Writing Romance

I am starting to develop the romance end of the game, and since I have never written any I started reading one to day. Made it half way through Dororthy Galock “On Tall Pine.” I was told she was very popular, I am not finding it all that great. I never feel part of the story and the relationships that are formed feel rushed. What good romance books would you all suggest so I can study the art form of building relations?

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Ah now that is the real trick, isn’t it? It depends really. What kind of characters are you looking for inspiration? There’s many different types of books for each different kind of girl.

I’d say forget about reading romance books. Or if you are going to read books with a strong romance component to them read them in genres you enjoy reading where the romance isn’t the entire point.

Admittedly I’ve never heard of Dorothy Galock so I don’t know if that’s the case with her work.

Have you watched any romance movies? Are there any of those that you enjoy? Or movies with a romance component to them that you found interesting?

What’s your favourite relationships in fiction (be that movies or books or games or tv shows) and can you think of a way to use that as your inspiration?

I’m not a huge romance fan. In fact when those words ‘rom-com’ are mentioned I have a tendency to start frothing at the mouth and muttering about what I dislike about them.

Does your game even need romance?


I agree with the “anything but romance books/chick lit” advice. I’ve read a few of my wife’s selections and well, at best they were light and fluffy and harmless. At worst they were mind-numbing and brimming with cliches from the “meet cute” to the “someone drives a wedge between them - will they overcome it??”

Anyway, I’ve come to realize that I’ve been far more profoundly affected by strong friendships in movies and books as opposed to romances. The friendships may be purely platonic or they may include a hint or possibility of romance but they start with friendship first.

This might date me, but I thought a romance that worked was the movie “Bridges of Madison County.” I’m a guy but I freaking love that movie. The main characters have so much charisma and gravitas. The conversations are authentic. The little glances, touches on arms, etc., build up over time. It’s done very well and in an adult way (not “adult” in the way you typically mean).

Most romantic movies leave me unaffected. Pretty people overcoming silly obstacles does nothing for me.

Now that I say all of this, I wish I could retcon Community College Hero and incorporate my own advice but I have my contingency plan for doing so.

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I agree with the general advice of avoiding the romance genre to learn about writing romance. Not that there’s anything wrong with the genre, actually. However, to learn about romantic love from other writers is to learn from an imitation of a very real and powerful kind of relationship. By writing about romantic love, particularly in more idealized romance media, you’re learning about a necessarily simplified and fictionalized account of love. Many romance books/movies are forced to twist romantic relationships to fit a certain expectations readers have about the plot. This isn’t bad, but it’s not a true-to-life portrayal. You can read all the books or watch all the movies you like, but because you’re learning only from books and movies then you’re never going to be able to move beyond the fiction to use romance in surprising and interesting ways. Learning about love from romance novels/movies is like learning about warfare from warhammer novels.

My advice is to pull from real-world experiences. Think about past relationships you’ve had. If you’ve never been in a romantic relationship for whatever reason, then that’s fine. Simply talk to people who have. Ask them questions. Ask about their experiences. It’s worth a shot if you’re serious about learning.

I think where most romances fall flat is that we have to have interesting characters who we care about first, before we care whether they fall in love or not. CoG games seem particularly bad at this, since writers feel the protagonist and characters have to be so customizable that they become interchangeable people. No one does or says anything unique or endearing, or is particularly interesting, they mostly advance the plot (there are a few exceptions here).

Characters have to have their own goals and be competent at something, or it’s almost impossible to care about them. We have to identify with them in some way. In the TV show Dexter, the main character is a serial killer, but only kills criminals who escape the justice system. While we might not agree with his methods, we champion him bringing justice to those who cheated the system, especially since he’s pretty competent at it, explaining in VO how to avoid capture, etc. Being a sociopath, he also has to fake his way through social interactions, which is something many of us can identify with…

So, when Dexter starts taking an interest in another character, we want to see him succeed in whatever definition of romance he can manage.



