Romance becomes dramatic when your characters’ emotions converge, but their agendas diverge.
What do we want in life? We want things to be easy. We want to get the things we can’t have just by reaching out to grasp them
What do we actually enjoy in life? Rewards won by struggle, which is quite a different experience. Working for things brings more satisfaction than simply picking them up.
What’s this got to do with romance? Everything. As much as we want to avoid struggles for our real selves, we respond with a greater sense of satisfaction when we live through a fictional struggle against all odds to finally see our characters end up with that amazing romantic relationship they deserve. Because it feels like we earned it alongside them too.
So how do we get the best dramatic struggles to torment our lovers?
There are two ways that work in romance, one more than the other.
The first is a cop out. Our ideal partners meet and fall in love and seem destined for happiness and then are separated by an outside force: A shipwreck, a missed phone call, a jealous ex-lover who interferes etc Eventually the lovers find each other again and get their happiness. But in a romantic sense, there was never any doubt that they wanted each other. Without that struggle to get together, there is no deep sense of satisfaction for the reader.
The second way of introducing drama is to have the partners be attracted to each other, but have wants and needs that are incompatible. So, for instance, they are lawyers on opposite sides of a trial with international media attention. If one wins the other loses in front of the whole world. How can the loser be happy living with the person who handed them their biggest professional defeat? Or maybe one is a cop and the other a car thief?
Because of the setup, we know that the characters are struggling against themselves to make the relationship happen. By the end of a good romance it usually seems hopeless, but then one character or both figure out a way to bring things into alignment. Maybe the cop discovers that a little stealing is more fun? Maybe one of our lawyers is so impressed with the other’s integrity that they realize there are more important things than winning?
Whatever the route to a healthy resolution, the journey will be dramatic because of the characters constantly questioning themselves about how to balance what they want with what they need…and figuring out if they want or need the person they’ve fallen for.
HINT: The answer is need. In the romance genre, the answer is always that they NEED the other person 🙂
(By the way, some of you may be asking yourselves, why I – an author known for adventure and monsters – feel I can tell you about how to write romance. The shorter answer is simply that not everything I write is published under my real name. We all have our secret lives…
The long answer is that the structural principles of a Monster Story are often not that different from Romance. Usually with revulsion inverting the dynamic by replacing love. But I’ll need a whole other post to delve into that.)