There is endless romance writing advice already on this site if you search it. I do wonder why you would write something you know nothing about though?
Best tip I can give you is read romance stuff and see what other people are doing! Other than that, it’s a pretty big question and kinda vague. Do you think you could break it down into more specific questions?
Other miscellaneous advice:
- Offer different kinds of flirt options! Shy and bold are pretty common, but I’ve found that a more antagonistic responses are pretty popular with my readers
- Try not to tell your players what they’re feeling/experiencing. For example, sometimes I’ll describe something a character is physically doing or the way they look, but I never say “and that makes you want to jump their bones” (this is especially important if you want to write an ace/aro spec friendly game)
- Allow the player to choose whether the MC or the other character initiates contact at least some of the time. It’s nice when another character is the one making the move, but the player should always retain agency
- Include conflict. People (even in a relationship) don’t always agree on stuff, even the big stuff. Allow the MC to disagree/conflict with the ROs. Resolving a disagreement can be really compelling naratively
That’s all I can come up with without a more specific question! What specifically are you struggling with? Pacing? The actual actions associated with romance and how to describe them? How to create a good RO? I don’t consider myself an expert by any means, but I would be happy to chat with you via dm if you want
I’ve seen all the polls and a few advice threads, but when I try and apply it, my ROs just seem to fall flat, or the dialogue sounds like something out of a… I don’t even know haha. Something with terrible romance in it. I suppose
would best describe what I’m struggling with.
I’ll say this about creating a compelling RO: it’s no more difficult than creating any other character. So first and foremost, approach ROs from that angle. Who are they, and what makes them tick? Good characters have motivations that exist outside of the MC.
If you want a short cut to creating a popular RO, you can always look to popular tropes like friends to lovers, body guard and their guardee, the rake, etc. You don’t have to tho!
Bottom line: an RO is just a regular character that readers wanna smooch.
Actions associated with romance–let’s start with a list:
What do people who are falling in love do?
- they blush, feel nervous butterflies, smile for (seemingly) no reason, their heart races (or stops!), their breath catches
- they touch the person they like casually (a nudge to the shoulder, draping a leg over the other person’s lap)
- when they hug the RO maybe the hug lasts just a second longer than necessary
- If they’re nervous, they might fidget while talking to their crush (fiddling with hair, shaking a leg, shifting weight from one foot to the other, wringing their hands, rubbing the back of their neck)
- After a certain point, you also get to add in all the physical stuff like: hand holding (they lace their fingers through yours; the squeeze your hand, etc); kissing (describe the lips! Are they plump? Soft?); etc
Other things they might do that you can bring up in the text (note: you don’t have to be explicit about this stuff! It’s more powerful if you write “You rush to check your phone when you hear it ping with a notification” and let the reader interpret why)
- When they receive a text, they rush to see who it’s from
- When they enter a room, they look for someone
- They take special care with selecting their clothes
Yet other ways to bring attention to a budding romance
- Other characters comment on it (tease MC, warn MC, ask MC about their intentions)
- MC has the option to tell others about their feelings (maybe they’re talking to their best friend, and they just can’t help but gossip about their crush and over analyze every action and word)
I hope that’s helpful!
Of course, dialogue is a whole other beast. I think I am better at writing dialogue than anything else, but it’s hard to articulate how to write clever stuff other than be clever, which isn’t very helpful. My strategy is typically to come up with options that I would actually say. Could you tell me more about what part of dialogue you struggle with?
That’s extremely helpful, thank you! Perhaps I’ll start with just creating good characters first and then tackle dialogue somewhere down the line haha. Thank you so much for your help thus far! Do you mind if I DM you later for dialogue questions?
I wouldn’t mind at all! Feel free to dm me here or on tumblr, I’m very happy to chat
I do not think you have to worry about writing romance. In my opinion romance is nothing you have to experience first hand to get a grip on.
When you read here in the forum, people often say (me too) that they want a romance that feels real. The funny thing is, the important word here is feel, real life romance differs a lot from person to Person, so it is a lot easier to concentrate in what people expect romance to be.
Even If someone has Not been in a relationship before, most people know what they like. So things that make you Go , will Work for a lot of people too.
Then there are the tropes, they might be cliche, but they Work.
And a last tip, most people here like romance, but most of us are easy to please and do not expect too much, when romance is not the core point of your Story.
So my best advise is get someone to read your romance Part before everyone else, so you are less nervous.
If you are from the pen and paper part of RPG it might also helpful to play the romance discussions with someone. I could help you with that, If you want.
A quick way to start would be watching Pride and Prejudice (2005), forget about the overdramatization and focus on the subtle acting of the main actors (the stares, the touches, etc) and on the narrative structure. Tropes are also great, foruns about the topic and others COGs with famous romances can also help, and of course… read, read and read.
