Character Development Series – Romance

Even if you’re not writing a romance, it’s possible one of your characters may be involved in a romance, or at least a flirtation. As an extension, if your character is in a romantic situation, chances are you’re going to write a love scene at some point. It could be something as tame as a first or last kiss or as graphic as porn. I’ve done both, but I usually stay somewhere in between and try to keep it PG-13. Usually. Again, I turn to real people here for inspiration (REMINDER: I won’t use names here, but if you want to know who I’m referring to, send me a private message, and I’ll be glad to share). If you have visuals of your character, study them and use them. If that person has been in a romantic situation, study it. No, I don’t mean Pornhub, unless, of course, you’re writing about a porn star. In that case, knock yourself out (18 and over ONLY).

A couple of reminders: “He” is my go-to pronoun because it’s easier than switching back and forth and using “they” or “their” grates on me. I also use the term “alternative lifestyle” as a catch-all for non-heterosexual interactions because I’m never sure what the current politically correct terms are. That said: Everyone should be able to love how he sees fit. There are no judgments here, and I expect none from my readers. If you’re offended by something, don’t read it. But don’t complain because someone is not offended.

I’m currently working on someone based on a certain actor. I’ve had his concept hammered out for months, so when I started developing him, I started just with his looks (he’s one of those vampires of a specific bloodline and a particular look I mentioned in a previous article). Even before I realized I was going to give him a love interest, I was researching him. He’s a cast member in a current TV series I watch, and I’ve been watching it a lot to get to know him. I wrote a scene as a catalyst for a big change in the book that involved him and an enemy combatant, who just happens to be a woman. She was a character in The Order of the White Guard (OWG), so she’s already well developed, and knowing the characters the way I do, it didn’t take much to realize I needed to ship these two.

On the TV show, this guy is in a long, drawn-out, well-developed romance that spans at least ten seasons. You know how TV ships are. They tease you forever and ever, and if they actually pull the trigger, the show is over. So far, this one hasn’t bitten the dust because it is only one of the elements that make the show great. YouTube is a great resource for this one because the ship has inspired a lot of videos dedicated solely to that particular romance. There are dozens (I hear there is fanfiction, too, but I haven’t read any yet). Not only am I able to watch his general mannerisms, tiny flaws in his looks, and the way he talks, but I’m able to watch him with his on-screen love interest–how he looks at her, how he speaks to her, how it’s different from the way he treats the other characters. It’s network TV, so their love scenes are the ones that amount to kisses and general interactions. The rest is where the imagination comes in. I take those actions and pair them up with my character and his love interest, and then let nature take its course.

That said, it didn’t take long to figure out that his general personality is nothing like that of my vampire’s, but that isn’t relevant here, so just forget I said anything.


Draw from Experience

 It is extremely important to write what you know–always, not just in love scenes. The reader will know if you have no idea what you’re talking about. Never had a threesome? Think twice before you write it. Chances are, any fantasies you have are probably off the mark somewhere. If you want to write something you’re not familiar with, talk to someone who is familiar with it and make sure you understand what you’re writing about. I’m not saying you have to do it; just talk to someone who has.

Furthermore, write what you’re comfortable with. If you try to force something you’re not comfortable with, it will show on the page. When I was younger, I couldn’t write a steamy love scene because I was afraid my dad would read it. I’ve gotten bolder, but I still don’t always go with explicit language, at least in what I publish. I may write something in private that would end up on Pornhub, and I have been known to publish snippets with some pretty explicit love scenes, but I put them somewhere that people who aren’t comfortable with that don’t have to see it.

Here’s something very important to keep in mind. If you are in a committed, loving relationship, writing what you know should take a back seat to your partner’s feelings. Interactions with your partner are personal–intimate interactions even more so–so be sure to clear anything you write based on those interactions with him. And even if he does approve, you should still be careful to be sensitive to his feelings on the subject.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing tame kisses or porn. It’s the feeling that’s important. Whether you want these characters to love each other, tease each other, or just hump like bunnies, make it real. Remember, the more real you picture it, the more the reader will.

 As with everything else in character development, don’t forget the why. Why are these two people attracted to each other? Is the relationship awkward, tense, steamy? Brutal? Is one of them distracted, angry? Are they falling in or out of love? Is a fetish involved? How will their past experiences and daily lives affect things? Is it same sex, trans, or some other alternative lifestyle? Write it, and explain it. Fill love scenes with emotion, and be sure to keep your characters true to their concept. If they’re acting out of character, there needs to be a good reason for it, and make sure the reader knows it. If the ship doesn’t work out and there’s a break up, why? What led to the breakup? Is it bitter? Friendly? Is there a chance they will get back together? How do their lives change afterward?


