What makes you fall in love? (with an NPC)

This is sort of a follow up to a thread I wrote several years ago, about how strange and interesting and like, weirdly distantly intimate it is to write romance for a bunch of people who I don’t know. Trying to make things precise enough so that you can picture what I do, while also keeping it gauzy enough for you to imagine what you want to. And at the same time, writing characters who can stand up to a long game’s worth of contact when you aren’t romancing them and not feel like there’s something missing.

After reading this thread on the Popularity of ROs and their Gender I was thinking about how I can think about this stuff a little wider than gender and try to drill down to the actual writing of the characters in question.

While I was working on Tea and Scones the other day I was thinking about this thing I do as a writer to make you fall in love, and it struck me how much of it is like juggling blindfolded, because I have to create personalities that tons of people will connect with in the most intimate way without having any idea what Works for You.

You can’t rely on looks (even though I know the mere mention of “his long black hair” or “a rakish duelling scar across her face” or “their slightly bewildered expression” can be shorthand) and you can’t rely on the sound of the voice, so you have to set up situations that evoke attraction, naturally enough.

I’m always thinking about where to find friction in conversation, to see where two personalities hit each other and don’t perfectly mesh, and throw up sparks and make the wheels of conversation stop or take an unexpected turn. My sense is that having NPCs push back to varying degrees is highly attractive–and that’s not a shock, because it implies you are dealing with a real person here rather than a cutout marked Romance Option. We know this process, and the various flavors of enemy-to-lover it creates, and it’s a good flavor, no doubt. I’m interested in that, and others. It’s hard to talk about without looking at the actual text, I find.

What I’m interested in here, is how you create that push back, or how you create romance without it? In short, what is that moment when you say “All right. This is the one” when you first play through?–and as writers, how do you evoke that moment?

I’m really interested in specific moments in games, if you can think of them. (If you have a passage from the game that shows that moment, that would be amazing.)

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Listen.
Look.
I know I’m always singing A Study in Steampunk’s praises but I can’t help it.

Just…gimme a sec to find the passage I want to gush about, lol. brb!!

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I think the first time a game actually drew me in, romance wise, was in Wayhaven. While a lot of it reminds me of more teenage drama and stuff, I adored the fact the ROs are able to take an assertive role (even if the reader’s the one chosing it). They can flirt with the MC, tease them, and even make the MC a bit uncomfortable in a way. It so much more for me.

It always irks me that in some stories I’ve read, when I’m playing a shy MC who’s also a bit on the nerdy/stealthy side, that I’m the one making the advance. There’s plenty of times when my MC is interested in romance, but would be better suited have the RO make the advance cause they’re too stuck in their own head or agenda.

So, for me, I typically start ‘falling in love’ with an NPC once I realize they can push back, they can stand opposite and tell me to chill out. To stop and think, or to realize my MC might actually be interested in someone but were too stuck in their own head to see it.

I like it when the ROs aren’t doormats. That’s where it falls, for me.

Instant love.

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A preamble: I’m attracted to straight women.

Usually, my “first love” to an RO in a game is when the character ticks off a certain checklist from my list. The list is obviously going to differ from person to person, but mine will be bratty, daring, and kind of tomboy? I think those traits will naturally include your mention of “push back” where many people find attractive. For reference, you can check out Tsundere, the japanese term for a character with a strong “push back” it’s part of the four Dere dere personality chart (tsun/disgust/anger, kuu/cool/calm/collected, yan/mentally-ill/dominance, and dan/silence/socially-awkward).


As for non-push-back romance, I think it’s worthwhile to note that romance is not all sail smoothly. A conflict between two lovers (potential?) is just as powerful as comfort-moments; a test if the love is true, whether will they return after separation. While neat, I’m sure a character doesn’t have to have that innate push back characteristics to utilize push back moments, if my words can be understood.

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Okay, this is a really great question.

