- Make sure you give enough room in your story for the relationship to develop. No one likes a shoehorned relationship. At best, it leaves the reader feeling like that didn’t get enough, and, at worst, it feels like a tacked-on addition to market the work. If you feel like your romance is rushed but can’t think of how to add more, ask yourself if you really want to write it in, or maybe have the couple start off together so you don’t have to spend time developing the courtship.
- Make sure your couple has chemistry. Take some time to think about your couple and their personalities. Imagine them as your friends. What would you say if you gossiped about them? Are one person’s flaws the other’s pet peeves? Do they share interests? Is what they want from the relationship complementary? One or two issues may be able to be fixed in story with good writing (and may provide an excellent opportunity for character development!), but if the two characters don’t have any shared ground, you may not want to treat them like an endgame couple.
- Avoid outdated/sexist tropes. For example, one member of your couple “fixing” the other (either from immorality or mental illness) with their love, someone creepily watching the other sleep when they don’t even have a good reason to be in the room, or one member shutting the other up with a kiss when the kissed is upset/angry and that working to calm them down. Be original! You are too good of a writer to fall back on story tropes that belittle/infantilize one member of your couple.
- Make sure any relationship drama is necessary and realistic. Before writing relationship drama in, make sure it makes sense. Does whatever action one member has to do to cause the drama (for example, cheating, acting irrationally jealous, being oblivious to their SO’s issues, being unable to pick between two romantic options) fit with their character? Does this drama add to the story? There’s nothing wrong with a happy couple if you’re not getting your conflict from their romance. That being said, if you write relationship drama, make sure you conclude it realistically. This may include giving your characters time apart. This should include some conversations (and maybe some compromises), unless you are writing an unhealthy relationship.
- Please don’t romanticize unhealthy relationships. Honestly, this is kind of a restatement of some of the above points, but it’s worth repeating. Remember, unhealthy doesn’t necessarily mean physically or verbally abusive (though that’s certainly very unhealthy!). It could be a couple who breaks up and makes up in a cycle without ever attempting to talk out their issues, a couple in which one member doesn’t take the other’s opinions and/or work seriously, or a couple that begins dating because one member obsessively bothers the other for a date despite rebuttals. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write such couples; you should just treat them as destructive and something to move past, not a goal to reach. Also, just because both members of the couple are abusive to each other, or the physically weaker member of the couple is the physically abusive one, doesn’t make it magically not abuse!
- Read Romances: Obviously, right? Even if they’re boring, read them. If you want to know what goes into a romantic scene, read romances. Even things like Twilight-read it, understand why people like it and why they don’t. Find out what works and what doesn’t. Especially if you haven’t been in many romantic relationships yourself.
- Don’t feel pressured to make sex the most important step in the relationship. In many stories, sex is used to represent the final milestone in a relationship, and, in some stories, this makes sense. However, each couple and each story is different. Some might have casual sex, and their “final milestone” is opening up to each other emotionally. Others might have their “final milestone” (at least, in the bounds of the story) be a proposal, and they don’t have sex in-story at all. Figure what is most meaningful and in-character for your couple and use that to signal that they have reached the epitome of your romantic plot.
Leandra and Gwen