Hey man! Not to worry. As others have advised, you can start simple. The best way is to start from works that you enjoy greatly or are most interested in. For example, I presume you enjoy COG games, right? Start reading those COGs with good plot and romances and study how they do it. You can ask for recommendations as to which games have good romance and plot. Then next, you can watch/read any TV shows, movies or books that are your favorites and study again how they do romance.
Basically a romance structure goes something like → meeting → some build-up → falling in love → build-up → cementing the relationship → romance/sex scene (this could also come before the “cementing”) → other related character/plot elements → some reflection of them as a couple → (if you are adventurous, you can throw in conflict and an eventual reunion) → epilogue.
Hopefully, this helps a bit.
Like Lady_Daya suggested, I would add watch romances, both good and bad, so you have an idea of how media depicts romances in movies and whether or not you agree with how they’re portrayed. Otherwise reading a romance or two will suffice as well!
Otherwise you could pull from your own experience if you’ve been in a relationship. Or maybe ask others what it’s like. My suggestion is maybe ask those who’ve been in relationships for quite a while (so 25 or 50 years) about what made them happy and so on. They’ll likely give you some interesting answers since they’ve been in relationship for so long!
Or at least, that’s my experience with my own parents who’ve been married for 25 years now!
I’m afraid it’s easier to find bad romances than good in media though (even when portrayed positively ) so be careful!
I’m not sure it matters how much experience you have IRL, because there are always going to be gaps in your personal experiences versus an audience…you’ll have to put yourself in the shoes of different players who have different experiences. Like what about writing from the perspective of a different gender or sexuality from your own? Or from the perspective of people with different personalities or love languages from yours? All of that is still going to involve some research on your part anyway.
I’m struggling with this same issue myself, which has been holding me back from writing…I know what I personally like in fiction, but what I enjoy probably isn’t the most popular or relatable… So I’ve been researching by reading tons of romance novels and watching romantic dramas, etc. I think I’m starting to develop a better sense of what works and what doesn’t.
I also try to spend time just engaging with LGBTQ+ communites online to educate myself more on various topics, and especially things like media/film reviews are very helpful, because there is tons of discussion out there on romance in media and what mistakes to avoid, etc.
Well thats good to hear
That’s great! A roadmap is perfect… thanks!
Me too! That’s a good idea though, thank you!
hmm well I think when it comes to romance, it really depends on the character. A character that is more charming and very comfortable with showing their affection physically is going to be romanced differently from a character that is a bit more cold hearted and less affectionate (especially in public). It might be a bit more time consuming but I really think writing romance tailored to each RO is the best. Romance is also usually paced differently per person too. I don’t know if this will help, but when I write romance, I try to write it from the perspective of the RO, not the mc.
I hadn’t looked at it that way, I think I’ll try that and see how it goes. I know that different people obviously don’t have the same kinds of romances, but finding that pacing and feel that you mentioned might be tough… thanks!
i hope it’s alright to throw in my two cents by modifying and adding to this a bit? this structure is really good, but i would instead split it up a bit like this:
pretty straightforward! assuming you’re comfortable with writing character intros, you’ll want to make sure to mention their most prominent physical features and something about the way they carry themself (ex. apathetic stare; wildly energetic handshake; nervously tripping over their words). And meetings can be cute, hostile/combative, or completely casual. I’d add that it’s a good idea to consider any RO introduction as a “meeting” for the player; even ROs that already have a history with the player character are still being met by the reader for the first time. →
(a.k.a. the build-up)
- first impressions; or, in the case of ROs you know, your impression of them based on your history →
getting to know each other; this frequently means gaining insight or glimpsing depth behind our first impressions of each other or seeing those impressions subverted entirely.
~ for ROs you know, you could sub the above for a first glimpse or mention of potential romantic interest, tension, or history. An unexpectedly flirty compliment, sudden “unexplained” reactions to actions or plans that should be platonic, maybe one of you is freshly single after a long time and making a bigger deal about it than normal →
- butterflies and sparks; how does the romantic and/or sexual tension play out between the MC and RO? how much romantic experience do they each have and does it show or influence how they behave/what they expect? what does a cute moment look like? spicy? does it get spicy? do your characters laze around and hang out together or are they sneaking in time when they can due to a conflict or a wild main plot? →
- developing the dynamic; how do the RO and the MC interact? is the RO surly and the MC sweet? what does that look like? what’s it like when one tries to comfort the other? how do they make each other laugh? what do they admire in each other? how they do express that, if at all? do they bicker? PDA y/n? →
- confession/confirmation of attraction; not every relationship has a big confession moment so don’t feel like every romance needs a big confession scene. and some characters just aren’t the type to ever directly confess-confess; a more subtle graduation to acknowledging romantic feelings can be the MC leading with a confession and the RO reciprocating your intent. →
- labels, if wanted; the almighty ascension to the formal labels of boyfriend, girlfriend, and the like–if your characters are into that/if your setting features that sort of thing. For some characters or dynamics, this immediately includes setting boundaries and expectations for the nature of the relationship, but I’ll save that for the next point because I’d guess that more frequently happens through →
- trial and error; miscommunications, misunderstandings, fuck-ups, hurt feelings, jealousy, baggage–all the growing pains of adjusting to actually dating someone. glossed over in a lot of IF, imo, which is too bad because I think interpersonal conflict like this adds a lot of richness to fictional romances. disagreement is not the end of the world and having characters resolve (or fail to resolve) conflicts like this makes the relationship feel real as opposed to perfect. it’s also another way to explore character dynamics and further challenge or subvert the impressions the characters have of each other! →
- the note the players leave the RO/s and MC on; could be a bunch of fulfilling things, just focus on what makes sense for the story and characters! the last time we see the lovebirds, are they newly married? Planning a family? On a couples’ vacation? Or maybe it ends with one of them finally agreeing to go on a date–or finally admitting they’ve caught feelings! Or if you’re teasing a sequel, maybe another major conflict rears its head, threatening to pit them against one another… So many ways to close out a romance in fiction ^ ^
- moments of platonic conversation and affection (a.k.a. bonding. chances to continue getting to know each other!)