For me it is the capacity of a character to surprise me that gets me to fall in love with them, whether this involves romance or not. A character that always reacts a similar way I will generally find bland or boring, even if they are otherwise well written. You feel like you know everything important about them within a few scenes.

But a character that reacts differently to situations is what draws me in. And I don’t mean about big things, like whether they side with this character or approve of an action. I mean where they react in a way that is different to what their personality would indicate they would.

I can give two examples of this. In The Wayhaven Chronicles, when I first met Unit Bravo I was very drawn to Nat initially because she seemed reasonable and kind. Morgan was hostile, Farah was too exuberant, and Ava was arrogant and dismissive. Until I showed interest in Ava. Watching her confident and work focused demeanor crumble a little when my detective blushed around her was really sweet to watch. And this remained true each time. Even if the reaction became predictable, it was different from what I first expected. I knew from the very first meeting she was “the one”.

Another example of this comes from The Odessa Dating Games, a WiP at the moment. You can choose the personality for the royal heir, the main RO for the game. Yet, the way they react not only changes based on context, but based on the player. The shy heir might have moments of confidence where they can flirt really well with the player, while the confident charming one can have moments of anxiety and self-doubt, and the rude one can sometimes feel guilty over mean comments if your character is sensitive. The game is actually full of characters like this, and I could probably gush about each one for a good few paragraphs.

These moments of depth and vulnerability/strength in characters where they normally show the opposite is really wonderful to read and gets me attached to characters, whether I go on to romance them or not. As for what gets me to romance them specifically, well it honestly just comes down to the chemistry with what character I am playing as. Whether I can truly believe they would fall in love with this person. Generally, this means selecting feminine or non-binary ROs, since that is who I am personally interested in, but I have a diverse list of characters that I have romanced in IF games. Mainly because I think there is always a character I can create that would suit an RO.

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Just to clarify, there isn’t really anything that makes me “fall in love” with an NPC, so instead I describe the things that draw me to one NPC over another, and why I like certain ROs more.

For me, I generally play through all the routes at least once, to see what they’re like (unless one of the ROs is a male that is only interested in women, spent too long in the closet to feel comfortable playing that route lol), but generally, I’ll usually go for whichever character seems to actually care about the MC first. For example, Rory, in Tally Ho!, genuinely seems to care about the MC, even before they get together. Like when an MC offers to go without their pay for the month because of Rory’s financial issues, they say:

“I would rather sell my family heirloom than deprive you of your rightful wages, if I had any family heirlooms”

I prefer to know that a character already cares about the MC in some way. It feels less like the MC is pushing the character into a relationship if they seem to already care about each other in some way. It feels more like a natural development of their already existing relationship, which I love to see.

Alternatively, whichever RO makes me laugh out loud first is the one I’ll go for first. For an example of that, I will, once again, take a passage from your very own Tally Ho!, the one that says:

“I am not well, (Lastname),” Rory intones. “I will likely die before sundown. If I die, I leave you half my kingdom”

That’s funny stuff, and I one of the reasons I went down their route is because I wanted to see more of those kinds of lines. I wasn’t disappointed by the way, Rory is delight and deserves the world.

Also, if they’re willing to clearly communicate with the MC and do so politely. For example, Rory does say in the beginning that they could never have a thing with the MC, but they do so in a polite way. They don’t belittle the MC, or make them feel like an idiot. There are some ROs from other series that do that, and it really gets on my nerves.

That’s probably why I’m not a fan of Fitzie in Jolly Good: Cakes and Ale. They’re just too abrasive for me to put any of my MCs with, and the only way I can go down their route without cringing is if I put them with an equally abrasive MC who expects propriety from them. Otherwise, it feels a bit like they’re taking advantage of the MC’s feelings for them by pushing the MC to do things that would ruin their already poor reputation. (That may have been your intention with Fitzie, though, and if it was, I am incredibly impressed, because that’s the vibe I got from them).