The Act

As always in your work, you want to show rather than tell. You want the mechanics, yes, but the reactions and feelings are just as important. “They kissed,” is okay, but it’s dry. Why did they kiss? What did it feel like? Were her lips soft? Did he brush his lips across hers, or was it a deep, wet kiss that made her toes curl?  Likewise, “She moaned,” is fine, but you might want to go into more detail. Why did she moan? Is there a better description of the moan than just those two words? What was she thinking? Be sure to describe it for both characters. Even if the scene is from the point of view of only one of them, you can still write the actions and reactions of the other.

He leaned in and pressed his lips against hers gingerly, and her breath caught in her throat. She trembled as he touched her cheek, trying desperately not to react too strongly. This moment had been coming for so long, and she didn’t want to scare him away, but his lips were softer than she had imagined. His rough hand also trembled as he cupped her cheek. When he pulled away, he averted his eyes with an embarrassed chuckle.

 “Well, that just happened,” he muttered. “It was a bit awkward, wasn’t it?”

 She took his hand. “Maybe we can try again.”

 He blushed as he turned back to her. “I’d like that.”

Watch your terminology. Look up some synonyms to give your prose more depth. And for God’s sake, don’t use the words “manhood” or “secret flower.” Nobody talks like that.


The Fantasy Realm

Depending on the world you build in your fiction, your characters might view sex and relationships differently than the real-life world. Example: I write preternaturals: vampires, werewolves, werepanthers, witches, and one or two other supernatural species; and they have different rules than the mundane world has. I have certain characters I call “soul siblings,” and their rules are even farther afield. Blood is a very important aspect of interactions between my characters, and I work it into the exchanges in lots of ways, including sex and love. This is a perfectly valid plot point, and if your characters don’t live in the world as we know it, or on Earth at all, embellishment is not only okay, but I would encourage it. If they don’t live in our world, they’re not going to have our rules, so make some up. But be reasonable. If you want to create a man with three penises, that’s up to you. But can you write it so that it sounds plausible? Suspension of disbelief is important with any fiction, but you don’t want to have people saying, “That would never happen,” in relation to the world you created. There’s a difference between suspending disbelief and hanging it by the neck until dead.


The Sensitive Stuff

When I was growing up, I saw a lot of TV shows and movies containing what came to be known as the “token black guy.” African Americans were finally starting to get the respect they deserved, and for producers, that meant making sure there were minorities in a show, even if the fact that they were a minority made no difference in the plot–or worse, made no sense at all. These days, race has pretty much become a non-issue (thank God), and it’s same sex or alternative lifestyles. If it doesn’t add to the story, leave it alone. If you want to make a point of putting something in, be sure it makes sense.

We have a certain type of character in our books called a “soul sibling.” Soul siblings are two people who share a soul. They also share pretty much everything else, including a mate. These characters aren’t homosexual, but they do have certain aspects of homosexuality to their personalities. I write what I’m comfortable with, gloss over the parts I’m not comfortable with. I also explain how and why they came to be soul siblings, along with a basic description of “soul sibling rules” so the reader will understand them better. The soul sibling concept goes way beyond sex, by the way, and I make sure to include those ideas throughout the stories.

Let’s take a minute to talk about sexual assault. I can’t stress enough how sensitive this subject is. It’s not okay, it’s never okay, and in my opinion, those who commit sexual assault should be strung up by their private parts. That said, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to write it. If you write a sexual assault, please treat it VERY CAREFULLY. Think about your readers. Who is going to read this? How will they react? How do I keep from triggering people? How do I write it so people won’t stop reading my work because they’re offended? If you have the opportunity to do so harmlessly, talk to someone who has gone through it. Find out what happened, how they felt, what the reactions of the people around them were. But do not go too far with your questions. These people have been through enough.

When it comes down to writing it, as with everything else, ask why. Why are these two people in this situation? What are their moods? What is the act itself? How explicit do you want to write it? What are their reactions afterward? How does the victim get on with his or her life? What about the assailant?

NOTE: I will never, ever advocate writing a pro-rape scene. If you want to write that, you’re on your own.


Let’s Put This to Bed.

The main theme here is “write what you know.” This goes for everything from a sentence about kissing to an epic romance. Because honestly, even a sentence about kissing can be an epic romance. And as I’m fond of saying in these articles, the better you know your characters, the better the reader will.

Happy writing!

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