Wednesday, January 29, 2014

3 Simple Tips for Writing a Swoon-worthy Love Story

This post was inspired in part by a piece Kate Brauning wrote on “Writing an Impacting Love Story,” where she focuses primarily on the elements and levels of mutual attraction, and points of connection that make up a love story.

I want to talk about the process of falling in love, and the perpetuating effects that lead to deeper love; which, inevitably, lead to the romantic drama that fuels a truly swoon-worthy love story. As Kate points out, this discussion isn’t only relevant for a romance novel. Any romantic relationship, no matter how small, can gain a degree of believability and—of course—swooning, from some fine-tuning. Here are three simple tips that can help you create and deepen a love story, as well as generate some good ol’ swoony drama.

(And now that we are Pub Hub, and focusing on more than just writing for YA, I’ll even throw in a few suggestions for writing for the grown-up market. Enjoy, you pervert.)

1. Attraction is an optional impetus, but it sure helps.

It’s en vogue right now to hate on “insta-love”—by which I mean characters fall intensively in love in a matter of pages. I, personally, don’t believe that insta-love is necessarily poor form. Many love stories start in unexpected ways. Instead, I’d argue that “insta-love” is a misnomer for something that might be better labeled as “insta-attraction.”

Attraction is a perfectly acceptable way to begin a love story. A hypothetical for you: one character finds the other impossibly beautiful—surface attraction. He’s inspired to awkwardly ask to become her lab partner. The response is instant as she, also, finds him impossibly handsome, and finds his awkwardness even more so. They stumble over themselves in their effort to find some time alone and kiss, even before the first day’s final bell has rung. But this is only one small step in a great journey, and it would be negligent and, frankly, rather boring to assume this is all an epic, swoon-worthy love story takes.

Attraction is as much about skin as it is about what’s beneath the skin; one character may not find the other particularly attractive on the surface, but fall for what lies underneath. And as attraction for the inside grows, attraction for the outside can follow. (He’s a good story-teller, and she grows to love the expression his face takes as he relates his tales.) Personally, I swoon far more for a story like this than one that begins with insta-love. I like a love story that has to work a little bit for me to root for it.

Love-hate relationships—where characters begin at odds with one another, but wind up together—suffer great popularity in romance fiction for a good reason: it bucks the standard romance progression (surface attraction -> mutual interest and understanding -> deeper love) and lends some natural drama to the process of falling in love. Instead of beginning with attraction, this burgeoning love story kicks off at odds, where attraction only develops later. Readers crave believable flip-flops, because the attraction must be that much stronger to overcome the opposition, and some fun drama often follows.

2. We all seek to be understood.

Every human exists inside his or her own mind, shaped by a unique set of experiences, viewing the world with that same unique lens—and isn’t it something when someone else shares even a small part of that lens? When one character doesn’t need to explain himself, and is simply understood—well, a great burden lifts. Finally, someone understands. Finally, I don’t have to explain what I mean. Finally, someone gets it. It can come as easy as a love of a hobby, or as thick as a shared life philosophy.

Love is a language, and each person speaks their own version of it. A character’s love language is present in everything she does—the way she prefers to kiss, the way she expresses her feelings (a small gesture or a spoken word; often or never; blithely or subtly), and the way she makes love. It’s both physical and emotional. Cues are understood, shared experiences enhanced, and feelings interpreted without having to be said out loud. This process isn’t always easy—“Does she feel the same way I do?” But when the understanding is reached, and settles, and each is convinced of the other’s feelings, it’s a relief to be free from the difficult process of communication.

3. Love grows with time and trial.

Love is not an event that happens once: loving, and falling in love, is an endless, changing thing. The love between two people the day they meet is one toe in the kiddie pool compared to the ocean it could one day become.

A relationship doesn’t exist in a void, either: like a prototype car, it is constantly put under pressure, tested, crashed, and rebuilt again. A swoon-worthy romance shows its mettle against trauma. If it survives, it becomes better, deeper, tougher. The characters now share an experience, now share a trial and a rebirth and a victory. As the mutual understanding grows deeper, each character trusts more in the other as a confidant, companion, supporter, friend, lover. The pair become a fortress, no longer wondering about the other’s love but assured of it, and more powerful together for it.

Not to say that a swoon-worthy romance must improve each participant—some loves, despite the depth and quality, are still wrought with drama, still mutually destructive. The stakes in a love story rise with time, and the cost of loss grows. Not every love story ends well, because not every participant is ready or capable or, heck, even sane enough to make it to a happy ending.

But I’ll leave that part up to you, you clever devils.

Read more of Kiersi's writing advice on her blog, The Prolific Novelista, or follow her on Twitter at @kiersi.

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