TL;DR: My favorite ROs are the ones that genuinely care about the MC before either of them show any sort of romantic interest in the other and ROs that are willing to communicate politely with the MC. Bonus points if they’re funny in an either ridiculously dramatic way or make excellent puns.

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For me, thing that makes me interested (not “fall in love”) to the RO is the characterization itself.

I tend to avoid stereotypical character with no dynamic at all, where the author just put them there because … it is what it is.

  • not affects or changing the plot
  • not have their own intention to act for the story-wise
  • flat interaction → leaded by lack of characterization

The RO simply there as NPC like from side-quest RPG game.

Even though stereotypical character is cliche, but not all cliche are bad. Some RO in another game with cliche character trait still could hold dynamic.
(I have met that before, the character very likeable and flew along plot)

Maybe I’m getting too far from the topic (lol sorry), but personally I interested to RO in that way—idk about other people.

The thing I got from observing many players of many WIPs is they always fell to the stereotypical cold/mysterious/angts character (whether because their personal preference or because that said character is well developed and have more dynamic than others—also author tend to develops that type of character as more complex than any ROs in the story)

But, I do still gave benefit of the doubt
Maybe the author made it that way because coding limitation (I understand because I can relate) and I understand clearly at how difficult story branching is.

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Huh… this is not something I’ve ever really thought too hard about before.

I’d probably have to say, similar to Szaal, that I kind of have a checklist for what I want my romance option to be beforehand. This isn’t to say I won’t pick one outside of this checklist however. Typically I prefer my romance options male, but if there aren’t any interesting ones/the nb/female ones are more interesting I’ll play as a woman and romance the woman.

This might sound kind of confusing also, but I like it when the character has so kind of mystery to them or interesting backstory. Like how Leon in Keeper of the Sun and Moon has “family issues” or Rory has the appearance of being charismatic and letting things roll off their shoulder, but they open up to the player character about how they feel.

Basically, I like characters with angst lol. If they’re just super suave with not any struggle really, I probably won’t romance them. But if they’re super suave, but actually behind the scenes struggle with self esteem issues or something, that I like. I don’t like characters that stick directly into one box, like this one’s just “the nice one”, this one’s “the rude one”, this one’s “the Flirty one”, this one’s the “funny one”

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In thinking about this topic, it’s become very obvious that I have A Type. If an NPC shows up with good banter and that push back Gower mentioned, that’s probably The One. I’m thinking Fitzie from Jolly Good, Angel from 180 Files, Ashleigh Wakefield from Choice of the Deathless, and Darcy from the Advanced Studies in Patterns Magic WiP. They’re generally fun to read, particularly dialogue, so following their romantic path is me thinking “Yeah I want to read more of that.”

For me it’s less about the push back making the character more realistic-feeling (although it certainly does!) and more that belligerent(ish) sexual/romantic tension is a relationship dynamic that’s fun.

In terms of relevant quotes and passages:

From Jolly Good

“I went into service because it seemed an easy way to make money,” says Fitzie.

It was probably as early as this line in Cakes and Ale when I was all-in on Fitzie.

I snatch the toast out of Fitzie’s hand playfully.

And it was probably this choice here where it felt like my character was developing feelings. To put it another way, this was the turn from ‘Fitzie is an interesting character’ to ‘Fitzie and MC is an interesting relationship’. It’s a lovely little scene, it’s very easy to relate to the emotions and domesticity.

From Choice of the Deathless

“I should think you’d have something more important to do than stalk me.”

“Oh, yes,” ${Ash_pro} says, falling into step beside you. Together, you proceed around the edge of the con floor toward your panel chamber. “But nothing quite so fun.”

“So that’s your main motive here? Finding fun at my expense?”

“Expense is hardly the word I would choose. Does my presence tax you?”

“In the sense that it is an unwelcome and periodic occurrence? Yes.”

Wakefield laughs, but if you didn’t know better, you would think that laughter contained just a trace of pain.

