How to Write Good Romance: and how to tell Lady Gaga to go Home on her Tricycle
Who do you think is the most romantic character of all?
Greetings! One of my big qualms with writers and storytellers today is the blatant lack of understanding in romance. Actually, I see this being a full blown crisis. We are selfish creatures with terrible needs for relationships leading to domestic violence, broken homes, and tattered hearts. I think writing has one of the better chances to fight back against the modern day cliches of dating we are forced to swallow and instead bring us to a pure, oxygen filled pursuit of what is true love.
Personally, I don't believe in dating. I believe the social construct is primarily a wolf in sheep's clothing. Generally, we don't argue against dating because what other mode of developing a relationship do we have? There's something artificial about dating in trying to foster romantic spontaneity through contrived meetings, common hangouts, dinners, bleh. I do believe in love. It's out there, my readers. But the success rate of dating is low, extremely low and the horrors of the sex trade, abused women and men, and spread of sexual diseases is so rampant that I feel something must be done to improve our quality and understanding of relationships. How can this be done? First of all, by thinking critically. Secondly, by letting those who really do know how to have successful relationships to speak up and help us in a capitalist movement of "sex sells." Love's been stripped down to an arbitrary essence where we as humans are but souls drifting around in the real world and virtual world looking for someone to fill up our loneliness only to find it staring back at us in the mirror. The old saying is true: do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires. Dating doesn't follow that proverb.
My favorite romances are the ones that take time to develop. Through that amount of long courtship the two people begin to feel justified in being with each other. Sometimes short spurts do lead to successful longevity, but statistics do show that longer courtships lead to longer lasting and happy relationships.
The goal in writing isn't to just write about romance, but to write about well developed characters and how those characters relate will show how develop are the characters. So here's five extremely important pointers on romance:
1. Your characters need to be multi-dimensional, rounded beings as opposed to flat, stereotypical rubbish. They all need to stand on their own. Weak characters only depend on those around them and do not have the spine to take on a relationship that the audience will be engaged in and love. You do need a variety of relationships, and it's okay to have some weak relationships that your readers would abhor. I suggest having at least two couples where the characters are rounded, flawed, yet more of heroes than crappy second rate next door neighbors that no one really wants to spend time getting to know... the characters need pacing in their actions. It can come off contrived if things move too quickly. Give the characters (and readers) momentum. They need desire, and the best writing explores desire for as long as possible before letting the characters have (or lose) what they want.
2. Avoid cliches. Try something new. Instead of dinner and a freakin' movie, flowers, chocolates, and terribly done sex scenes -- take us to the bottom of the ocean, bring in starfish, bug collections, and dancing on skyscrapers. The cliche is something you as a writer need to develop a distaste toward. We're looking to be fashionable, not be the white-t with stains that's in the closet. That white-t has no soul (it'll soon be condemned to live in the trash) -- your cliches are what are soulless, over marketed concepts that are lacking in luster. Clean out your closet now! Give the audience something new and fresh. Your writing is like a garden where you have the chance to develop fruits for the world. If you do it correctly, people will believe they've tasted an orange for the first time in their whole lives.
3. Avoid physical contact, take it down to minimal contact. Some of the best romantic scenes are when two people love each other, but are unable to be with one another: to be side by side and yet not touching. Unrequited love. Once you throw in sex, it can become anticlimactic and if poorly done it can actually flatten your characters to nonsense. Give meaning with subtlety, and give the reader the chance to fill in the blanks with their own imagination. Let your lead man play with the woman's hair, not her breasts. In fact, sometimes going down south can make what you may have been trying to make exciting only turn out to be humorous... and not in a good way. Also, unless you only want to make snuff, you are severely limiting your audience with blatant sex. Sure, cable has plenty of this. But that doesn't mean you should! You can do better. You can bring out the greatest masterpieces in love we have yet to have seen. Also, in a world oversold on porn, the viewer is in need of salve from this. Focusing too much on sex becomes voyeuristic, not artistic. Aim for poetic beauty as it has long lasting power in society than aiming south. Shakespeare is still revered today for good reason.
4. Romance should never be your A plot, unless... it's a romance novel. The A plot is reserved for the larger, global goal of the story such as with the Matrix in trying to save the peoples from robots. Your B plot should be reserved to other findings as well. Romance runs in about the C plot. It's a bufferer. No, this isn't devaluing romance; in fact, it's putting it in a place that makes it shine. Think of it like music. With classical music you have patterns and certain ones are far more beautiful and soulful than others, but you don't put them at the beginning because it makes for a poor start -- they're in the middle somewhere only once, maybe twice. So if you're writing a story for romance, it may help to think bigger if you really want it to be successful and beyond the romance genre. What are bigger of global crisises? What are other desires your characters may have with their career, family, or hobbies? Many characters can be united under a bad situation such as the collapse of the monarchy. A couple doesn't tend to envelope several bodies of people, though it can be the cause of the collapse, the collapse in itself is more important to the story than the romance (such as the fall of the golden kingdom with Guinevere and Lancelot's affair). That being said... of course there are greater films and books that center around romance. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Romeo and Juliet, and It Happened One Night to name a few. I suggest finding a few of your own favorite romance stories and ask yourself what works about them to you.
5. Aim to be lighthearted. The greatness of a good romance is that it is a light in the darkness. Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires. Pace your romances well, if too soon it can create devastating problems for the rest of the narrative... or just become annoying or forced. There's way too many sloppy romances out there in real life and in fiction. Be lighthearted: send your characters on journeys, move along in a graceful dance of words, fireworks in the sky, and you must be willing to allow trouble ro show up and obstruct the gentle, lighthearted love. Try riddling your work of fiction with unrequited sexual tension: there's doses of it in just about every successful television show... for good reason. I mean seriously, is Eponine or Cosette more interesting? Eponine. You want her to succeed, but she never does.
Lady Gaga wants a Bad Romance; you as a writer want strong, well-developed romances to help carry your plots. We need good romances. We have very few of them.