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  • Writer's pictureGrace A. Johnson

my top tips to authentic romance part ii


Well, folks, I'm four months overdue, but I made it. The second half of my top tips to writing authentic romance. If you missed my previous post, you can check it out here! The tips aren't in any particular order, but I feel like it makes more sense if you read the first ones, well, first.

Anyway, I don't really have an intro (again, see previous post 😂), so let's just dive in!


 

1 | Be Flexible

It’s entirely too easy to be restrictive when it comes to romance. You have a specific idea of what this story is, and naturally you’re going to plow through on one track until you reach that end.

But the thing is, if you don’t allow yourself and your story to be flexible, you end up with a too-short, too-simple story that lacks convincing character development. Readers can’t connect with the characters and the story seems to be lacking something.

So try taking a break from the romance to focus on the storyline itself—beyond boy meets girl, they fall in love, etc.—or on character development. Communicate important character traits or moments in their arc through scenes between them and their family or friends. Immerse the reader into the setting in scenes where it’s just the reader and their thoughts on a walk throughout town. Enrich the romance by showing the hero bond with the heroine’s brother or have a conversation about her with his dad. Interactions between the hero and heroine are the only way to develop a romance—so be open to incorporating other things. Besides, a romance is never just a romance. There is (or at least there should be) an emotional journey, a lesson learned, a problem to solve, an adventure to embark on, etc.


2 | Weave The Plot & Romance Together

On that note…maybe you’ve got that down. You’ve got an intriguing mystery and a sweet romance—but it’s making them feel cohesive and part of each other that’s so hard. Each scene is discordant, like notes clashing.

The trick is to go back to the beginning. Think about who your characters are, how they know each other, and why they’re together, and base your plot on that. Or base your characters on the plot—either one. That just depends on if you’re a character-driven writer (like me) or a plot-driven writer!

Maybe half of the characters’ bonding takes place while they’re training to fight the enemy. Or the turning point in their relationship is when one of them switches sides. Or they truly begin to fall for each other because of how they treat others, interact with certain characters, or react to specific situations.

And this applies to the thematic aspects or character arcs in your story. Themes of forgiveness can be tied to issues in their relationship; the gamophobic hero learns to trust and commit because of the heroine; or the heroine learns to let others in when she allows the hero to help her. The list goes on.

Everything we experience in life affects multiple aspects of our lives. Everything we are influences how we react to those experiences and how they affect us. Keep that in mind, dear writer! 😉


3 | Be Bold & Passionate

I know, I know. Sometimes the idea of passion scares us off from romance. But I’m not talking about getting hot and heavy. I’m talking about being unabashed, unafraid, and honest about what you’re writing. Don’t shy away from things that will really enhance your story and make it more impactful. Don’t let what readers may say or what’s trendy or what you saw on that TikTok keep you from writing what’s on your heart.

Just because someone may not like your idea of romance or your spiritual convictions doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write what you want. Be radical if you have to! Balance the spiritual content and romantic content in a way that is natural and healthy. And authentically portray faith journeys and romantic relationships.


4 | Create Chemistry

Oh, I could write a whole post about this, lemme tell you. Chemistry is one of the things you never hear about when it comes to writing Christian romance (okay, you never hear anything about writing Christian romance at all). I honestly feel like it’s become taboo, since chemistry is often equated with attraction and attraction automatically equals lust in all situations so you should pluck out your eyes. (Please note I’m being sarcastic.)

But the truth is, attraction isn’t lust, and chemistry isn’t attraction. In fact, chemistry isn’t even inherently sexual! Chemistry is really all about how your characters interact with each other, whether they’re two bros or lovebirds or in-laws. When your characters can clash and cooperate, you’ve got chemistry. They hit each other and explode, but in that process, they’ve come together to make something better than themselves alone. (Dude, that was profound.)

As far as those lovebirds go…think of them like two superheroes with entirely different powers and motives, both fighting for the same thing—which is basically a romantic relationship. If your hero and heroine are total opposites in everything, you’ll have an enemies-to-still-enemies story on your hands. Or worse: they won’t have any feelings, positive or negative, towards each other at all, which leaves you with a big fat 0 in the dynamic department. And if the hero and heroine are 100% the same, well, that makes for a boring relationship and a boring story.

So give them contrasting personalities + similarities that can unite them. Or vice versa—like my couple Elliot and Crimson, who are twins personality-wise but with totally different goals and ideals (prior to the climax of their character arcs, of course). Give them moments in which they disagree and moments in which they stand together.

Sounds easy, right? Eh. Sometimes it can be hard to communicate that on the page, so try a couple of these ideas if you need a little leg-up!

  • Pay attention to your characters’ differences and commonalities, even if that means making a Venn Diagram.

  • Have fun with comedic situations, funny encounters, banter, and arguments—you can cut out what’s fluff later and keep what contributes to development!

  • Learn about romance tropes and figure out which one(s) fit your characters—that’ll help guide the direction of their romance and give you examples to refer back to.

  • Develop your characters’ relationship/background without their romance—whether that’s in an outline, prologue/prequel, or through backstory.

  • Take a few scenes to just enhance their relationship, through conversations, collaboration, and more, without throwing in kisses and mushy speeches. 😉

The best character development is done through exhibition, not explanation. And if you can lay a strong foundation for their characters early on, their dynamic will be stronger, their relationship will flow more smoothly, and their arcs will be spot-on!

I highly recommend giving them some common ground on both a tangible and abstract level–they should share values, standards, and convictions, while also sharing interests and likes. No, they don’t need to be carbon copies, but they need to have something to talk about and relate to apart from the weather.


