I used to say I hated all that mushy stuff while inhaling fantasy and horror stories with some romance in them. My stories are heavy on the relationship theme. Often, that relationship turns romantic. It’s strange. Adding romance to my stories was almost unconscious.
I don’t know why I was so against romance. I think it’s because that genre’s considered “girly” and I’m not all that girly. Well, I guess I am, a little and there’s nothing wrong with it. I generally don’t read or write straight romance. My stories are fantasy/horror adventure with a dash of romance. The characters tend to have long established relationships before the story begins.
In The Marked Hosts, the main characters are engaged. In The Merging Worlds series, the couples knew each other since childhood. As the story progresses, their relationship develops into something more. The Jura series is a little different. The main characters were promised to each as children but were separated before anything real developed. They were reunited years later. Serin remembers the promise while Jade barely remembers Serin.
Create Well-Rounded Characters
I usually don’t go into a story thinking this person and that one are going to fall in love. As I write and get to know the characters, they become drawn to each other. It’s as if they’re telling me they want to be together.
There are two side characters, Lafeyette and Tearani, in books 1, The Sciell, and 2, Chains of the Sciell of The Merging Worlds series. I had no intention of putting them in a relationship. As I was writing, it suddenly felt… right that they were attracted to each other, had been for a long time. This only happens if you create characters that come alive. They begin to talk to you.
I like the organic approach when it comes to love in my stories. The biggest problem– I realize halfway through the story that the characters are in love or falling in love and I have to edit the beginning so this relationship won’t feel like it came out of nowhere.
The Romance Should Serve a Purpose
Romance may be a subplot, it still needs to move the main plot forward. So, Tearani and Lafeyette have been attracted to each other since they were teenagers. What does that do to the plot? Lafeyette hid his relationship from his younger brother, Vayle, for no real reason. Vayle was pissed when he found out. Lafeyette tends to be secretive but Vayle thought he knew his brother the best. This on top of everything else was too much for Vayle. He ran away, which eventually caused the entire group, including Lafeyette and Tearani, to separate for several years.
You know those stories, when the love interests meet and sparks fly. I’m not a huge fan of that. I roll my eyes when the characters are falling all over each other after the first meeting. It is fun to play around with this trope, though. What if there’s an instant connection and one or both of the protagonist are resistant? In Chains of the Sciell, Josephine and Divine have this instant connection, the supernatural is at fault, which they despise. Books 2 and 3 are about them coming to terms with the connection and realizing they actually like each other.
This exploded in the past couple of years and I am not a fan. Some people enjoy stories with love triangles. If I even get a hint of a triangle, I want no part of that book. You can put a ton of obstacles between the two characters and happiness. I don’t think one of those barriers needs to be another person. Someone is going to lose and everyone gets hurt.
The world will tell the mechanics (that’s an unromantic word) of the relationship–how they build a relationship and even what it’s called. The world can also add some conflict. In The Marked Hosts, Contessa is from a noble Class while Cezon’s Class is more…rowdy. In general, the two families have no problem with their union but the Class system creates a barrier between Contessa and Cezon. Contessa’s Class raised her to not show emotions meaning no kissing, cuddling, no saying “I love you.” Whereas Cezon’s Class is all about showing affection.
Everyone has a sore spot. With two people coming together, someone will accidentally, or on purpose, hit a nerve. In Shadows under the Light, Jade and Serin are trying to figure out what they are relationship-wise. Serin, who’s been imprisoned for twenty years, mentioned that it would be easier to protect Jade if he could lock her away. He wasn’t serious, just frustrated. Jade snapped because at one point she was locked away by a group of brats who wanted her to be their mommy.
This goes along with the above section but it needs to be separate. You can create beautiful looking characters. I do. I’m tired of the protagonist who everyone sees as beautiful. Same with personality. Don’t create characters everyone in the story loves. They’re boring. I’m remained of a character from The Black Jewels series. Everyone worshiped, feared or desired her. It would’ve been a nice change of pace if a character met her and went “meh.”
People fight. That’s natural. There are going to be things your love interests don’t like about each other. Point them out. Please don’t make the relationship perfect. That’s boring. Let’s return to Divine and Josephine from The Merging Worlds series.
They have history, a bad one. They’ve been together for a long time. The supernatural connection caused them to act out against each other. They were drawn together and didn’t know if it was this connection or if they genuinely liked each other. They made it there life’s mission to hurt each other. Eventually, they grew out of that. They were able to form a healthy relationship.
I don’t tend to put sex in my stories because my characters are so damaged they aren’t mentally prepared to become that intimate. They kiss, cuddle, share a bed but they don’t cross that line. Sex scenes don’t really fit in my story. Some fantasy romances begin with a spark, where the characters start with sex and then fall in love. That works for those books and those characters. Let your characters tell you how they’d deal with sex.
Happily Ever After?
When romance is the main focus of the story, readers expect the character to get together at the end. I read one story a couple of years ago where the author set up this great romance only have the female die at the end. I felt cheated. If romance is the subplot, than happily ever after could take on a different meaning.
In Chains of the Sciell, Niah and Vayle have a strange relationship. (You know it’s strange when the writer calls it that). The characters like each other but they have no real desire to do anything about it. They’ve claimed each other without making a commitment and they’re happy with that. There’s no sex, so kissing– just a little petting and flirting. Things might change down the line. For now, they’ve talked about it and they’re fine with the way things are.
I like fantasy romance because it lets me explore different types of relationships.
What are your tips for adding a romantic subplot to a story?