Some good banter here, and then that hint of vulnerability at the end, this passage feels like it’s laser-targeting me. Wakefield basically had the ‘This character is interesting’ moment from their introduction, this would be the ‘The relationship could be romantic’ moment.

Gladstone’s writing is so economical too, not an unnecessary word to be found. That doesn’t really have anything to do with romance, I’m just fangirling now.

#There might be some basic physical attraction at play. Not that either of us would admit it.

{Ash_pro_cap} does have a certain flare, in spite of, or perhaps because of, {ash_pro_pos} disaffected attitude. You’re pretty sure the attraction’s mutual, but neither of you have done anything about it. Anything either of you said would amount to an admission of weakness, and ${ash_pro}'s the last person in front of whom you’d dare show weakness.

This passage pretty much lays out the dynamic, or one way to explore it at least. That tension between attraction and pride allows for a lot of complexity and I find it’s a really interesting place to sit, emotionally.

There are other relationship dynamics that I like a lot, and I’m sure I could go on about those too but this is already long enough. If I had to point at a commonality, I’d say it’s about evoking something emotionally bittersweet, though these examples are all over the bitter to sweet spectrum.

  • It’s About the Yearning (Rory from Tally Ho, Fitzie again, Gray from the WiP Mind Blind, Adam/Ava from Wayhaven Chronicles, Garrett Finch from A Study in Steampunk)

  • You’ve Done Me Wrong But You’re Still Hot We Probably Need Therapy (Rex Keller from The Fog Knows Your Name, Leon from the WiP A Mage Reborn, Wesley from the WiP Hollowed Minds hasn’t even shown up in the public demo yet and I already know I want to read about their whole deal, the aforementioned Angel and Darcy, Garrett Finch again, Ortega from Fallen Hero in a rare inversion!)

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I’m totally agree with this.

I hate when there is passive RO who can’t take own action for interacting with MC, especially when a player play as timid MC. It’s sure weird when they always must to take initiative first.

So it’s frustrating when the story can’t adapt with our personality stat (“your personality affect the story” they said, ugh is that a lie?)

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It took me three hours but here it is, ahem.

Full disclosure, I’m only really going to be discussing Garret Finch and Alexandra Townsend because Grace Chandler, while a perfectly lovely character, doesn’t offer the same—or any—pushback that the other two romances. At least, not until the end of her route when you choose to kill someone for her and like, home girl’s right, that was pretty scummy, but mehhh, that’s not the discussion at hand.

Alexandra is probably the easiest RO to see when and how she pushes back against the player character, as she’s literally on the opposing side of the conflict, and almost every single conversation you have with her has her trying to convince player character that the establishment he’s working for is evil and oppressive and ought to be brought down and join me, damnit. She genuinely thinks that she’s doing good and recognizes that the player character is as well. Now, I can’t speak for the players who tried to have evil Watsons, but for everyone who’s like me and feels guilty being mean to fake people, this is a very good way of drawing the player to her. She has opinions on you, she has opinions on your actions, she isn’t necessarily a dynamic character insofar that she doesn’t experience change per se, but she feels real in the sense that she has a mind of her own.

And she’s beautiful to boot. I am weak for raven haired goddesses, sue me.

Garret is a bit tougher to pin down, but to me his is the most compelling storyline given how goddamn frustrating he is in it and I love him dearly for that.
As a character.
As a person, I would be staying up until 3 am eating ice-cream with my sister and complaining about the latest way he has annoyed me.

As I said, I love him.

Anyway, at the start, the player character is set up more or less getting along with him, enough to be an effective crimefighting duo/roommates. These two can have ideological differences, but he doesn’t offer anywhere near the same amount of pushback as Alexandra because, for the most part, his dog in the fight isn’t ideological, it’s kind of…just…that he doesn’t think much of the other side and plus he’s getting to be gay/stop crime, life is good for him. In a sense, Finch is…(seemingly, and then—spoilers—officially) kind of a selfish jerk. So much so, that when the player is initially presented with the option to woo him, you fail miserably because he doesn’t give you the time of day.

