Writing Characters with a Compelling Romantic Spark

When you’re contemplating writing a romance or including a romantic subplot in one of your novels, how do you bring it to life? The romance writer’s ultimate goal should be to throw two characters on the page together and have a reader crying out in agony, “Now kiss!” So how do you ensure that your characters have a spark? And how can you make sure your audience is rooting for them to fall in love?

Hopefully, this article gives you some useful tools for building not only your characters, but also the romantic arc in your stories.

1. Get them to work together.

Because a lot of writing is about character arc, you can make learning to work well together part of their arc. At first they hate it and each other. But then, through working together on a shared goal, they find out how much they have in common. How their strengths complement each other. How nice it is to have someone to rely on.

This really is the  satisfying conclusion the romance should be building toward. Not a kiss or an engagement ring, but the certainty for both characters that their love interest has their back. That they have someone in their corner who will help them reach their goals. Whether that means fighting back-to-back to defeat a vengeful demon horde, or helping them fill out a bank loan so they can finally buy that used spaceship they’ve always dreamed of.

2. Make them learn to communicate effectively with each other.

A big part of being a team is communication, and in many popular romances the characters are constantly bantering and quipping with each other. How fast the characters can talk and make jokes together is a hallmark of the classic era of screwball romantic comedies, for instance.

Now I love me some snappy banter, but part of what underlies snappy banter is two characters having a similar communication style. You can’t quip with someone who doesn’t quip back. Banter—when it’s well done—can be another tool a writer uses to show these characters are meant to be together. For example: Maybe none of the other characters quite get your protagonist’s sense of humor…until the love interest comes along. Or maybe your protagonist has to learn to let their sense of humor out and their love interest helps them with that.

A note on communication: One of the big pet peeves for romance readers is a plot that hinges on The Big Misunderstanding. This is a story (or subplot) where the conflict could easily be resolved if your two characters would just sit down and have an honest conversation. And there’s no reason they can’t…except then the conflict goes away. Using a Big Misunderstanding not only annoys a lot of readers, it can also weaken your romantic plot. I have often found myself reading a book and thinking, “These two people can’t even communicate clearly, and you want me to believe they’re going to live happily ever after?” Try to find conflicts that are more compelling. Challenge yourself. Allow your characters to tell each other the absolute truth and it still doesn’t fix everything. Or, if they must keep secrets, make sure the reason they’re doing so is reasonable and compelling. 

3. Let them (and by extension your readers!) have fun together. 

My last big tip for writing great romantic couples is fun. Your couple should have fun when they’re together. Your reader should have fun spending time with your couple. Even if your story is angsty and dark, a few well-chosen moments where the couple can make each other smile are really important to show the connection between your lovers. This ties back into the happy ending too. How am I supposed to believe they can live happily ever after if they never actually laugh or smile in each other’s presence? On the flip side, a protagonist who can always make their love interest laugh stands a pretty good chance of convincing me they really will live happily ever after.

So, there you have it, my top tips for writing romantic couples with a compelling spark:

1. Get them to work together. 

2. Make them learn to communicate effectively with each other.

3. Let them (and by extension your readers!) have fun together. 

What makes a romance work or not work for you? Who are some of your favorite fictional couples? Tell us your answers on the forum!

E.D. Walker

E.D. Walker, a native of Los Angeles, is the author of The Fairy Tales of Lyond series of fantasy romances that begins with Enchanting the King. By day, E.D. helps corral engineers for NASA (without doing any of the tech stuff herself, of course). By night, she loves to write her clever heroes and heroines bantering their way to true love. E.D. is a total geek, a movie buff, and a mediocre swing dancer. E.D. and her family live in sunny Southern California with one of the neediest house cats on the planet.

For more information about E.D., please visit her website. “Like” E.D. on Facebook and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Bookbub, and Goodreads. She’s always thrilled to hear from her readers. Email her directly at e.d.walker.author@gmail.com.