5 | Healthy >>> Toxic

I know what you’re thinking. Toxic relationships in Christian romance? No, no, toxicity is a TikTok thing. That’s reserved for Colleen Hoover.

*buzzer sounds* I wish that were true, but I’ve seen my fair share of toxic relationships in CF—heck, I wrote one! (Okay, maybe Keaton and Daisy aren’t that bad, but looking back, their relationship could’ve been way better.)

The mark of a healthy fictional relationship is that the hero and heroine each have a direct positive impact on each other. If you look over your story and the heroine has done nothing but inconvenience the hero and fulfill all his fears…yeah, no. And if the hero has behaved just like the heroine’s evil ex rather than making her feel loved and valued, something’s wrong.

There’s absolutely room for character arcs and redemption, so don’t analyze their relationship until you’ve reached the end point (especially if it’s an enemies-to-lovers). But if by The End, there has been very little positive effect on the characters and everybody’s miserable, please don’t advertise this as romance. As love. I beg of you.

Your story may not be violent and edgy and lusty, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be toxic. Toxic is all about relationships that don’t include genuine connection (aka, something more than lust), positive change and growth, and selflessness.

I won’t get started on the ranting (but you’re welcome to browse my negative book reviews, like this one, for my feelings on this subject), because we’ll be here all day. But basically, take some time to consider your characters and their relationship. Ask yourself…

  1. Why do they love each other? Why are they in (or going to be in) a romantic relationship?

  2. How do they grow and change throughout the story? How do they become what the other needs?*

  3. What do they give to each other? What do they do to show their love?

I think you’ll know by your answers if their relationship is toxic or not.

*By this, I mean consider their needs/weaknesses/faults. Has your heroine suffered from unrequited love—and your hero falls for her first? Has your hero been abandoned—and your heroine is the only one who stays? Think about what they each need in a relationship—does the other character fulfill it? Are they perfect for each? (Not perfect entirely, but just exactly what God knew they needed.) If neither character truly gains anything from the relationship, or worse—one gives and the other does nothing but take—and they don’t have a positive impact on each other, you’ve got a problem. But if they fit together like puzzle pieces, and God uses them and their relationship for good, you’ve got a fantastic relationship on your hands!


6 | Don’t Forget Dynamics

Okay, forget chemistry (don’t really). Dynamics are the most underrated, under-talked-about aspect of romance and pretty much any character-driven/character-dense fiction.

Again, dynamics are important for every single character relationship, romantic or otherwise. But from a romantic perspective, dynamics are the way in which different characters relate to each other, how their relationships help them grow and change. The way I see it, it’s almost like a trope. For example, enemies-to-lovers is a character dynamic. It’s a recipe for your characters’ relationship. Whereas chemistry is the combustion and cooperation of the ingredients within that recipe, the dynamic is the end product. The cookie. (Or pie or cake or chicken cordon bleu—whatever dish fits your characters.)

Dynamics are achieved a lot like chemistry. Through differences, personalities, and interactions. But it doesn’t stop there. How do those differences manifest themselves in the story? How do their personalities clash? How do their interactions promote change?

Your characters need to challenge each other—like how Crimson challenges Elliot to overcome his prejudices, which results in him becoming less selfish and more forgiving. Or how Elizabeth challenged Darcy to get off his high horse. 😉

Your characters need to be imperfect—like Keaton and Daisy and their many mistakes. Otherwise, there’d be no conflict, and no conflict is basically no story.

On that note, there needs to be tension (and thereby conflict, delicious conflict). It can be actual romantic tension (you know the kind 👀) or it can be regular ol’ tension. Which sometimes is almost as good. I’d give you some examples from BAD, but we’ll be here all day. Also, context. They’d be no context. If you’re okay with that, comment ✨tension✨ below and we’ll have a crash course on tension in the comments. 😂

And of course, going back to our previous tip, all this tension and imperfection and challenging needs to result in positive growth and change—at least in a romance.

(Also, I loved this post on dynamics, although some of the examples given are not things I’d recommend.)


 

Looking for more on romance? Check out these posts!


Do you have any tips to share? What are some couples with great chemistry? Have you ever read a romance that turned out toxic?









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6 comentarios


Stephanie Chittle
11 jul

Okay. I haven't read too much romance, but one of my favourite couples is Katniss and Peeta, despite how horribly their names can be merged for a shipping name. (I won't say how here, but I encourage you to experiment and see what I'm talking about. There are multiple ways you can fail here lol) My FAVOURITE couple is, without question, Hazel and Augustus in The Fault In Our Stars. I can't tell you how much I cried reading that book. The movie's pretty good too, which is rare in the world of movies based on books.

I don't really write a lot of romance, but I'm beginning a novel which I think qualifies. One thing I've noticed, even while…

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Grace A. Johnson
Grace A. Johnson
17 jul
Contestando a

Here's those excerpts on tension, girl!!

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Saraina Whitney
11 jul

✨TENSION✨


Yayyyy, the queen of romance writing advice is back at it!!!! :D You explained dynamics vs chemistry soo well...they've always been rather mysterious concepts to me, really hard to explain (and often hard to implement in my own writing), but they're basically the reason I love romance so much. :P


Also, I love your tip to be bold and passionate about those elements that you know will enhance your story.

I definitely struggle with trying to cater to the convictions of certain readers instead of just going all in on the elements I'm secretly wanting to include. 😅


Thank you for this awesome post! <3

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Grace A. Johnson
Grace A. Johnson
17 jul
Contestando a

AT LAST! Here's my excerpts + commentary on ✨tension✨!

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