However, this failure—which occurs at the end of the Chapter Three—is immediately followed up by this page/set of choices in Chapter Four:

Hello there, gay thoughts…

And here’s where I would like to argue that the fundamental element of an effective romance path is not necessarily an RO and player character shooting sparks during dialogue, but it is the choice to feel something, anything about the RO prior to these major interactions. Establishing a feeling gives the player a baseline from where to go when roleplaying. Instead of relying on the reader’s own comparatively nebulous opinion of the RO, one that is subject to easy change, the character’s feeling has become a piece of the narrative itself, one that (in theory) the player has to take into account when making subsequent decisions to maintain an internal consistency.
It’s this element that helps enhance (and can later be enhanced by) compelling ROs and narratives to then create an effective romance.

Some quick examples off the top of my head of authors utilizing this to great effect:

  • all of Unit Bravo
  • Sem from Way Walkers University
  • Rex from the Fog Knows Your Name

Certainly there are others, but I digress.

Continuing from my previous example, it is only at the end of Chapter Four that Finch proclaims his love because guess what—turns out he was flustered as hell by the PC’s actions and thought he was just seeing things because surely his straight best friend isn’t trying to have a romantic dinner at home what kind of gay shit is that. Please note that I can say this because this is exactly why it took my girlfriend and I a whole year to get together, because s u r e l y we were just seeing things

However, this proclamation doesn’t come until Finch spends the whole chapter getting tortured so that the player character doesn’t because he’s deep, deeply in love already, and the whole time, the player character gets the option to be equally panicky back, to be overwhelmed by concern for someone that the player can choose to still be in love with. The (melo)drama. :weary: :ok_hand:

Now, one can make an argument that Finch’s rejection technically creates a friction/that pushback and is what creates the higher stakes for the scene, but keep in mind that the player character can completely opt out of trying that—indeed, the very first time I played, I was playing a straight character and wasn’t even presented with the option to woo Finch. Regardless of the sexuality you choose for your PC, the way the narrative presents Finch isn’t any different.

And if I’m being completely honest? I genuinely had no interest in Finch at the time. I was much more captivated by Alexandra. Finch was just…an NPC, your partner, the Sherlock Holmes. A brilliant bastard who ultimately didn’t inspire any interest.

But when I saw the above option, I gasped.

Why, the period drama loving part of me had no choice but to be gay.

…Fingers.

…Touch.

…Firelight raking across his jawline.

That is what sold me on the Finch romance train, and that’s just in the flashback when he’s applying makeup (they have to wear disguises) to the player character!! His actual love confession?? :weary: :ok_hand:

The last thing I want to touch on is, well…touch. It’s is one of the most effective senses with which to draw a reader in, but I want to warn authors from overlying on the ‘electric touch, sending shivers down my spine’ routine. Describe the touch. Your goal should be for the reader to feel it as well. Verisimilitude is how you get a reader lost in the narrative, so you must aim for it in every part of your narrative.

My personal advice when writing anything, but especially romance, is always this:

If you don’t feel what you’re describing while you’re writing it, your audience won’t feel it while they’re reading it.

You, the author, are the first person you have to impress for everything; the audience comes after.


tl;dr

MAKE ME Y E A R N, GODDAMNIT.

