I look back to the stories I’ve written and feedback I’ve gotten from reviewers, it seems that my strength lies in character relationships. This isn’t to say that my characters individually stand out by themselves, just that their relationships feel real. Or so they say.
Now, I am by no means an expert on this and I don’t claim to be. I just like to analyse the mechanics of writing and share what I have learned and hope that you may learn something from these, based on your own experiences too. The most interesting thing I notice, as I look back to these stories and comments, is that my romantic leads have a habit of stealing the show. Not my main characters, not my villains, but my romantic leads. I try to see why that is? Why do people find them more interesting than the POV characters whose heads they’re in? (The reason may well be that I write crappy POV characters, but for the purpose of this post, let’s pretend my romantic leads are just totally awesome, all right?) I try to see if there are tricks I keep revisiting over and over because they work and if so, what are they? I will keep adding to this post as I remember them but here are what I gathered so far:
1) They have their own want
Even though their main role is to charge the main character (MC)’s heart with electric volts, my romantic leads usually have their own story, one that may or may not be entwined with the MC’s in the book. Even if the MC is removed, the romantic leads have interesting enough juices that they may carry their own story and write their own books. Perhaps more so sometimes. I admit to have been influenced by authors such as Paulo Coelho and Jodi Picoult who seem to prefer to write from an observer’s point of view. In a way, my romantic leads may in fact be the main characters in the book, and my POV character is an observer learning from them. In any case, what does it mean? I think to make our romantic leads real, it is important to give them their own lives, their own wants, their own goals, separate from those of the MC’s of the book.
2) They are committed
Despite having their own stories, once the relationship has been established, they are committed to work towards the MC’s success and goals, sometimes at the cost of their own. I usually try not to have them do this because of love (because that’s cheesy) but other things like pride, honour, some external force, because their own lives depend on it, or even selfishness. We all know that relationships that start from rocky and dramatic basis will not last, but who cares. I prefer my fiction romances to start off that way. But the most important thing is that once the decision is made, these characters must be committed to it. And that earns them bonus points from the MC’s POV and ultimately the readers.
3) They’re not perfect
I read Pittacus Lore’s I Am Number Four and I apologise to those who love that book but I just could not STAND the way he described the romantic lead: “Smart, pretty, blond” Bleh. I don’t like my romantic leads perfect, in fact the more flawed they are the better. I tend to use a lot of dark past as a crutch: they carry loads of burden, or they harbour secrets not many people know about (and of course the MC will get to know them and that makes him or her special). They tend to have scars, inside and outside, and the MC gets to heal them somehow and vice versa. Yeah, a tad cliché if I write it out like this, but it seems to work with my audience. I think what I try to aim for is that they’re not perfect individually but they should feel perfect for each other.
4) They’re perfect for each other
Which leads me to this point. My main characters tend to be… outcasts or introverts (don’t know why I’m drawn to those types, easiest to write, I think), who don’t have excellent social skills and/or feel a tad intimidated by the world. My romantic leads tend to either understand and share this predicament or be total opposite, they become the MC’s voices, the MC’s strengths, the MC’s guidance, etc. The main thing here is that the romantic lead and the MC should compliment each other, they become… invincible when paired up, even though they may not stand out individually, if that makes sense at all? Try to look at the gaps in the MC’s character then fill them with the romantic lead’s strengths somehow. I think it works best if there doesn’t seem to be anyone else who can fit other than them, in each other.
5) They rock the main characters’ world
They don’t have to be hot as hell, six packs and perfect boobs don’t always work, but they better rock the MC’s world. Make them charming, I think that works best. There should be that chemistry, something specific about them that the MC just cannot resist: emotional and intellectual qualities work better, imho, but they have to be attractive specifically to the MC. Please note the difference between objective beauty and beauty to the eye of the beholder. I think it’s important that you make this difference clear and that the MCs recognize this.
That’s all I can think of at the moment. I’m sure they’re nothing groundbreaking you don’t know already, and I’m by no means a better writer than anyone! But I just like to share and hope these help you whenever you feel a tad lost as to how to haul these poor souls out (as they do tend to be buried beneath the rest of the characters, at least I’ve read many books in which the romantic leads just feel so dull I remember the rest of the cast better).
Anyway, I’m going to keep sharing things I learned in my writing journey, things that work and don’t for me. You may or may not agree with my analysis, but I hope you find something of use here to help you in your writing journey!