Yes! Yes! Yes! I dislike the over-customization of NPCs because the more customization the player has of NPCs, the more generic they feel. I start wondering “wait, why don’t I write my own book if I want to interact with characters I mostly make up?” I remember the most egregious example being Black Magic in Heroes Rise. You just typed in a name of a celebrity for Black Magic’s appearance (I typed in Gary Busey because it’s a meaningless bit of customization and it really amused me every time my character tripped over themselves with lust for some Gary Busey-looking guy). Not to put Heroes Rise down. It’s an overall decent game, but the characters felt remote and distant, particularly the romances.

I also hate genderflipping of characters and sexualityflipping. Sexuality and gender are a part of what makes a character unique and interesting, just like appearance. If these things aren’t defined then the character feels flat and dull. Note, I’m not excluding trans or non-binary gender by saying “defined” here, but if an npc is trans, non-binary, male or female then integrating it into the character goes a long way to making them interesting. Genderflipping worked okay in Choice of Broadsides, but even then the characters felt distant and not particularly memorable. If the romance is supposed to feel “game-y” and not meant to be more than filler or a fun side thing, then great. But for a truly memorable character I’m very against it. Gender, sexuality and appearance come together to make a character, and I can always tell when a character has been gender-flipped because they feel so generic. It’s the difference between Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age 3. In DA2 the characters were all just conveniently bisexual, and it sort of lessened the experience to me. The experience felt more real in DA3 where character will reject you because of their sexuality, and that’s bloody awesome. It made them feel alive. I want characters to disagree with my character. I want them to reject my character. I want to be put off and disagree with a character. I want characters who have the same oddness and idiosyncrasies as real people.

Ill-defined NPCs with no real personality and nothing interesting and/or unique to say or do are boring. It’s the romance equivalent of drinking off-brand soda or something.

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Just wanted to say I love the existence of the gender-flip, it’s what drew me to Choice of Games in the first place. I love what it can do to characters.

I’m not a fan of characters that have their orientations match the protagonist’s gender. I’d much prefer characters to be bi, and acknowledged as such. Bisexuality is real, and I don’t like the idea that bisexual characters are less real. There’s nothing stopping bisexual characters from rejecting you for other reasons than your gender.

Admittedly in Choice of Robots I’d have rather Josh just rejected a male protagonist as opposed to the weird situation that we did have occur. Wherein we can be told that Josh is attracted to women who’re snappy dressers, doesn’t care that a band is trying to attract a GLBTQ audience (and doesn’t seem to even consider he might be part of that audience), confesses how he’d really love a female companion-bot that would serve as a housewife and act in ways he couldn’t expect a real woman to, and in general have absolutely no indication that Josh has any sort of attraction towards men. Well apart from how he can do all that in a playthrough where you’re a male character that’s actually dated him. (Yes, classy Josh, telling your ex-lover that you really want a female companionbot to cater to your every whim, is it any wonder things didn’t work out?) In that case I felt as if my protagonists gender, and sexuality were erased. In that case I’d have much rather a “nope, not interested.”

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First, as noted above, but to expand on it, romance stories, and stories with romance, have very different needs from their romances, and rules about how best to go about it. The two don’t actually overlap that much, so if you’re reading for inspiration, you’ll probably want to focus on reading things that match up with your writing’s genre.

I think that’s the first and last point to be made on romance in stories, and if anything, it’s the one thing to take away. So long as the romance is in addition to, rather than the focus of, a story, good character development trumps all. (Romance stories play by different rules though, and in romance stories, even very flat characters can tell ‘good’ romance stories, to various definitions of ‘good’.)

Oh, and on concept of flat characters (particular when it comes to CS games), you can probably get a good handful of obvious bad examples, but good examples are likely to be overlooked, so I’ll go ahead and point out CoV. Both romances are very simple and rather short, but both are also well defined and complex in their own rights. They have genuine interactions with the PC based on who they are, and are something more than just generic love interests.

Romance novels are generally trash, so going wading into those books is probably not going to help you. They’re all built on the same set of ideas, most of which don’t particularly work when smooshed into other genres. [Disclaimer: I friggin love romance novels.] A better thing to do would be to play other game that have romance in them and see how they generally work in games!