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the basic starting point to this answer is that, essentially, a character feels like they have a multifaceted personality with their own goals and ideas separate to the MC that the MC then gradually worms their way into. (in the case of friends to lovers the MC might already be high on the list of a character’s priorities, which also really works if this coincides with how heart/head controlled the NPC is)
i really like when there are at least snippets of conversation about the MC’s future with said npc, as though they’re actually intertwining their own lives together in a tangible way and making new space for each other.

however, i’d say that is only the very surface, because obviously the root of a great romance is less about just the npc’s motivations themselves and more about how the npc reacts and moves around the MC. an example of one of my favourite ROs would be lord reaves from heart of the house and what really draws me to that is the kind of…‘one spark that starts the fire’ nature of it all. the scene where you sit with them by their father’s grave really brings me deep into it. i like it when the MC can be a confidant or a source of comfort for their ROs, when something that begins as a casual flirtation can build to MC and the npc being incredibly important to each other throughout the story. because that importance, the npc looking for their lover in a crowd, seeking to hold their lover’s hand silently in a moment of crisis, wanting to be close — that makes a romance feel like it really works for me.

and expanding on that is when other characters in the universe also interact with the relationship or have their own opinions on it. that makes it feel more real too. people disapproving or approving and making an extra dynamic there that’s more of an external factor than anything either the MC or npc can control. anything that can be an external challenge is very good imo. that can include things like the npc or the MC having a duty that they’re bound to that makes loving more complicated, something that forces them apart midway (because i fully agree on the pushback part, whether that pushback is related to the character’s actions or good old fate, i LOVE angst and conflict bring me the pain) or even like, the npc having some deep-seated insecurity or issue that can be the catalyst for destruction or healing both?

another thing is TROPES. i adore cliches when they’re tried and true but written with life, friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, getting the broody quiet one to open up, like WE KNOW they’ve been done 238293283 times before, but they literally do not get old because they’re so great to indulge in. if you start with a trope you can build said pushback around it, and i also believe it’s possible to create a fulfilling friends to lovers arc with less friction and more kind of…curiosity? ie rather than having them be in complete denial (which is also good) there’s also a sweetness in not knowing exactly what to do with each other but that innocent willingness to figure it out as a team. so that conflict doesn’t come from being afraid to ruin the friendship — ur love will transcend! — but a instead a kind of satisfaction of togetherness. enemies to lovers is, imo, a pretty difficult one to do in a way that hits you deep in the bones. it’s a great one for the moments that make you squeal and need to put the book down for a minute to collect yourself but it is a real challenge to create the moment where things start to go on the upswing. for this one i really love the wakefield romance in deathless because it feels like that moment comes when they start to begrudgingly respect the MC, and they don’t suddenly become enamoured with them as though their life revolves around them. it feels real and like something you’ve actually achieved through your actions rather than having wakefield change just because your dynamic has.

more specific things to consider: give me the hard-hitting one liners (like “i will break the world to get you back” from vega in deathless), give me people healing together where both of them are nervous that they’re being a burden on each other and working through that together, give me moments of them laughing together over inside jokes, give me protective moments, give me moments where the npc spends time with the MC’s friends or family, give me quiet moments at night of just talking, give me passionate crescendos or painstaking slowburns that feel like pulling teeth, give me an npc and an MC that both really genuinely admire each other and have that be a basis of their love. all kinds of romances can have great arcs if they’re written in a way that is earned, real and sincere

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cries in Alistair-mancer

Y

E

S


I know I need to add something more substantive than this but like…what else can I say except yes please make me cry. Like, yes, I want my characters to e a r n their happy ending, but in the meantime make me suffer.

This is just my personal preference though, I know not everyone will agree with me, but please. Come on. Somebody feed this angst-gremlin, I’m starving.

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So I have been thinking about this for an hour and figured out some things I would like to share. First about my playstyle, I tend to Play female and male chars but romance male characters mostly. And If there are several RO I often have several playthroughs to get all Off them.

There are several things that makes me interested in a char.
I like “being the one” for a character, in a way that they treat you different than they treat Others around them.
Like Riley in Zombie Exodus Safe Haven, you are the only character that can Tell him Off without him snarling Back at you, as friend and as lover the Same. When you choose to have a backstory with him, there is that sweet Part, where His Mom tells you that he is in love with you.

