Romance fans know that the genre is all about love.
When we dive into a book, we’re there for all the relationships at play. We want to sit back and watch two souls intertwine and find that deep connection unlike any other kind of relationship encountered in fiction. Overcoming whatever obstacles stand in their way because they are simply meant to be, coupled with the intimacy and tenderness of those stories (and the occasional steaminess), crafts an experience readers are able to curl up with like a favorite blanket.
Just as die-hard horror audiences live for chills running down their spine and heart-pounding action, romance lovers want their hearts to be aflutter and made to feel all warm and fuzzy.
But while your characters falling in love should be at the core of your romance, that shouldn’t be the only important thing in their lives.
Characters who drop absolutely everything for a new romance are something of a pet peeve of mine.
Even though it can feel like time comes to a screeching halt when you fall in love, the planet continues to turn and the world goes on.
In some romances, however, whatever the characters had going on before meeting their soon-to-be significant other suddenly doesn’t seem to matter as much. Their world begins to revolve around this new person. Friendships, work, and other obligations gradually fall to the wayside in the scope of narration, sometimes to the point they feel completely forgotten about by the newly-smitten characters.
I may be influenced by my preference of slow-burn romances over insta-love, but stories in which characters become—for lack of a better term—completely distracted with one another rarely work for me, and it’s why I go by what I call the Life Outside Of Love rule.
Basically, this means that each character needs to have something important going on other than romance. It’s one of the reasons I have a habit of writing protagonists who are essentially married to their job and familial obligations. It means they've got more on the plates they're spinning and have to take things slowly when it comes to this new relationship.
To me, a life outside of love enriches the storyline and its characters. Here's why.
A Source For Subplots
Giving your characters something going on outside of the relationship not only deepens them, but can deepen your WIP by adding subplots.
I’ll typically give each protagonist in my romances their own thing going on, like their job or an upcoming event that becomes a thread running throughout the course of the story. In the case of Bound to the Heart, this is Zach’s chaperoning his siblings and managing his bookshop while Eve is dealing with her mother’s expectations and the demands of preparing for a Season in London.
Subplots are so valuable to writers and developing characters. By giving each character something to focus on apart from their budding romance, it gives you a chance to explore who they are as individuals. How do they handle difficulties? Who are they when their crush isn’t looking?
Weaving these threads into your main plot and romance can make for a more complex narrative and a more enjoyable experience for readers.
Budding Romance And Butting Heads
Giving your characters priorities can add so much to your narrative including one of the most essential components of storytelling: conflict.
Let’s face it, entering into a relationship can be a juggling act when you have other things going on. You want to spend time with your new significant other, but you can’t just drop everything. And then there’s the matter of finding free time in both your schedule and theirs where you can hang out.
Making it work isn’t always easy.
Maybe your characters feel the strain of finding opportunities to be with each other. This could come as feelings of neglect or fears of being cheated on because they’re constantly getting tied up at work and having to cancel plans. They might be coworkers who have to hide their budding relationship from management because company policy prohibits that sort of thing. One person might be a widow and still working through feelings of grief and the aftermath of the death of their spouse. A single parent may have to leave a lunch date early to pick their child up from school because they puked in the cafeteria.
Characters willing to make it work no matter what complications life throws at them are often the ones people love reading about because it shows that when it matters most, people determined to be together will find a way.
Equally important to a story as conflict is its resolution.
How your characters overcome whatever obstacles their relationship is facing makes the story what it is. Readers want to see the romance fought for and earned. Milestones like their first kiss or meeting one another’s parents feel like mini successes not only for them, but for the readers along for the journey.
When the characters find ways of being together and work around everything they have going on, it’s rewarding—especially if it means they have to work together to find a solution.
Lastly, giving our characters priorities outside of love creates a sense of realism in your writing. Although writing might come with an element of wish-fulfillment and suspension of disbelief, it can still feel unrealistic when characters just forego all responsibilities because they’re smitten.
Giving your characters things they have to deal with outside of their newfound romance makes it easier for readers to connect with the story. Maybe they are also balancing work and a possible new relationship, or they’re a single parent with children to care for.
While it would be nice to be able to set obligations aside for things we want to pursue, that’s not always possible. What is possible, however, is making it work despite the odds being stacked against you.
Showing that determination, the trial and errors, and the compromises and sacrifices along the way make the romance genre as compelling as it is.
In a romance novel, the relationship is the heart of the story. Readers gravitate towards the genre for the warm and fuzzy feelings, to watch two souls find their way to each other, and to invest in the journey it takes for love to blossom.
Life Outside of Love can give you a chance to let your readers see how your characters’ lives change once they’ve entered into a new romance, and how this new love affects them as people. It enriches the story and deepens the characters.
Romance is a genre devoted to telling love stories, and your writing should reflect that. Falling in love should be the primary focus, but not the only one.
Giving your characters a life outside of love can ignite the spark that makes yours shine for readers.