Generally though, I second most of what’s been said. A good romance requires a good characterization as well as a decent effort to make things romantically entertaining (i.e. don’t just have an “I love you let’s have sex” scene right away.). Make the player work for it, optimally requiring them to understand the other character enough to understand what is going to make them fall in love with the player. [Example: Character A doesn’t like direct compliments, but likes romantic gestures. A player who doesn’t know this and tries to flirt traditionally gets shot down, but one who gives him a rose is approved of.] The idea is to make the other person a, uh, person so that way the player’s affection for them can grow out of their character itself and not because they’re the character with flirt options.

About the customizable characters: I do think that usually, authors forget that they can still make customizable characters unique, so that’s why they usually suck. But I don’t think it’s impossible to make them good. Like, look at Mecha Ace, where you could swap the genders of all of the romance options and they all were still distinct people requiring different approaches to romance. Of course, you still can’t get as in depth as you would otherwise without extra work. [Example: You really couldn’t give a swap character any sort of scenes about coming out if they happen to be homosexual without writing very distinct branches, which to do well would require a lot of writing. Leaving it out though, leads to the weird situation of playing a game set in the 1950s and somehow carrying on with a lesbian romance without anyone batting an eye. Just something to be careful about.]


@HoraceTorys “I think where most romances fall flat is that we have to have interesting characters who we care about first, before we care whether they fall in love or not. CoG games seem particularly bad at this, since writers feel the protagonist and characters have to be so customizable that they become interchangeable people. No one does or says anything unique or endearing, or is particularly interesting, they mostly advance the plot (there are a few exceptions here).”

I couldn’t agree more with this…and that’s what I have been thinking about a lot when it comes to my own ideas. I really want to write character and relationship driven stories so therefor plan to have no customization in characters: Set gender, set everything, so that they can be deeper and have more meaningful relationships and choices… I know not everyone will dig that, but that’s what I am interested in so that’s what I am going to write. just wonder but how many people out there do care about that? and would be interested in character and romance relationship driven games??

@HoraceTorys “I think where most romances fall flat is that we have to have interesting characters who we care about first, before we care whether they fall in love or not. CoG games seem particularly bad at this, since writers feel the protagonist and characters have to be so customizable that they become interchangeable people. No one does or says anything unique or endearing, or is particularly interesting, they mostly advance the plot (there are a few exceptions here).”

I couldn’t agree more with this…and that’s what I have been thinking about a lot when it comes to my own ideas. I really want to write character and relationship driven stories so therefor plan to have no customization in characters: Set gender, set everything, so that they can be deeper and have more meaningful relationships and choices… I know not everyone will dig that, but that’s what I am interested in so that’s what I am going to write. just wonder but how many people out there do care about that? and would be interested in character and romance relationship driven games??

I agree with this. I do admit that I get frustrated when a character shows up and it’s pretty much “here’s your love interest.” Sometimes it can be done well, at other times though it’s annoying.

I don’t agree with that. I think Black Magic’s really the only customisable NPC I can think of, where we can choose their looks, and Black Magic will claim to like the same things we do.

Do you have examples of those you mean though? The characters that come across as interchangeable to you?

Hmm it’s interesting how you use Dexter as an example. Dexter’s a sociopath, a charming one, but I can’t say I ever liked him. I preferred him when he wasn’t interested in relationships at all. I was never that invested with his romantic life, and I don’t think he managed a single healthy relationship. I wanted to see him fail. I wanted to see him get caught out.


I know this was directed at @HoraceTorys, but I’ll answer for myself here. I’m going to use some examples from games I’ve played. These were wonderful games, but I’ll use them here just for the sake of discussion. I’m not trying to put these games down. They’re awesome. Most of this debate is very personal, and a CoG author who chooses to genderflip and sexualityflip is fine to do so. I’d still play the game and like it if it’s good, but I doubt the characters will stick in my mind. And that’s okay. Some games don’t require deep characterization.

