Character Development,  Craft

Shipping: 7 Ways To Develop Romance In Your Story

Oh, this is why I write fiction!

I can get emotionally involved in the romance of characters without actually getting emotionally involved! And that’s what we want as writers, we want our readers to push our awkward heroine into the arms of the tall, dark stranger who happens to have a soft spot for kittens.

If you’re interested in something more story-like, more journeyed, and more character-driven romance, keep reading!

But how do we do this? How do we “ship” our characters? Can we toy with the feelings of our readers enough that they are rooting for the couple long before the couple is rooting for themselves? How do we pace this romance in such a way that our readers want to see what happens next?

The following suggestions are only that, suggestions. Perhaps you can use a couple to more couple your couple.

Put them together. If they are going to fall in love, then they need to be in each other’s company, in a variety of settings. Maybe the settings could be more formal, intentional dates. But maybe, they wouldn’t have to be. Maybe they work together, or maybe they are neighbors. I think the best stories of true love have a lot of conversation. Now, your reader may not need to read every bit of it, but you can’t build a foundation of a relationship if they never spend time together. As sweet as Sleepless In Seattle was, it kind of drove me crazy that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan weren’t in the same room together until the very, very end.

Go slowly. No matter how you feel about “love at first sight,” it can feel forced in writing. It may be better for one character to have some sort of emotional response to the other — and it doesn’t have to be a positive one. He accidentally trips her and she calls him a jerk. She gets his coffee order wrong and he snaps at her, not because he’s a big meanie, but because he just lost his job. This emotional response, positive or negative, is the spark. Something needs to be ignited at that point.

Show that they like being together. Now, there is probably going to be that tease factor — where she picks on him and he picks on her. They do kind of need to annoy one another. But deep, deep down, they like having the other person around. And it may be that they don’t know why. I’m not convinced that you need to figure it all out completely either — it could be that he’s that stable male figure she’s been longing for. It could be that she’s got a quality or skill that reminds him of his mother.

Make them need each other for practical things. Now we all need each other. We need our cars repaired, we need our taxes done, we need our trash picked up. Perhaps your characters could have occupations that provide legitimate, non-erotic services that would benefit the other. I say this, but I have seen way, way too many stories about a young, probably awkward and klutzy woman who just bought the inn/B&B/old house/coffee shop and is dependent on the boyishly good-looking contractor/handyman/plumber who is charmingly annoying. If you want your romance to stand out, be creative with your occupational choices for your characters. Need ideas? Try looking here. 

Demonstrate how confused they are. Our hero and our heroine need to be in conflict between their reason and their heart. Your reader needs to see this. She says she doesn’t like him or care about him, but that’s not what her actions show. He says that she is nothing special, but he lights up when she comes in a room. Friends may ask them about their googly eyes, and this is when they deny everything. You could have them lose sleep, have trouble eating, or find themselves distracted.

Give them a chorus to argue with. Your hero and your heroine need to spout off about each other to someone. They need coworkers, BFFs, a sympathetic sister, a nosy aunt, someone, that they can talk about their love interest with. Of course, the friends see this relationship blooming more clearly than our hero and heroine do. These friends will have the job to give warnings, remind them of other decisions, tease them, manipulate the circumstances, and perhaps create conflict. The more complicated you make the supporting characters, the more drama you can create, and this is a good thing. Make sure these characters and their motivations are well understood by your reader.

Create a pursuit. It could also be that one of them has more interest than the other. There should be decisive action by one to get the attention of the other. If you are going to tease the reader, you need to take your time with this. One of your main objectives is convincing your reader that they will get together, and the matter of when will keep them turning pages. In the pursuit, the pursuer needs to make some big mistakes. The pursuee should be offended, insulted or ignorant. Don’t make this easy. Put as many obstacles as you can in the path of the pursuer. But, don’t go so far as to discourage your readers or make your pursuer look like a weirdo. (Unless that’s your intention, which means you may be writing an entirely different genre altogether.)

Let’s just put a caveat out there: I’m assuming that this romance that you’re writing is the journey of two people who fall in love and decide they can’t live without the other. If you’re writing the kind of book that, ahem, is only interested in the physical rewards of a relationship, without the nuance, the subtext, and the mature emotional growth, then you don’t need any help. You just need a Barry White album.

Next week? Seven MORE ways to ship your romantic characters! 

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.

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