Have you read a book or watched a movie where the romance seemed forced or unwarranted?
It’s happened to me many times and happened again just last night as I watched a Nicholas Sparks’ movie. The guy had all the right qualities: good-looking, funny, sweet, smart, tall, and rich. The girl was beautiful, talented, witty, and intelligent.
And I couldn’t believe he’d fallen for her.
Seriously. I stared at the screen thinking, “Dude, you can do better than her!” Which was sad because the story had all the right elements.
Romance is my favorite genre, and yet I see this happen time and time again. Even in my own book.
Six months ago, as I worked on my latest novel (Liberty, bk 2 in Citizens of Logan Pond), I realized the romance aspect was falling flat. I couldn’t figure it out. Book 1 seemed to have the right sparks. I adored the two main characters. But in the second book, something was missing. It felt like I was trying to convince the reader why they still loved each other, when at times I wasn’t even sure myself.
And then it hit me. What was missing. And it boiled down to four letters:
Or these four letters.
The best romances aren’t just about two people who are beautiful, smart, talented, or witty. They aren’t just about two people who are attracted to each other.
The best romances are about two people who care about each other. Which means they do nice things. Not just to other people–although that’s important–but they do nice things for each other.
Sounds simple. Sounds obvious, right?
And yet, since that realization six months ago, I’ve found several romances lacking those basic qualities. And those were the same ones falling flat.
Last night’s movie, the guy went out of his way to do sweet, thoughtful things for the girl. I had NO PROBLEM believing the girl had fallen for him. But the girl? As wonderful as she was in her own story, she never did anything nice for the guy during the entire movie.
Which is why I figured the guy could do better elsewhere.
Take it from the pros
In Pride and Prejudice, the greatest fictional romance of all time, Darcy saves Elizabeth’s little sister from an embarrassing marriage–which in turn, saves Elizabeth’s entire family from public scorn. This doesn’t benefit himself. In fact, it costs him financially and somewhat socially. His servants adore him. His friends do, too. And it’s these moments that change Elizabeth’s–and the reader’s–feelings towards him.
In return, Elizabeth is kind to his sister, Georgiana, saving her from the Bingley sisters’ scoff. She is kind to his cousin and his best friend. She even stands up for Darcy with his overbearing aunt.
All the best romances seem to have these little moments of kindness, service, and charity. Sometimes they’re seen by the other character. Sometimes they’re not. Usually they’re subtle.
But observers notice, and this makes us root for them.
With my own book, I went back to the beginning and added a few moments of the love interests doing something for the other, nearly unseen. It’s amazing how much that changed things.
Suddenly I was rooting for them again.
The bonus of this is it allows characters to be deeply flawed but still lovable. If they’re willing to sacrifice for the person they adore, to put their own interests behind the other’s–even in small ways–we forgive them for other weaknesses. We cheer for them when they find happiness.
So that’s my writing tip of the day.
If your romance (fictional or real life) is lacking, check to see if there is any kindness involved. Little moments. Big moments. Whatever.
It’s amazing how far a nice deed can go.
Which reminds me of a hilarious–but true–video about having a happy marriage.
Have you noticed this in romances? Where have you seen this done well? Comment here.