In the spirit of February and the fact that I’m an editor who’s worked primarily with romance authors, we’re going to discuss a thing today.
No one knows how to write slow-build romance.
People seem to be very invested in these sudden, whirlwind romances with hot, instantaneous passions, and deep, meant-to-be, single-soul loves, but quite frankly, they make so little sense it’s almost hard to stomach them sometimes. And don’t get me wrong, I like romance stories – I just have to roll my eyes at stories where people are somehow in love after a week, have had little to no real contact with each other but ‘understand the other better than anyone,’ and they trust each other more than that friend they’ve had since childhood. It’s ludicrous to the point where I just have to assume bumping into a stranger and locking eyes with deep, sultry pools of liquid sapphire just did something to their brains. Something stupid.
I get it, it’s fiction, it’s not supposed to be an exact duplication of reality – that would make it boring. But art imitates reality, and there’s something real and engaging about a romance that takes time, that shows that build from acquaintance to friend to interest to love, and it feels like the two people actually know each other intimately before they’re hauling off declaring undying love and affection for each other.
There also, for some God-awful reason, seems to be this conflation between physical attraction equating emotional investments and oh boy, I have a list of stories I have sent back to authors with notes in the margins stating ‘infatuation is not love.’ And it’s really not. That’s why it’s called infatuation. It’s temporary, and often rooted in superficial things like ‘Damn, she was really hot. Like her ass, in those jeans. Shit.’ Not exactly the love story of the century.
Now I’m not saying that quick romances don’t happen. There are plenty of people in ‘real life’ who have found love quickly. But there also tends to be some sort of, you know, process to it. You actually engage with the person. Perhaps you share common interests. Maybe there’s something in your lives that’s making you two (or three or more, polyamory is a thing these days) stick together. I loved an ex after three months of dating. We also spent, quite literally, every single day together and our interests lined up pretty well. The point is, there’s usually more to it than just ‘Woa, that guy was so hot. I suddenly want to marry him and can’t think about anything else other than how hot he was. Also I want his babies. Every single one.’
I think the main problem when it comes to stories like this is one of two things, barring the general ‘this person just can’t write the thing:’ people want the romance and the lust, passion, tension, but they don’t know how to blend these things together well, or they’re trying to make a romance out of an erotica and sometimes a story is just not that kind of level of story where you can take it there.
So, how do you fix it? The initial answer is simple, romance authors: Take your time. Your characters aren’t going to disappear into a void if you don’t make them love each other right this second.
The next is to actually understand that you’re writing about interpersonal relationships and that love – actual love – is something that just doesn’t happen over night and you need to be able to navigate the intricacies of human emotion well if you’re going to portray a romance well. This should also include understanding that in relationships (1) trust is not established overnight and (2) trust is not easily obtained after it is broken (one day I’m going to write more in-depth about this, but it is not this day.) Give your characters their due time to not like each other or not want to be around or with each other.
These are points that I make with the romance authors I work with the most, because the most frustrating thing about these stories is that they feel rushed; there’s no pacing, no subtlety – like the author is in such a hurry to get their mains together that they forget that they actually have to write out the process of getting them together.
That, or they’re lazy, and that’s just bad authorship.
Either way, I have yet to read a good love story that establishes a ‘deep emotional connection’ in the span of a handful of days, riding entirely on the basis of the electricity that flows across their skin when their hands touch.
I’m just saying.