? Or is there another reason?
The best piece of advice that I can give you, is that there needs to be reasoning and logic behind what your characters do. People are complex beings with emotions, but we often seek for peace. If there’s tension, there needs to be a reason why.
While platonic usually refers to friendships between opposite sexes, I’m using this to also discuss any normal friendship. Because friendships are friendships regardless of who they’re with. Consider your own relationships with people and use that to inspire you with writing these friendships. Friendship is based off trust and experience, and even humor doesn’t go amiss. Banter between friends is enjoyable to read as well as watch. And it is very lovely to see friendships thrive, even in tense or traumatic situations. Reading good books where this is portrayed is also a great way to learn how to write friendships well.
Should a friendship have tension or be broken in any way, again it needs to be for realistic reasons. One mistake I made when I first started writing was escalate problems without any firm foundation for those problems. Don’t be me. If there’s a problem, there needs to be a reason. Perhaps people are changing and growing up and the sudden differences make the person you thought you knew a stranger. That can be difficult to navigate. There are so many ideas and options for your writing, just make sure it makes sense in light of the characters and the story. Don’t just have breakups or drama just for the sake of having drama.
Okay, now we have the real tea.
One of my biggest pet peeves in romance (whether it’s in my own early writing or in other people’s works) is the common tactic of having feelings for the other person based solely on physical attraction.
Y’all, let’s be real here.
If you’re basing a long-term relationship on someone’s looks, it’s not going to last. People don’t stay looking the same life-long, and most of the time, people don’t age too well. Sure, good looks can be nice and they can definitely come into play, but they should not be the main reason. Not only do people change as they age, but good looks will not improve your attitude someone if everything else about them starts to annoy you.
So what should be the driving factor? I speak from limited experience since I have never been in a relationship myself, just been witness to many both in real life and in literature. (Despite what some people say, literature is often based on real life.) Religious stuff aside, whatever that might look like or not look like in your book, it needs to be based on the other person. What does the other person want or need from someone? Why do they want to spend the rest of their life with this person?
While physical appearance can be fun and everyone likes a good-looking guy or girl, that’s just the icing on the cake.
Hint: you still need a cake.
What makes a great relationship or even marriage is two people fitting together like a puzzle that has no other matching pieces. This is where characterization comes into play. Quirks, humor, fears, and loves. We don’t need the couple to have anything in common in terms of interest. Honestly, liking all the same stuff can get boring. True love is when you’re willing to die to yourself and serve the other person. While this relies heavily on Christian ideology, it’s a common and beautiful theme in many non-Christian books. The relationship, even if it’s slow burn, is breath-taking when you see the people looking out for each other, making sure the other’s needs are met.
As far as attraction goes, aside from physical looks, people are attracted to other things as well. Someone’s quirks, or the way they laugh at everything. Maybe how they love to discuss their favorite topic or learn from other people. People are so vastly different from each other, and those differences can be what makes them so endearing. I wish more books stressed on that rather than, “so-and-so is so cute, I want to marry them” kind of idea that is not going to last, and not realistic.
Remember caution. Sure, some people will throw all to the wind and rush into a relationship (spoiler: it doesn’t usually turn out good). But most will be cautious, take their time, be unsure of the other person and afraid to risk it.
And slow burns—there are so many people who love these, myself included. I love to see a relationship develop from strangers or perhaps a solid friendship into something more. The love grows as do the people, no matter what age. If you’re doing this, remember not to rush it. That will throw your story off balance. Relationships are as much of the plot as everything else.
Lastly, should problems arise in the relationship, as mentioned above, just keep in mind it needs to be realistic. People are real human beings, we’re not robots that occasionally get a glitch in our programming for no reason. If there’s an issue, it has to have grounding and realism, even if it never gets resolved. People don’t just stop loving each other for no reason.
Relationships are important because they are based on real people with real feelings and real problems. While it is heart-rending to watch them break, remember that it needs to help your story, not be in there for added effect or feels. And it is most beautiful to watch them heal and grow in spite of adversity.
I know this was a very long rant after so long silence, but I hope to get back into writing posts more regularly. Stay tuned for more! Once I finish the writing tips series, we’ll get into what happens next after your manuscript is finished and the editing, querying, and publishing processes, self-publishing included.
If you’ve missed the previous installment, click here to read.