Then as @rose-court said touch, I loved the study in Steampunk scene with Finch she described so Well.
A quite normal gesture that can be so much more, the small Things everyone has felt before, like sitting next to the one you love, Not really touching yet, but still feeling the warmth of their Hand next to yours, the fuzzy warm feeling you get, when they are near.

Then I like a character who shows that they are there for you. A good example for that is in the game relics of the lost age even before you started to romance jian Zhu, and even If you have been questioning His style before and he wants to leave a nearly dead npc behind, if you choose to take the npc with you, he helps in every way He can, without questioning you about that. This game has also one of the few Woman I romanced at all, because she is strong and Independent without being entitelt.

So for me angst and pushbacks are not the Thing( but I do not mind them If it does not get too much), I like chars that are connecting to the MC and sometimes it is also nice to feel needed.

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I read all of the above comments and holy damn,ya’ll have some really serious convictions about your RO choices

Anyway,I’ll try to keep mine short and sweet:
Two kinds of ROs drag me into their routes the most
i) The above-mentioned overly-dramatic-in-a-funny-way RO or
ii) The even-more-above-mentioned RO that actually cares about MC

Idk why it’s these two but my theory is that I kind-of get attached to people who somewhat resemble people I know IRL

Original examples go to hell,I’m just gonna copy-paste characters others have mentioned:
i)Rory from Tally Ho
ii)Nat and Farah from Wayhaven

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One of my favorite enemies-to-lovers ROs continues to be Preston from Tin Star.

If I had to choose a moment, it would be the final confrontation in chapter six – after all these chapters where the law-abiding MC is breaking up fights and Preston is always affable, it was hilarious and thrilling to see these two personalities finally clash by literally slapping each other. Yet without the groundwork of the previous interactions where the MC and Preston learn how to work together and have shared goals (like saving the stagecoach) while still having conflicting roles (the MC’s focus on the county and others vs Preston’s focus on the town and himself), it wouldn’t be as interesting. And without their interactions as they grow to understand one another, which we see through Preston chuckling and saying, “You just can’t be anyone but yourself, can you Marshal?” after his money is rejected for a second time, or the way the MC knows exactly what to say for the bank to be built despite Preston often being the one to convince people, the fight wouldn’t have such an impact on their characters or the relationship between them.

What’s ultimately great about this moment then is that if the MC and Preston’s first interaction was about not caring (with Preston trying to get the MC to distance themselves from the town’s workings), this confrontation is about caring too much. So it was here, when we are first introduced to the idea of a Preston romance with the one chance to start it, that I decided he was the one for this law-abiding MC – just like the fight it was a sudden option, but thanks to buildup of all their previous interactions made a lot of sense.

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I know you specifically asked for a game, but I’m going to talk about in fiction in general. There’s a reason romantic fiction is such a popular genre, particularly with women - even non-steamy romances.

A big thing is, like you said, seemingly-natural situations. Yes, describing their appearance can be important - is important - but even more than that is having the natural progression of a relationship.

There needs to be that tension - the will they/won’t they.

A good example of pg-13 romance would be Meg Cabot, the author who wrote the Princess Diaries series, amongst others. Something unique about first person (and, in IF’s case, second person) is the ability to be directly within a character’s head, reading their thoughts or controlling how they feel.

The interaction between characters has to have a natural chemistry - banter, in particular. Characters that have a natural flow of conversation are just chef’s kiss for me.

In IF, in particular, the feelings shouldn’t be forced. It shouldn’t be “oh, you’re attracted to this person”, because it railroads, and frankly, is lazy writing. I’m cool with the player character acknowledging the physical attractiveness of an NPC, as long as it isn’t “holy moly this is the hottest person ever, and you totally wanna do naughty things with and to them”.

I know this was vague, but I think vagueness is important. Writing is about feeling, not specific examples, at least to me. I’ve also pretty much only written romance my entire writing career, so to me it seems very…straightforward.