In Choice of Robots at least two of the love interests changed gender (Eiji and Elly and Tammy and Silas) depending on player choice. It felt like a “game-y” sort of mechanic, which is fine if you’re going for that feel, but no they didn’t necessarily feel like fully fleshed out characters. It didn’t feel very “story-like” to me. Eiji suffered from a kind of blandness, and maybe it wasn’t simply the gender change mechanic. But essentially he and Elly were the same with only their appearance changed. In order to accommodate one character whose gender, sexuality and appearance changes the character is written in a way that makes them feel somewhat distant. There’s no dialogue that feels truly specific or unique. Josh still isn’t necessarily the most memorable character, but there are little details that flesh him out like his love of monster trucks, 70s rock and generally retro manly adrenaline-based things.

With Eiji/Elly there are details like Eiji/Elly preferring traditional art to digital art, but in certain places the text has to be evasive in order to accommodate both characters in one role. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with Eiji/Elly, but something feels… Off. Bland. The blandness isn’t in what the text says, but in what the text DOESN’T say. I don’t mean to say that “gender must be set because all people of this gender always like x,” but if a character has interests outside of societal expectations of their gender then having some sort of context for why they like that sort of thing fleshes them out. I liked Juliet in Robots, actually. I don’t know if she genderflips, but honestly I get the impression that she doesn’t.

Genderflipped and sexualityflipped characters don’t have any real context for their existence. They seem to exist in a void. Using Heroes Rise again, I found Lucky a bit better than Black Magic, but ultimately he/she lacked a certain flavor. Sexuality and gender isn’t just something to graft onto a character. How a character interacts with their own sexuality and gender (Are they comfortable with who they are? Are they open? Do they align with their cultures expectations of them?) is important. These questions don’t have to be didactically answered within the text, but the author being able to answer them ultimately leads to a character that feels grounded in context. If the sexuality and gender aren’t set then there’s a lot of questions left open about the character and a lot of things being left unsaid in the text itself to make the flip work.

Honestly I haven’t encountered any genderflipped or sexualityflipped characters I felt didn’t lack a certain spark. I could go on with examples, but I don’t want to beat people up too much for their own design choices.

I believe Dexter was an example simply to convey how a character can act in unexpected and even heinous ways and be more intriguing than they otherwise can be. But I’ll let @HoraceTorys speak for their self.

Tank you all for the wonderful feedback.

I am looking at many different types.

I am getting the feeling Romance books are not the way to go. No I have never enjoyed romance in books or movies, has gone to great lengths to avoid touchy feely movies as I grew up in a loving family, but we never shared our feelings. It just wasn’t done lol. There are a few possible romances I think are important to the story so I really would like to write something that will entice the reader.

Thank you I will check out “Bridges of Madison County”, Ladyirish will probably go in to shock if she sees me watching something like this lol.

I can draw from real life when needed, yet it has been noted from several well written Authors that to be a good writer one most be a good reader. There is no shame in learning from the master in finding what works for great writing.

I have never watch Dexter I will give it a go thanks. One of the biggest things that I love about CoG is the Costimazation. I do however think it is a bigger challange for the writer to met this when creating other characters for the reader to interactive with,to give them depth and life. I have seen a few examples that have really made me fall in love with the NPCs.

I for one love the depth of choices in a game, but that is my nature and how I tend to write. I think it is a real challange that can be met, a balance between choices and deep connections of the NPCs can be done, it requires a great deal of effort on the part of the writer. A good story game that is fun to play, easy to read, and has depth to its characters is extremly hard to write.

I like CoGs approach to sexual orientation, I however do not like that Everyone can be dated, I like to mix straight with bi but even when I offer a total bi experience there are still those you will not be able to date.

Thank you.

I agree :smile:

I do think there is a place for relationship driven game, but I strive for games that are player driven and work towards great choices while having NPCs that you have a great affection for.

This is actually sort of relevant to a topic I’ve been wanting to start for a while. Does anyone else feel like the romance arcs in a significant amount of CoG stories are very… rushed? I don’t know, I feel like you have a single conversation with someone and the game is already bombarding you with “do you love this person?” and if you don’t say ‘yes’, you’re locked out of a route. There’s also the customization of NPCs as mentioned above which often make the relationship feel shallow.

