Ah February. Love is in the air . . . or at least some semblance of it manufactured by a massive holiday. Too cynical? Well we have to admit that love equals money. Valentine’s day rivals Halloween and Christmas as a top spending holiday. In 2016 estimates had the love holiday making nearly 20 billion.
Romantic movies tend to make bank as well. When considering their budget many easily become profitable. While TITANIC is not necessarily a romance movie, its romance is a large selling factor and Box Office Mojo has it listed as disaster/romantic drama. It is also ranked as number two in all time movie sales.
Maybe most telling is when we look at book genres. Not only is Romance sitting on top of the pile, but the next in line (Mystery/Thriller) would have to double its sales to compete.
We could spend quite a while talking about why this is. What psychological miasma could lure us into spending hours of our time reading about others love. While I would find that an enjoyable conversation, I think the how of it is more interesting.
How does one write love well?
There are a few things people do to stand out in this genre or mixing of. It could easily be argued that one doesn’t need to write romance well to sell it. I am not one to go against this argument as many high-profile books in this genre are picked apart almost immediately and yet never seem to take a hit in their sales.
Still, as story tellers we should try to excel in our story telling. So here is a list of dos and don’ts when writing about love.
Don’t. Insta-love – This is an overly used trope where two people meet and with barely any interaction or compelling reason fall madly in love. This stems from the phrase “Love at first sight” the idea that two people’s souls are made for each other and thus upon seeing each other they fall madly in love. I have another word for it, lust.
Listen I am not saying we take chemistry out of the equation. You can meet something and that spark is there. You find them interesting, they click with you, there is a fluttering deep in your soul. But love, real love, takes time. It builds. Even if the huge spark is there you have to make sure it doesn’t seem like it would fade.
Do. Layering and nuance – Relationships in the real world are complicated and often surge and wane. A compelling love story is one that has a deepness to it. Your characters should be compelling on their own, not only so within the confines of the romance you are constructing. Give them real personalities. Let them get aggravated with each other. Throw a fight in there if it feels right. Let their time together have a mix of emotions. If it is all one dimension then it can get boring fast.
Don’t. Create cardboard problems – There is a common issue in most romances and that is the issue of flimsy conflict. Jim and Jane were working out so well in their new relationship and then Jim forgets to tell Jane he had a meeting and couldn’t go with Jane to her new art opening. Instead of explaining it Jane yells at Jim and he is so emotional that he doesn’t give his side. They don’t talk for a few months then magically work it all out. Don’t … no … stop. If communication is going to be the conflict in your story then it has to be set up really well.
The conflict, and yes your story should have some, needs to revolve around who the characters are and what the setting you have placed them in is. It should make sense to the reader and when it happens the reader should not have to stop and say, “Really?”
It is true for any story, but I think Romance gets a bad name for focusing on the “mushy” parts and not focusing on story telling.
Don’t/Do. Sex – Sex is now, has been and most likely will always be a selling point in storytelling. So, does this mean your romance has to have it? No, of course not and if you feel uneasy about writing it, then maybe you shouldn’t. The issue with sex is it can be written in so many ways. You can allude to it and then close the door to the reader letting their imagination take over or you can give a full out four-page expression of the art of love making. There are also varying degrees in-between.
The issue with sex is, you have to understand who you are writing for. Sex sells, for sure, but some people don’t like it in their entertainment. If you have a “clean” book it will appeal to certain people, if you write a compelling enough story having no sex can get you are larger audience. At the same time there are people who do enjoy it and look for it in their reads. Many series have blown up purely with sex as the selling point.
Sex can ground your story in reality. It can titillate the reader and or add conflict. It also bridges topics that the author may want to shed light on. There are whole cultures who identify themselves by sex.
All in all, if done well it can be a great boon to story telling. If it done poorly it can turn a reader off or cause certain groups to feel offended or attacked. It is for sure a touchy subject … pun intended?
Love is great. Love sells. And in the end, we as writers should be familiar with how to talk about it in our story telling.
I hope everyone, has a great holiday, a great day and remember, keep reading.
By Brandon Ax
Brandon Ax is the award-winning author of The Light Bringer Saga. He is an unapologetic nerd and obsessive revisor. The act of creating new worlds and interesting characters brings him great joy. He dreams of one day being as prolific as another famous Brandon … last name Sanderson, but for now he will settle with getting his next series started.