Writing Excuses 5.31: Writing Romance

Sarah Eden and Robison Wells join Dan and Howard at LTUE to talk about writing romance. Sarah writes in the romance genre, but we’re not focusing on the genre — we’re talking about writing romance within the context of whatever else we might happen to be putting on the page.

We lead with how to do it wrong, because nothing is as much fun to talk about as bad romance. It’s also educational.

More importantly (and more usefully) we talk about formulas for doing romance correctly. One of the most practical is to pair characters up by finding emotional needs that these characters can meet for each other. We look at examples from each of our work: Sarah’s The Kiss of a Stranger, Dan’s I Don’t Want To Kill You, Howard’s The Sharp End of the Stick, and Rob’s Variant.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: I Don’t Want To Kill You, by Dan Wells, narrated by Kirby Heyborne. It’s true, this book has some great romance in it. Also, murder.

Writing Prompt: Create a character, and then create a complementary character who both meets a need and provides unwelcome challenge.

Everybody’s Lisp: Brought to you by the noise reduction software we used. Sorry about that. It won’t happen again.

The Bonus Game: Bad Romance! Enjoy!

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63 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 5.31: Writing Romance”

  1. @ James,

    I think you and I understand triangles differently. For me the only requirement is for a reader or viewer to feel there is a third party that’s posing an obstacle to two people getting together. That’s it.

    You obviously saw the wife in CAST AWAY as a metaphor and generalized her. And didn’t see them getting back together as a problem. If there is no problem, then there is no triangle.

    But I did see the problem. I saw her as a living human being. I felt a great deal of conflict about their situation. I wanted him to get back with his wife. For the duration of those scenes I felt quite a bit of suspense, especially since there wasn’t a good option. I wasn’t stepping back from the film and saying, oh, yes, this is the film maker’s comment on society moving forward. It wasn’t intellecutal for me. And I can argue that isn’t how the film makers saw it either. Although that metaphor is certainly a generalization that can be drawn.

    But for me there was a problem. The husband posed the obstacle. The fact that Tom didn’t take certain types of actions that you feel are necessary to win her back is really beside the point. As is the notion that you can generalize about the situation and infer a metaphor. A triangle is a type of problem, not a plot. He took the actions he did, plot, and the problem posed by the obstacle was resolved–he lost.

    To me it’s a perfect triangle. But I can certainly see how no triangle would exist for those who didn’t see the problem.

  2. “@Some Bloke
    So what you wanted was a rational, reasoned discourse, carefully and lovingly researched and presented…

    … for ‘some bloke’ who declared “Nobody cares” and didn’t offer anything further.

    Thanks, but no thanks. That’s not conversation.”

    I don’t expect the internet to be any of those things you claim I want. This is completely missing the point of what I said. What I want is you and others to stop pointing out when something posted is an opinion as though that means anything not already known.

  3. And I want you to not claim ‘nobody cares’ when, in fact, it is YOU that doesn’t care and it is quite clear from this thread alone that there are people do, in fact, like love triangles and think them viable.

    All I was doing was pointing out that what you posted was not the fact you phrased it as.

    If you were more careful and less obnoxious in your initial wording, I would not have felt compelled to point out it was only your opinion.

    You get what you give.

  4. *people WHO do

    And, once again, sorry to everyone else. I guess I still need to learn not to post in haste.

    Some Bloke, please just let it die. This conversation is going nowhere.

  5. Play nice, please. All of y’all.

    On a related note, I love triangles: such useful, fundamental constructs, their three sides laid at varying degrees of opposition, their three points seeming to express both a failure to achieve linear congruence and the triumph of having defined an area. If a thing can be built, it can be built out of triangles. If a thing can be broken, it will leave triangular shards.

    The best thing about every other geometric shape is that you can find the triangles within.

    My only dislike of triangles is that they are too pointy to carry
    around safely. Otherwise my pockets would be full of them.

  6. “My only dislike of triangles is that they are too pointy to carry
    around safely. Otherwise my pockets would be full of them.”

    Circles are much easier to carry around. They never poke holes in my pockets.

  7. But with circles, you just go around and around and around. I like dodecahedrons.

    No asthetic reason, it’s just fun to say. Dodecaheeeeeeeeedron.

    Recently I re-read the Empire trilogy by Janny Wurts and Raymond E Feist. It sort of runs the gamut of relationships, and I can’t explain it without getting a bit spoilery.

    First there’s the almost anti-romance with Mara’s first husband, a bullying brute that she marries out of political necessity. He abuses her, almost spoils everything she worked for, and she eventually manipulates events so that he has to commit ritual suicide to avoid dishonor.

    Then she obtains a ‘barbarian’ slave from another culture and ends up falling for him. In that relationship she finds passion and love, and he fills a need in her and the story, in that his ‘alien’ views show her how decadent and stagnant her culture is. It is the impetus for her growth as a character.

    But because he’s a slave, it can only ever be an affair, and she is being courted by the son of a noble lord. She doesn’t feel the same passion, but they are very much kindred spirits. Another need is filled, someone who can support and aid her without being held back by tradition.

    It’s a triangle for a while because she loves the slave, but by her culture’s values he cannot be freed, and will never valued for his own merits. She cannot marry him, and she needs to marry, she needs strong alliances with the other noble houses to keep her family safe from her enemies. But her love for the slave makes her dally and delay, despite what she knows to be ‘best’ for her.

    In the end, she is forced to return the slave to his homeworld, and so she marries the noble’s son and finds peace, contentment, and a like mind that sees the world as she does. There’s even a bit of friction at times, mostly because one knows something the other doesn’t, which informs their reaction in ways the other doesn’t expect. That sort of thing.

    The relationships work because they move the story forward. The slave pushes Mara out of her comfort zone and opens her eyes to the injustice and brutality of her culture. Then he is gone, his part in the story finished, and the noble’s son steps in to help her walk the path she must follow.

  8. @ Mike Barker: Thanks for the link. That was actually a neat break-down of love triangles. I’m sure we could brainstorm and add a few other options to the list as well.

    @ John Brown: Thanks for throwing the perspective of the reader into the mix. I hadn’t thought about that before. After considering, I think my problem is really one of semantics: I have been defining “love triangle” rather narrowly. I haven’t thought of well done love triangles as being love triangles in my head – because I don’t like love triangles, therefore they couldn’t possibly be love triangles! But I think I’m getting stuck on one type of love triangle that annoys me personally, without considering all the other creative ways in which the concept could be used. In fact, having thought about it more, I reluctantly admit that I might have inadvertently included a “love triangle” (very brief, and relatively unimportant, but there nonetheless) in one of my current projects. How’s that for making a person feel sheepish?

    Thanks for broadening my view of this topic.

  9. How is “A can’t decide between B and C” inherently greedy? Dating two people at the same time happens in real life, these kinds of situations happen often, and I take issue with boiling them down as a cliche or that character A is greedy.

    There are so many possibilities here. B is more practical while C is more attractive, B and C are so similar that it’s hard to choose, often it is choosing between who to date so there is no impropriety…

    People often don’t know what they are looking for, or even know what they have. It’s usually not an issue of greed at all, but of an inability to commit or understand what one wants out of life. People generally don’t want to invest a lot of time in a relationship they know has a time limit, and when there are many options, you kind of want to know which one is going to work out so you don’t get hurt. So this kind of situation is usually from a position of brokenness, but not necessarily a character flaw.

    But I’ve seen it in real life, so I don’t agree that it’s unrealistic.

    One of my favorite triangles not mentioned is My best Friends wedding, because of how things play out at the end.

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