That said, on topic, HornHeadFan probably has the best advice. Strong friendships and a connection with the character are usually the foundations for a well-written romance.


@Bootsykk Yes I agree… rushed romance is not really that great…that’s how it always almost is in most movies as well…they go on one date and then start kissing or whatever…there is no real connection yet between the characters or any given reason for the people to even like each other. I’m tried of that kind of romance in fiction what ever type it might be. come on people get deeper!! of course some interactive fiction isn’t totally focused on romance but still…any kind of relationships is just best when deeper and more devolved. and of course people can only care about relationships if they care about the PC or NPCs. so as far as intros go… I am trying to figure out how to get the reader involved into the PC’s life and who they are before diving into plot yet without making it too long and boring…

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I agree that that’s one way to flesh them out. But you seem to be suggesting that that’s the only way to have a character feel fleshed out (if they have gender-role-breaking tastes or habits) – that otherwise they’ll inevitably feel kind of bland and contextless. There’s no arguing with taste, of course; but is that really the case for you?

I ask because you liked Juliet, who has interests that aren’t stereotypically female and are I believe even less “typical” of someone in her career (I haven’t LARPed much or SCAd at all, but I feel like military officers aren’t really the costume-and-boffer-sword demographic). I don’t remember those interests being explained or justified. Yet I think Juliet stands up just fine as a character, and that indeed her habits and tastes make her feel more real even witthout the context of that behavior being foregrounded.

At the least, I’d definitely say the character has spark. But if Juliet genderflipped to be Jules, I wonder if we’d have people complaining that she feels generic or sparkless – perhaps even that Jules’ “masculine” geek interests like knifethrowing and foam sword duelling have been carried over to Juliet without any attempt to make them more gender-believable.

I thought Elly was a clearly drawn character, personally; she had distinctive likes, interests, goals that were distinct from the MC’s. I haven’t yet played with Eiji, but if the only difference is his name and pronouns, then I find it hard to imagine that I’d react differently. There are always “a lot of questions left open” about a character, and the ones around gender don’t bother me more than the ones around their parent-child relations, ethics, politics, or religious/philosophical beliefs.

Interesting that in Heroes Rise, you thought Lucky had more spark than Black Magic; I thought the latter had miles more personality (that indeed Lucky had almost none).


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I had a long answer and it got eaten. So this is going to be a lot rougher.


I don’t think Choice of Robots is the best example. Eiji and Elly occupy the same place in the narrative, however there are some fundamental differences between them unlike most gender-flipped characters. They both have different backgrounds, different jobs, slightly different interests.

What I dislike most though is when completely different characters are given the exact same lines. You know when there’s a section that is INSERTROMANCENAMEHERE says “long piece of dialogue.”

I think blandness is more due to writing than because a character can be gender-flipped. It may also be personal taste.

I thought all of the Choice of Robots characters were equally fleshed out. Which is to say I think that characterisation, and those relationships were actually the weakest point of the game and certainly paled in comparison to the depth granted to the robots. I didn’t mind though since the game was about the robots first and foremost.

@Lordirish Well I shall suggest again, watch movies in the genre you’re writing that have romance arcs in them, and read books in those genres that do the same. Also analyse what the various choice games do (both the right and the wrong). You likely won’t actually need to go into too much depth.


Choice of Rebels actually tripped me up on that because I was so used to being forced to say ‘yes’ that when you first meet Breden in Rebels I knew that ‘no’ was the right, most realistic choice, but I was worried that choosing anything but ‘yes’ would lock me out of that romance path. I was most gratified when Breden acted realistically to a complete stranger trying to kiss them though.

I’d rather have an arc, preferably one that exists with a character that serves more purpose than just being a romantic interest.

Movies have limited space, (just as choice games do) to tell their stories so it stands to reason they condense things (especially if it’s not a romance movie). They take short cuts.

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Writing romance was definitely difficult and out my comfort zone. But as I generally like following romance paths in rpgs, I knew Unnatural had to have it too.

My early attempts were atrocious so what I did was ask someone else to write one which I then rewrote in my own way. I think it worked alright.