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 The other character suddenly realizes that hatred has been replaced by love.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.
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?
Faith Blum is a small-town Wisconsin girl. She’s lived in, or outside of, small towns her whole life. The thought of living in a city with more than 60,000 people in it scares her, especially after some interesting adventures driving through big cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Faith currently resides in the middle of Wisconsin with her husband and their cat, Smokey. She is blessed to be able to have writing as her full-time career, with household work and cooking to do on the side.
When not writing, you can find her cooking food from scratch due to food allergies, doing dishes, knitting, crocheting, sewing, reading, or spending time with her husband. She is also a community assistant for the Young Writers Workshop and loves her work there. She enjoys hearing from her readers, so feel free to contact her on her website.