Whiwe you’re cowwectivewy bweathing sighs of welief that we’re as far from another Vawentine’s Day as we could possibwy be, it’s time to gwab those last vestiges of twue wuv and womance that are twying to wwiggle out of your veins, and thwow it into your witing. Specificawwy with your chawacters, and the four-letter-L-word.
If you haven’t seen Febwuary’s challenge, then I’w spell it out for you. Wite wuv and/or womance and/or sex. One of the three, aww of the thwee, as soft or as hard as you want it – and you know you do.
I never write much in the way of romance or sex, but I’ve had characters that love other characters – occasionally they even love each other back. It’s rarely the focus of what the story is about, and it manifests in different ways. I’ve had a few stories, short or otherwise, that have had some focus on romance or love. Some were little more than false-starts in story, but that still had characterisation that felt authentic to me, the ever-unbiased reader of his own work.
The best pairings I’ve written were probably in either a science fiction piece that went back and forth in first-draft-hell for years without ever making it out of there, and some of those in my 2010 NaNo novel. They were very different couples, and the first of the two was a special case, being a relationship that started with one mentally absent (best comparison would be River Tam, at the beginning of Firefly). It was easy in that case to show how the protagonist loved his unwell wife, through the actions he went through on her behalf. Their relationship was a driving force for what he did, but they were never equal partners in it.
It’s NaNo2010’s entry that covered it best. There was a couple that interacted, fought, kept their weaknesses to themselves at times, and shared them at others. There was sacrifice and trauma, but even the smaller moments had a bond between them. The strong-willed female main kept her troubles to herself, and the impatient male main acted impulsively to siphon his love out into the world. There was a lot in the way of gestures, and that’s probably a symptom of the emphasis I personally put on acts. There’s a moment later on, where in a grieving moment, the male character does something that he hates, as a means to pay respects to the female.
So I’ve done love before, but it was love that existed already. I’ve never written characters falling in love, at least as far as I know. In The Clockmaker’s Folly, there was an implication that Avery loved Grace, but we never saw it develop. By the time Grace went back, she’d become more sympathetic toward Avery, but you know that the love is going to develop off-page. The NaNo2009 piece had characters that ended up together, and I think they gradually grew together through experiencing trauma, but I wouldn’t say the focus was love either.
If you want some characters to fall in love, where do you start?
Let’s take a character, Elizabeth, and another character, Hawke. I’ve picked the names randomly. You could go for any setting, a breezy summer vacation, a squalid hut in the midst of a fantasy plague, a claustrophobic first flight to Enceladus, or a tense office workplace in the 80’s. Any setting. Then you decide exactly who Elizabeth and Hawke are going to be. Don’t be stereotypical. Their names aren’t who they are, so an Elizabeth could easily be a real estate agent, lawyer or swindler (I’m repeating myself again) instead of a governess, or maid. Hawke needn’t be a ruffian, smuggler, or artist. The important thing is that you work with your archetype so it isn’t just a caricature. Alright, sometimes there’s a time when you needn’t worry, but no sense purposely limiting yourself.
For my entry, I’m going to go with a boat captain, and a merchant – and tie their roles respectively. I thought about the tough-as-nails Captain as an option, but no, Elizabeth’s just running a charter boat off in the pacific. It’s a slow, casual life, ever since she inherited the boat from her father.He was tougher. This is just a job to her. She sometimes misses the city she grew up in, and indulges in the occasional bit of extravagance, but it’s not what she lives for. Hawke’s a merchant, but it’s fashion that’s his trade. He’s the bull in the boardroom, but the horns go down in his personal life. He’s a bit of a man’s man, and loves sport. He tells people he’s in fashion for the women, but he’s loved clothes and the like, ever since his grandmother sewed him his first Halloween costume. With all that, I’m dating it modern.
So, these two meet. On an island somewhere, and more precisely, at a bar or restaurant. Sameness can be a great cause for bonding, and these two will need things that unite them, that they can share together or otherwise have in common – however, the starting point will be their differences. You could easily have their seemingly identical nature become an unbreachable divide over time, but that’s not the approach I’ll go with here. No, differences to begin with (yes, the comma is intentional). I chose a bar/restaurant because it could be a nice, relaxed environment. I don’t want it to be, though. Alright, both of them at the restaurant. Liz has been coming here since she before her dad died, while Hawke is new here, and hasn’t tried it before. It’s also busy. Very busy. Hawke gets there, tries to get a seat without a reservation. Could we have Hawke be an ass to the wait-staff? Not without bringing back the horns.
Instead, Hawke is just impatient. He goes up to the front desk, still doesn’t have a reservation, but instead of asking for a table, starts asking a bunch of questions. How big are the meals, can they change the hot-sauce to something more timid, and all-up, being a noncommittal nuisance. Liz is behind him in the line, and is trying to get the attention of the person dealing with Hawke, because she can usually squeeze in somewhere. She’ll mouth off, bringing the two into conflict. They might yell, and they might not. One of them goes away hungry, and the other begrudgingly eats their meal.
Next day, Hawke had hired a boat, arrives at the docks, and there’s Lizzie. She tells him to rack off, he’s insistent and he’s paid for it, so they go out. She’ll make some comment along the lines of ‘Not being able to change how much fish are in the ocean’ at him, and they’ll snarl at each other. Clear conflict established! Ahhh, but we want these two TOGETHER. Okay, so this feels quite formulaic, but planning is. We hone in on a similarity, or a connection point. Liz happens to love the chain Hawke works for. Perhaps Hawke finds himself admiring her, not because of her beauty, but because she’s managed to escape the trappings of urbanitis. It might’ve just been her circumstances, but that’s what he sees.
THEN The ship breaks down in open water. Mer-men attack! Hawke discovers he’s really half-dolphin, and the two retire together to raise cyborg monkeys. It’s difficult to avoid predictability with these things, because you know the characters are going to end up together. Can you honestly say you didn’t see the dolphin family tree thing coming? Didn’t think so. The point is though, you have them hold a begrudging respect for one another – or have an initial connection that breaks down. You eventually reach a point where the characters mostly like each other, but partially can’t stand one another, until CLICK. It all changes.
How does it change?
It hinges on respect. One character doesn’t just suddenly love the other, and more importantly, both characters don’t undergo a sudden transformation of emotions. They spend a lot of time together, they become familiar, and their underlying actions are ones that benefit the other (oft without either realising it). In this sweeping romance between Elzibaba and Hawkeroony, they have to spend time around each other. Liz could’ve still turned Hawke down as a customer, only for Hawke to keep hanging around the docks, warding off her potential customers. A dick move, yes, but it’d lead to him staying around. Then she caves. Something goes wrong with the ship – he could’ve been attempting to do something nice, and inadvertently breaks the engine. Next time they’re both at the same restaurant, they sit together – Liz is determined to prove Hawke wrong about her favourite dish.
It starts escalating. They begin to enjoy each other’s company. They tell each other their darkest secrets, about cybernetic engineering and dreams about eating raw fish whole. They see each other as more than just the opinions and habits they can’t stand. It can’t all be bliss and harmony from here – their differences need to resurface, but this time for the characters to overcome them. This would also feel a lot more believable if it weren’t the focus of the (imagined) story. It would also work better as a story thread in a larger story, plus spread out over the 300+ pages of your novel where the rises happen slowly. Throw in some decoy love interests, and you have a new romance.