When I was 15 up to when I started working, the stories of my choosing were always love stories. I searched for them. I craved for them. I wanted to read that one love story I wanted to experience myself. Up till then, nothing in my life ever compared to what I’ve read in books. The love depicted in books made me addicted – if I cannot experience this for myself, I want to read about it. Today, I despise them. Most of them. Here’s why and how this helps you to write better romance.
First love, only love, forever love - ugh
As a teenager, I wanted a Disney-like fairy tale love, a Prince who’d save me (yes, I’m cringing while I write this), who’d stand up for me and show courage. Then, disappointed by cowardice, I wanted what Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy had. A deep connection after having the time to explore each other’s flaws and realizing that they’re lovable.
I read all those girly books and dreamed of that ONE FIRST LOVE, that stays forever. It’s not walking into a 24-hour-supermarket and choose one beer of five to spend your happily-ever-after with it. More so, it’s going pants-shopping, always finding flaws and after lots of sweating in the wardrobe, deciding to take them with you. At home, you either love it or realise, it does not look THAT well on you. However, with that experience, you find your style sooner or later. Soon I figured, that one first love isn’t for forever for the most of us. Even if you want it to, that does not make the other party want it just as much.
But in books, they always end up together or die.
Maidens choosing, whom to ‘give their virtue’ to & widowed men
Some years ago, I loved reading fantasy and love stories but there was always something, that made me feel less, while reading it. I never fully identified with those otherworldly ethereal female characters. Because I already got my heart broken. Because I continued to live and love and left my past behind.
However, these books were telling me of women, who have never loved, who were untouched, ‘pure’ and if they ‘gave away their virtue’, they ‘gave’ it to the man of their dreams out of deep love. As if virginity is their virtue and worth, and something to give instead of to experience. They told of women, who found their first love and married him. They told of women, who only felt sexual attraction towards their first love and never before. And all other ‘impure’ women walked towards their doom. I couldn’t read these books. Because I COULD identify with those ‘impure’ women, who always were meant to suffer and die. (Waving towards Tess D’Urberville and Anna Karenina)
And have you noticed in how many romantic movies, if there was a previous relationship, THE ONE is either widowed or his evil ex will play her part in some jealousy-games, since she obviously wants him back?
Most love stories act like there was no ‘real’ love before it. And if so, it’s dead or mad.
To write better romance without romance
Though I already concerned myself with FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) at 15, I never thought of the sexism around the holy virginity of a woman in MY area. And so, I continued to feel ashamed – until I read Hunger Games. I know, Katniss Everdeen is probably a virgin but I loved how love wasn’t perfect in this book. When is love a performance, when is it real? What, if your supposed-to-be-lover is made to hate you? What if you cannot separate guilt and love?
In this trilogy, love is messy, and the romantic type of love wasn’t the main character’s concern. Katniss is fierce and sceptical, unforgiving and loyal. She thinks of her sister and survival. She doesn’t concern herself much with the glances Peeta throws her. When he gets cheesy, she gets uncomfortable. She doesn’t look into his eyes and sees a blue ocean drowning her in deepest love after getting to know each other for two weeks. She stays focused. Her goal is survival. But not at all costs.
The ingredients to write better romance today
#1 Interior vs. exterior connection
First off, we need interior connection to write better romance. Never ever will I believe a love story, if people are only drawn to each other because of matching exterior circumstances. Imagine the chaos, if everybody would fall in love with their colleagues. (WINKING TO MY BOYFRIEND)
Why do I still ship “Pride & Prejudice”? Because it’s pride and prejudice, which put Elizabeth Bennet & Mr. Darcy off and then drew them to each other. Because Lizzy still got to know Mr. Darcy and put down her prejudices to see the truth. Their relationship conflicts were interior and not artificially made up by their circumstances. They both struggle with themselves and observe each other closely, talk to each other and see how they both react in different situations. This is all playing into their love. It is hard to believe a love story after this, where all what happens between two people, is that they’re living in one house and save each other now and then from the dark forces around that place.
#2 Three-dimensional characters
Secondly, and this is actually implied by the first condition, the characters have to be three-dimensional, if you want to write better romance. If one of the two characters is flat, there’s no way, you want them to fall in love with each other.
