Writing Rambles: How to Write a Compelling Romance

Writing Rambles is a feature at Pages Unbound where we discuss what makes good writing in general, rather than focusing on the writing of a specific book.

Romance sells.  Plenty of authors have written what they deemed great stories, only for someone to suggest that, if they want the book to be better or more marketable or better-selling, they should add a love interest.  However, the trick isn’t as simple as just plopping a handsome bachelor or a charming young girl into the plot and adding some witty banter or moony-eyed looks, depending on the couple’s penchants.  Good romances, one readers can feel invested in, take time to build and require detail.  Below I list some elements I think contribute to a quality swoony romance.

The characters get to know each other.

There are times and places that audiences will accept insta-love: in Shakespeare, in fairy tales, and in Disney movies, for example.  In most cases, however, readers cannot “feel” a romance that grows out of nothing.  For many readers, the build-up and the sexual tension are as important to a fictional romance as the actual relationship.  Good authors (the ones who aren’t trying to take a cheap shortcut to love) know that their characters need to start out as friends, or enemies, or people who know each other in whatever capacity if their relationship is going to have any valid foundation.  And, accordingly, they write scenes where the characters meet, interact, and learn each other’s personalities before they jump straight into kissing.

The characters have flaws.

It’s fun to imagine the perfect lover, so it’s probably pretty tempting to write one.  As long as you’re in the process of inventing people and worlds and crazy situations, you might as well give your protagonist the best, right?  That charming, intelligent young man or woman who couldn’t be more gorgeous?

Unfortunately, perfection is only passingly enchanting.  It’s satisfying for a daydream, but it is not sustainable long-term.  Readers will quickly tired of, or become annoyed with, a character who is so perfect he or she doesn’t seem real.  And when readers start questioning the realism of a love interest, they begin questioning the realism of the romance itself.

But there are reasons they are compatible.

Swoon-worthy romances involve characters who are not simply awesome on their own, but who somehow click and are made better together.  This goes back to point one, where the characters get to know each other, but they really need something in common: a hobby, a worldview, a personality trait.  They should not only talk about these common factors, but work on them together, so readers get to see their passions in action.

The relationship faces challenges.

Relationships need to grow if they are to remain relevant to the parties involved and interesting to readers.  The challenges the characters face can be either personal (relationship drama, one character’s struggles) or external (saving the world, surviving an apocalyptic wasteland), but they should face something together and come out the other side stronger.

There’s that one sweet moment.

Finally, successful romances are at least occasionally, well, romantic.  Neither character has to be a chronic sweet-talker or plan extravagant stunts, but it’s always great to see a love interest go out on a limb, or put their heart on the line.  When things get tough for the characters, they can always think back to that conversation or that moment, remember what someone was willing to do for them, and think, “Yes, I really am loved. “ And isn’t that attractive?


Romances come in all shapes and sizes.  Some love interests are sweet. Some are cocky.  Some relationships are fiery with passion.  Others are quiet and deep.  The one thing that seems to get readers invested in a romance, no matter the type, is being able to know the characters and follow them on their journey.  Readers want to see why characters have fallen in love, so they can root for them to succeed.

What do you like to see in a romance?


10 thoughts on “Writing Rambles: How to Write a Compelling Romance

  1. DoingDewey says:

    Great list! The first three items on your list are big ones for me. I like to see characters getting to know each other and I want to be able to say why they like each other. If they’re just perfect, that’s a bit of a bland and unbelievable reason to fall in love with someone, so they need flaws, but flaws I believe the other person would live with and maybe even come to love. It’s amazing how rare this is!


    • Briana says:

      Agreed! I think readers are moved by books that seem real, and a perfect romance or perfect character is rather unbelievable. And learning to live with flaws is huge! You have to do that in real life. Seeing characters in books do it could actually be very helpful, particularly to young readers, if they are looking for bookish models for how relationships work. I’ve had friends who had relationship problems because they were upset/disappointed their boyfriend wasn’t “like a book boyfriend.”


  2. Krysta says:

    This post pretty much sums it up, but I think my biggest problem is when the characters don’t even know each other–and then, half the time, don’t seem to bother to rectify that even once they’re dating. Why would you decide to spend your life with someone you don’t know?


    • Briana says:

      Yes! I can sort of believe in insta-infatuation, if not insta-love, but the romance eventually needs to actually grow and be based on something. Otherwise, I think it’s completely unrealistic if the characters don’t break up due to having nothing in common or no particular reason they even like each other. It’s part of the reason I said I’d like to see the romance in Legend not work out.


  3. Anahera says:

    Oh my goodness, if I could love on this post any more, it would catch fire. This list is wonderful and well-written, hitting pretty much all the marks of creating a romance that I LOVE seeing in books.



  4. jubilare says:

    I was nodding constantly while reading this, and I can’t think of anything to add. Anything beyond this starts wandering off into personal preferences that are much less universal to well-written romance.


  5. revgeorge says:

    Sorry to be late, but yes to all of the above. A well done romance or relationship in a book are pretty essential ingredients for me. Maybe sometimes more than the main plot… 😉


    • Briana says:

      Thanks for commenting!

      I don’t mind books that have no romance, but I’m usually disappointed if there are hints one’s going to happen and it never does, or if the romance is done poorly.


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