This How-To ellaborates on the point that the person your character should fall in love with (if you're doing a conventional, non-abusive, non-satirical romance) should be their BEST best friend. Again, this doesn't mean the character has to fall in love with someone who was previously their best friend. This means that the two lovers in question should become each other's best friend, the person they can have fun with, the person they can always confide in, the person who will always have their back. (So this How-To can also apply to non-lover best friends and just regular friends as well as romantic pairings.)
The most important thing to keep in mind when you want to write a believable romance is to make your readers fall in love with both characters. This includes the MC. Okay, depending on the sexual orientation of your reader and the gender of each character, the meaning of this may change slightly. For example, the reader could be a straight female and the MC is also a female. The reader doesn't have to romantically fall for the MC because that's not possible. What I mean by “fall in love with” them is to give the MC enough positive and likable and/or interesting traits that the reader roots for them. This goes with my How-To on making a memorable MC. When the readers are on the MC's bandwagon, they'll more readily believe the MC's decisions toward the love interest.
If your MC is a whiny brat but the most wonderful, nice guy falls for them, you'll have the reader going: “Why in the world did he fall for this whiny brat? That makes no sense.” (eg. Twilight. There was nothing interesting or lovable about Bella, yet there's Failward all over her.) And then your reader will proceed to throw the book at the wall. Don't let this happen. Romance needs to work both ways, so the readers need to see not only why the MC fell for their love interest, but also why the love interest fell for the MC.
This might seem like common sense, but I'm going to explain how to make the two lovers feel like best friends. Most romances I've read just have some goo about I LOVE YOU SO MUCH FOREVER AND EVER. FOR FIVE-EVER. YES. KISS ME. MARRY ME. And that's basically it. Maybe they'll go on an adventure or two together, banter a little, but there's no reason for me to believe that the two actually love each other other than their empty declarations. Think about you and your friends/boyfriend/girlfriend. What do you do together? If all you do is hug and act all lovey-dovey, I think you need to reevaluate your relationship choices. BEST best friends insult you. They call you out on your sh*tty decisions. They PLAY with you! Laugh with you, joke with you, goof around with you. And you should do the same for/with them. Romantic relationships need things like this, otherwise the YOU ARE MY SOULMATE thing will get old really fast. Undying love is great, but it can't hold two people together for the next sixty years. Your lovers need to HAVE FUN WITH EACH OTHER.
Games: I cannot stress how important it is to have characters play around with each other once in a while. It's fun for your readers, your characters, and it adds a bit of light heartedness to the story. For example, the MC could be stressed over making an important decision. They might be introspecting while they're kicking a soccer ball against the wall. Then the love interest comes in and tries to get the MC to open up and talk about the problem. While they talk, they could kick the ball back and forth between each other. It can be somewhat of an icebreaker and can be a great transition into the two of them having a heart-to-heart conversation. It keeps the mood a little lighter even when their conversation is dark and saddening, and it adds another layer of intimacy between the two if they can feel comfortable enough around each other to idly kick a ball to each other (or whatever game you choose). But the game can end up having deeper meaning to the story, too. If someone kicks the ball too hard or too soft, that can imply their internal emotions and add another layer of depth to their characterization. If they slam their foot into the ball, they're probably angry. If they catch the ball and just hold it while staring at it, they might be solemn or torn. It's another creative way to show emotion instead of telling it.
This isn't limited to just playing catch during a sad time. Maybe it's a happy time, and they're just fooling around. In my story, Stray, Annie walked in on Darren doing pushups with his textbooks on his back while he was reading another textbook. She made a snide comment about his nerdiness, and then they went into a light hearted push-up competition. When your characters play with each other, it shows that they're friends so you won't have to outright state, “this is my best friend. We have a lot of fun together.” Do you? Well, show us how you have fun together. If both characters are legitimately having fun with each other, the readers can more readily believe that their love for each other really runs deeper than lust and infatuation and superficial affection.
Remember to use all good things in moderation. Don't have them goofing around with each other in every other scene. Then that implies that the characters and you, the author, don't take anything seriously. Sprinkle in the fun and games.
Side note: The exception would be if you have a character who's personality revolves around being very immature/childish and playing games all the time. Going on another tangent: to add depth to such characters, they should have a reason for all the games. For instance, Peter Pan loved adventure and playing games, but deep down, you could sense he really wanted a mother to love and take care of him, so he compensated by saying he never wants to grow up and he'll always be a kid. As I've said many times before, everything your character says and does needs some underlying motivation. That is how you make deep characters.
So to recap, a believable romance needs something besides romance. It needs friendship. That is the core of a solid romance. FRIENDSHIP. Have them tell each other deep secrets. Have them call at three in the morning and annoy each other. Have them yell at each other when they're being stupid and irrational. Have them play jokes on each other. They need to enjoy each other's company in a non-romantic atmosphere. If the only thing they enjoy doing with each other is making out, that's not a precursor to a healthy, lasting relationship.
Friendship is the key to believable romance.
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