Ah, love. The source of infinite story ideas, conflicts, and character goals. A person’s relationship status is one of the biggest factors in their lifestyle. Naturally, that translates to our fictional characters as well. This is very clear in the romance genre but can often be overlooked or carelessly handled in many other genres. So let’s look at some things to consider while writing about romantic relationships.
Just like friendships, romantic past (and present) strongly define our characters. That refers to crushes, relationships, broken hearts, relationship milestones and many more.
How does your character view love? What is their romantic past? What about their present? Do they like that or do they wish to change it? Questions like these are actually crucial for any main genre, whether the romance will play an important role in the story or not. Most importantly, think of how that shows in the character’s behaviour and how you can show it in the story. Additionally, find a way that this can influence the main plot, and I guarantee your story will become stronger instantly.
Besides your characters’ internal views on love and romance, you might want to consider what role romantic relationships play in your story. Meaning, how they influence the plot or possibly generate a subplot or two. This might relate to any relationships that already exist in your fictional world or the ones that develop throughout the story. Since the latter type is more common and carries more dramatic potential, let’s look at some ways to approach it.
While romance tropes provide structural tools for the main plot of romance novels, they are super common and helpful to other genres as well. You will find many examples of these in fantasy, sci-fi, crime, mystery, comedy… So whatever you are writing, knowing the basic romance tropes will help with developing romantic interests and subplots.
Here is a general overview of the main tropes and remember that all of these have their own subcategories. But whether you are just brainstorming about how to introduce a romantic interest for your MC or if you are deep in editing your fifth draft, these general guidelines can help you pinpoint what you want and clarify some relationships.
One of my favourite tropes that can work so well when done correctly. The characters are forced to be close to each other and start developing feelings for one another. This one works well when combined with “enemies to lovers”. Or any other trope for that matter.
This would be a nice example of a subcategory of “forced proximity”, but it deserves its own mention because of its common use. Usually, one of the characters needs to create an illusion of having a relationship and convince the other to pretend to be their partner. Slowly, the line between what is fake and what is real begins to blur.
ENEMIES TO LOVERS
Another one of the most popular tropes, this one can extend from the most innocent sweet romantic comedies to hard-core BDSM fanfiction erotica. The line between love and hate is a thin one and both are strong emotions, indicating there is no indifference between the characters. Or maybe we just love seeing two opposing sides come together in (some kind of) form of love.
FRIENDS TO LOVERS
This is one for fans of slow-burn romances. Not that it has to be slow-burn, but it often is, as it concerns two people who have (usually) been friends for a long time and start to wonder if there might be something more to their relationship.
Another one of my favourites. Probably because it usually leads to humorous situations. And because it carries so much dramatic potential by immediately creating suspense in the audience knowing something a character doesn’t. This makes it perfect for other genres as well.
A subcategory of “mistaken identity” that is so popular it deserves a special mention. This one is more common in the romance genre than in others, but, like any other trope, that is not exclusive. It usually stems from the idea of a noble person – be it a modern-day rich brat or an allusion-to-fairy-tales royalty – suffering under the pressure of their responsibilities and feeling trapped in the shackles of their life that is full of material goods but lacking real love and acceptance. This idea is, quite honestly, by itself melodramatic and usually carried out in such fashion too. That does not mean, however, that it doesn’t carry the potential for a deep and interesting story.
ONE TRUE LOVE
Very dreamy and idealistic, this trope is best suited for the most romantic souls. It’s about two characters that are in fact – according to the story and its world – meant to be together. This doesn’t mean they just go well together or we like them. The story itself proposes the thesis that there are stronger forces at work that prove these two are real soulmates.
Probably the trope with the highest number of subcategories – you can just calculate all possible ways for three people to be included in a love triangle. I’m not a huge fan of this one, but I will admit it can be super useful for creating a lively discussion between fans of your story (just think of all #TeamThis and #TeamThat fights that you’ve seen in various fandoms).
This trope is another one with many subcategories ranging from teachers dating their students’ parents in sitcoms to characters from opposing war sides falling in love in historical fiction. It can offer useful context for social commentary or addressing matters of race, ethnicity, beliefs, or sexual orientation.
Another type of story that also falls under the “forbidden love” umbrella is the one that deals with relationships that are considered taboo in our society, like incest, large age differences, paedophilia etc.
Another trope of which I am not a big fan. Probably because I have seen it too often used in TV shows where the creators have run out of ideas (or all the characters have been with one another at some point already), so they bring in a person from a character’s past that we have never heard of before. This can appear as a cheap trick, but this trope has more potential than that. Either addressing long-term relationship problems or long-lost romantic interests, there is a good possibility of creating an interesting and well-developed (sub)plot.
Of course, these are the basic romance tropes, meaning they are merely writing tools and by no means explicit rules. Use them to get to the essence of a relationship, to get inspired, and to get a clearer idea of what you want to do with your characters and their romantic relationships, but twist and turn them as you wish! And don’t be afraid to play around with them, everyone enjoys a good spin on a popular trope.
The last thing that I would like to bring your attention to when writing about romantic relationships is to think of the symbolism you are releasing into the world. If you try to steer clear of damaging stereotypes or glorifying unhealthy relationships, that is already a big contribution to the collective subconsciousness of the future. To put it shortly, think about what message you are sending with your choice and treatment of various relationships.
I invite you to view this not as a moralistic sermon, but rather as a friendly reminder that will help your story be awesome. Furthermore, this does not mean you should only include perfect couples or that you absolutely have to write about homosexual relationships. But it does mean that you should be mindful when writing about anything. And you should never underestimate the power of stories and words. The invitation is simply to keep that in mind and be aware of the meaning of your story, whatever it’s about.
Freebie: Relationship Milestones
In order to help you develop and get to know the romantic relationship you are writing, I have made a little template for relationship milestones. This can help you if you are still figuring out what happens with two people falling in love or if you have an already existing couple and want to get to know their backstory better. You can also use it for the character’s daydreaming or even your own journaling! The most common milestones are already suggested, but there is a blank template at the end, so you can completely customize it and make it your own.
I hope it helps in any way!
This is it for now as far as romantic relationships go. Hop over to Instagram and let me know which trope is your favourite!