In “A Court of Thorns And Roses”, Tamlin, the High Lord of the Spring Court is downright flat. He wants to save his Court, cares for his friends, is kind to Feyre and gets aggressive in front of his fiends. And often enough Feyre lusts for his outer appearance. That’s all we know about him. What are his quirks, flaws and what does actually connect them? I felt nothing. Whereas, when the High Lord of the Night is described, I want more. His reputation is the worst, he’s cunning, his anger is calm and dangerous, he seems like a villain, but then he does things that speak against it. He is mysterious and we want to know more of him.
That’s probably why I loved Snape, too. A man, who let people think the worst of him, to help save the world, taking nothing in return. A man, who was rejected, and never recovered. Ever.
[Spoiler Alert ] Now, that I’m reading the Second Book (A Court of Mist And Fury), though, I see, that this is exactly the problem with their relationship. We, as readers, were never supposed to root for them. Quite a clever move, but at the same time, you’ll have to make it through the first book to see that. The love story bits in the first book were quite lengthy without being deep.
#3 Equal positions in the relationship
And thirdly, I want the relationship to be equal. What does that mean? To me, feminism is common sense. When I read stories, in which one of the lovers is submissive and the other dominant, I cannot enjoy it. I know this might be different for some people … But how can you enjoy Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey while having an emancipated view on women?
In Twilight, Bella doesn’t have any interests. She’s boring. Her one and only interest becomes Edward. Everything about this makes me cringe. She’s ready to lose her human life for him because it’s nothing worth for her. Even the adrenaline junky hobbies she takes upon when Edward is gone are related to just forgetting him and being closer to death. This girl is depressive and needs help. I never understood the “Team Edward or Jacob”-thing. It was obvious, Bella had no friends and Werewolfguy is her one and only friend, who is the typical guy who’d twitter “She’s playing you, when you spend all your time listening to her problems and she only wants to hump another guy”.
I do like reading of an unequal couple, if this matter is topicalized. Just like in “A Court of Mist and Fury”.
Some love stories make us think, rejection does not exist. I’m certain we can all agree, that it does. What if your main character falls in love and gets rejected? Oh yeah, it hurts writing this. There is this saying, if you don’t cry writing your story, your readers won’t cry either. It’s okay to give them a little heartache. And almost everyone knows that feeling. If there is rejection and lovesickness in stories, often the rejecting party is described as insufferable, so that the reader hopes for the main character to get over it and go on with their life for the obvious reasons. If you want to make your reader truly suffer and write better romance, give them enough to like the rejecting party. Just make sure the new love, if there is one, is even better.
Emancipated love stories and progressive thinking
In the western and most modern parts of the world most people have more than one relationship in their life. It is important to have that in mind for writing better romance, even when writing fantasy. People think more progressively, and this is what they need to relate to in their characters. Nowadays, there is more progressive romance in fantasy and historical fiction, that show more queer relationships (Red Queen) and emancipated women. Stories with female characters, who already know the fun one can have in bed. The witch Lu in “Serpent & Dove” was sexually active, before meeting the man, she falls in love with. That is an improvement. But why not going all the way? Why don’t they have loved someone before, why is their meant-to-be their ONE?
To write better romance, progressive thinking also means having more non-stereotypical relationships. Queer couples always existed, just more hidden in the past. I feel strange reading a fantasy series with lots of characters but none of them being queer. And concerning straight relationships, why is the woman never older than the man? (Another wink to boyfriend) In a retelling of The Beauty and the Beast, why is the beast not female for once?
And this is why today, romance with destined star-crossed first real love annoys me. They’re seldom complex and therefore do not feel real to me. Today, I know, I’m not worth less because I had my experiences. Who knows if I ended up with my special someone, if I didn’t love and made some mistakes before?
Romance I love to read
You know, what I’d like to read more of? Fantasy books, in which the destined couple breaks up because of all the differences they realize over time and then go on with their life and find a new love. Without making the first lover obviously dull. More rejection. More queer love. Especially pansexuality.
That’s just on a personal note, but you know what they say – write the book, you wish to read. In that way, writing what YOU crave and believe in a love story is my advice for writing better romance.
What kind of love story would you love to read? Which love stories did you love?