Edit:
It’s 5am here, so don’t mind me as I wake up more fully and add some further explanation.

Just off the top of my head, an example of something that would evoke romantic feeling…

She glances at you, a smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. She’s busy talking to Elliot, across the room from you, but she keeps glancing over. With a slight nod of her head, she summons you.

When you reach her side, she leans into your presence and seems to heave a sigh of relief, her face and posture immediately relaxing.

Or
His eyes gleam with mirth, his laughter echoing through the hall. “You did what?” he asks, leaning in close to hear your response."

“I called her a nincompoop!”

“That’s adorable.” He leans back slightly, taking your entire face in, as if he’s trying to determine how genuine you’re being. Having determined, for sure, you’re telling the truth, he grins. "I can’t believe you called your boss, the monster of marketing, a nincompoop…to her face.

Or…
You walk up to them, determination filling your entire being. With an accusatory finger, you point. “I can’t believe you!” you exclaim, your voice raised.

They turn, raising a nonchalant eyebrow. “You can’t believe what? I do a lot of unbelievable things, $!{name}.”

“You called my mother and told her I’d meet her for dinner?”

“Ah.” They sigh. “That. Yes. You’ve told me for months how you wish things would go back to normal with her. She happened to call me, so I did what I could to help you out.”

They seem to realize their explanation doesn’t help your anger overmuch, so they grin at you and lean in close, lightly grabbing your chin. “I may have planned dinner with your mother, but we never discussed dessert.”

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I’ve never felt so seen.

A Kiss from Death was really tough to write for this reason, especially given the Slice of Life style of most of the romances. I spent a lot of time fleshing out C’looth-Thili, demonstrating his worldview and personality through the decisions he makes compared to the player character, demonstrating how good he is at certain things in his life and how seriously he takes his responsibilities while also not shying away from the more jagged edges of the reality of his work and the people he’s hurt in the process, and even his own insecurities, anxieties, and obsessions that affect him.

Compared that to Void, a one-off character who has a fraction of C’looth’s wordcount and who is largely uncomplicated in her personality. She’s a thrill-seeker who tends to get in over her head.

Guess who was significantly more popular!

I knew Void would be a character people would connect with, but I wasn’t prepared for how many people stated she was their favourite in the game, bar none. It’s a bit like comparing apples to oranges, and I’m sure it also has something to do with the fact that Void is female and the female options were always more popular than the male (don’t care about the reason, just an observation), but it does go to show that a lot of the advice we are traditionally given about fleshing out believable, complicated characters might not always be universally true. Sometimes people just like a character who wears their heart on their sleeve and doesn’t ask for anything in return.

If you put a gun to my head and demanded I tell you a satisfying answer, however, I would say that it’s because Void’s name is badass.

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Hmm. There’s only been three NPC’s I actually did truly connect with in a romance, and that’s Preston (Tin Star), Finch (Gaslight), and Jun (SoH). The first two has been described eloquently by others.

It wasn’t a specific scene for any of them. In fact, I did not know I would be able to romance any of them (I go in blind). We all started out as rivals/enemies/complicated allies. I think that’s the thing really, they felt like real characters who had their own views, sometimes not aligned with my character’s, and they did things I didn’t necessarily approve of. And yet, we found common ground in the end.

I think we can all see a common thread what I like…

I think for me, it’s easier to say what puts me off, and that’s when I feel like the character is written to be a RO, and that’s that. If it’s too easy, I lose interest. If I can’t interact enough, I grow bored. If there’s no friction, I look elsewhere.

Guess enemies to lovers is my thing (big surprise looking at FH), as well as real characters with lots of dialog and complicated emotions. There’s seldom a single scene, it’s a long process-

And, while I normally slam the NSFW button as fast as I can, I have grown to appreciate yearning and slowburn. Writing it at least…

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Come on, now. You tell me to pick a partner between two, one of which is called Void, and the other is, what, Chtlulithili?

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