Writing Realistic Romance

December 31, 2018

I’ve read several romance novels, both Christian and “clean,” and made two main observations: many of the stories are unrealistic and follow the same basic plotline.

 

Female meets male. They can’t stand each other. (Or maybe they like each other, but one person is ugly while the other is attractive and “out of reach.”) They spend over half the book despising each other and resisting their odd attraction—until one of them is seriously injured and may not survive. The other character suddenly realizes that hatred has been replaced by love. The injured person miraculously recovers and the couple confesses their feelings for each other, then they live happily ever after. All of this transpires within two weeks to six months.

 

Sound familiar?

 

Ladies and gents, this does not happen in real life. Or, if it does, it’s rare. I hope to provide a few ideas on how to avoid this cliché, but first I must answer an important question.

 

What’s the Difference Between a Love Story and a Romance?

I was confused about this for a while. Basically, a book that contains a love story will focus more on the rest of the plot with the romance being a subplot. In my book He Hideth My Soul, the plot is centered around the fulfillment of Otis Miller’s desire to become a doctor. His love interest appears near the beginning, but the characters’ interaction isn’t romantic and they don’t see each other for a long time afterward. When they meet again, their romance is a subplot rather than the main plot.

 

Typically, a romance establishes the hero and heroine within the first two or three chapters. If your book introduces one but not the other in the beginning, it classifies as a love story. 

 

The plot of a romance will concentrate on the couple’s relationship. In More Than Meets the Eye by Karen Witemeyer, the plot revolves around Evangeline Hamilton meeting Logan Fowler and the two of them becoming acquainted. Other subplots and twists and turns are woven in, but the spotlight is on Eva and Logan.

 

What Makes a Romance Realistic?

This question could be answered in a variety of ways. I asked a few friends for their thoughts, and these were their responses:

 

  • When the couple displays faithfulness and trust even during trials.
  • Emphasizing the heartfelt side of romance and not merely the physical. For example, one person loves another to the degree that they’re willing to sacrifice time and effort to prevent harm. Showing love through actions, not just telling it.
  • Falling in love gradually instead of instantly. Praying about it.
  • Love that grows slowly and hesitantly until the character makes a conscious decision.
  • Two people who complete and sharpen each other. He helps her, she helps him, and it’s clear they’re better together.
  • Friends who become lovers without stupid interpersonal drama that could have been resolved with an honest conversation.
  • Spending quality time together, learning to understand one another’s differences, and doing special things for the other person.

The common threads seem to be that characters should show love, communicate openly, act faithful and trustworthy, and be heavily involved in each other’s lives. In a romance or love story, these details should be present already, so deepening the romance should be easy.

 

My favorite scene is in my novella I Love Thee, which is about a single, thirty-eight-year-old rancher in the Old West who has been friends with the post mistress since his school days. When Cole’s sister and her husband die, he is given charge of his four young nieces and nephews. He is overwhelmed to say the least.

 

Rhoda starts helping Cole with the children when she can, and Cole begins corresponding with a mail-order bride. When Rhoda gets jealous of the mail-order bride, she realizes she loves Cole. She then breaks one of those tips above by not voicing this revelation because she assumes he has no feelings for her. However, I still believe this is realistic since they’ve been friends for more than twenty years and she wouldn’t want to ruin that relationship.

 

How to Write a Realistic Romance

I think the best method is to draw on either your own or others’ experiences. Maybe interview couples on how they met and got to know each other, what problems they faced, etc. Then you can choose what elements to use in your story. Or maybe you’ve read plenty of romance novels that are semi-plausible and can glean inspiration from those as well.

 

Shared experiences between characters can be highly effective in creating a realistic romance. In real life, we bond with people who understand our struggles. In one of my books with a romantic subplot, both characters had lost their parents in tragic circumstances at a young age, and this helped the couple grow closer.

 

Jealousy and/or breakups can also increase tension and realism. They can be overused though, so be careful. The breakup doesn’t have to be permanent. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Lizzy were never officially “together,” but they definitely had a couple breakups.

 

At a church I attended, a man told me that he and his wife broke up many times prior to matrimony. So this does occur in real life. My parents have said that they did most of their fighting before marriage, so now they don’t argue much.

 

Readers Need You

You may be thinking, What? Readers need me? Why?

 

If you clicked on this article, you probably enjoy writing romance or want to learn more about it. Even if that’s untrue, you’re likely a writer and might someday write a book with a romantic subplot.

 

Numerous TV shows, movies, and books are making romance cheap, disposable, and unrealistic. We need you to help flood the shelves and screens with romances that audiences will sigh over and be able to relate to. Will you join me in this mission?

12 Comments

  1. EricaWordsmith

    I really, really liked this!! Romance can either melt my heart or make me roll my eyes… And ruin the whole book.

    Reply
    • Faith Blum

      I am so glad you liked it so much. And yes, I totally agree!

  2. Anna

    Nicely said, Faith. I had never really thought about the difference.

    Reply
    • Faith Blum

      Thank you, Anna.

  3. Eden Anderson

    Thanks for this good article, Faith. I think a lot of people-myself included-have a bad view of “Christian Romance Novels” and for good reason. But we can change that. Love stories don’t have to be cringe-worthy, they can be both moving and beautiful. Of course, writing a good, non-cliché romance is hard…but the extra work is worth it. ❤️ Let’s change the way people view this genre!!

    Reply
    • Faith Blum

      Yes, Eden! And yes, it is hard, but totally worth it!

  4. Elixa

    Thanks so much, Faith!

    Reply
    • Faith Blum

      You’re welcome, Elixa!

  5. Hannah

    Wow… I’ve never thought about it like this before, it has given me a new way of looking at my writing. Thanks for the help! I hope I can learn to apply this in my writing.

    Reply
    • Faith Blum

      Yay! I’m so glad it made you think. You’re welcome! I hope you can learn to apply it as well.

  6. Kayla James

    I am in. I want to write realistic romances.

    Reply
    • Faith Blum

      Yay!!!!

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