- moments of romantic affection
- sexy times
- cuddle times
(i might add more to this part lol)
- outside interference (exes, families, being on opposing sides, that pesky plot)
- breathers (assuming you can naturally fit them into the story!)
- brief, written glimpses into the RO’s perspective on the MC (i love these to death)
While a diversity of personalities and interests is a no-brainer for a cast of love interests, I think a bit of diversity in romantic experiences is good too. If you’ve got 5 ROs and three of them are written like love-at-first-sight, soulmate bonds… maybe consider making the other two feel more casual and less fated. “The One” as a romance trope is over-represented, in my opinion! and I’m sure I’m not alone in my preference for romances that escalate at a more measured pace. But that advice can be ignored if that’s just the kind of vibe and romance you’re going for!
oh and I would be remiss not to add that a romance doesn’t have to follow the whole structure here. Maybe your story takes place over a week or a day. Maybe you just ain’t tryin to write people’s entire life stories or romance is a secondary or tertiary priority to your game. Getting a romance to still feel satisfying when it stops at one of the earlier points in the ““full”” romantic plot structure, I think, relies on pairing the romantic pacing well with the plot’s general pace and ending things with a clear note of future romance or possibilities. And, honestly? Some people will never be happy unless they get an “I love you”, a wedding scene, and/or an epilogue as a married couple with babies you can’t please everybody, so just focus on making your story make sense and good to read!
and in case anyone’s curious why I’m running my mouth so much about constructing romances when the demo I’ve shared here has 0 romantic content in it so far? i have experience writing a lot of fanfic–over 150k words and all romance. (which slightly horrifies me to look back on now ) they were well-liked too! at least i think so lol
hope this is helpful and not too hijack-y! and as with any writing advice, ppl should always take and leave what they find useful about it! me and my past basketball anime obsession are certainly no definitive or reliable source for writing advice
A lot of great things have already been said. IMO, there are no shortcuts to learning how to write good romance. You have to develop an understanding (not just body of knowledge) via exposure, real or vicarious. Some authors (this happens a lot in hard science fiction and some sub-genres of horror) avoid the subject altogether. Then, understand that different people respond differently. Do your readers want a confidant? A partner in achieving their goals? A beautiful accessory which is a source of pleasure and outlet for lust? A caretaker? An abuser? A safekeeper? An object of abuse? Anonymity?
If you want to learn, I’d say devour material: good and bad. Fiction and non-fiction. What doesn’t work is as important as what does. A good layman’s primer for non-fiction understanding is actually “The Five Love Languages.” Not only is it short, but there are only 25 or so pages where they’re saying what they’re saying.
Here’s how I do it. Imagine a distinct nuanced person, in full detail, even if those details don’t all come to surface. Give the reader opportunities to create authentic human interactions based on a shared interest. Have a pace in mind, that is in character, per character. Darcy, (Pride and Prejudice) starts deeply in the hole but has to dig himself out. Tarantino’s True Romance starts with an erotic encounter w a prostitute, whom the protag then gets to know via being on the run. (Pretty Woman, if you prefer.) In some ways, romance and erotica are fantasy fulfilments, so you have to tap into the different kinds of fantasy. Then, use plot to reinforce character. If the RO is about the reader being taken care of, conspire circumstances where the RO does so. If the opposite, conspire circumstances where the PC saves or nurses the RO. Is it light or heady? Shallow or deep? Serious or casual? Comical or tragic? Some readers want to marry their best friend while others want a thrilling tryst with a flamenco dancer. You can PM me, if you want to hatch out your ROs, and I’ll try to help if I can. Cheers! @Jackpot1776
EDIT: it’s important to withhold information. This ties into pace. But, fling or fate, it’s about peeling back layers over time. Which layers, when, and at what pace are the secret. Also? Be interesting. The ROs. Contradictions, flaws, vulnerabilities are all more compelling. Nobody actually wants to be with Mr. Perfect, not after a little while. See 50 Shades.