The Do's and Don'ts of Crafting Your Story's Love Interest
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With all its heart-aching tension and warm, fuzzy feelings, it's easy to see how a good love story can stand the test of time.
Crafting love stories of our own, however, is often tricky business. In a genre as oversaturated and teeming with exhausted tropes as romance, crafting a love story that feels fresh and exciting often requires more than a little hard work. Fortunately, time and intention are on our side.
By focusing first on crafting the characters who will serve as love interests in our stories, we lay the groundwork for gripping romances to come. So whether you're writing the next great love story or simply looking to include a romantic subplot in your book, let's break down the do's and don'ts of crafting love interests today!
The Many Types of Love Interests
A love interest is a character whose role in a story is that of a lover — or potential lover — to another character, especially the protagonist. But not all love interests and romantic relationships are created equal. Writers have a plethora of relationship tropes to draw upon when crafting their story's love interests, some more popular than others, including:
Enemies to Lovers
Friends to Lovers
Second Chances at Love
Love at First Sight
Arranged or Political Marriages
Some of these tropes may have you rolling your eyes, but the biggest mistake you can make when crafting a love interest isn’t basing their character on a specific romantic trope. There’s a romance for every reader, and what trope one reader dislikes will absolutely find a home in the heart of another.
Rather, the biggest mistake you can make is to craft a love interest that exists solely to reward the protagonist for completing their journey. Love interests that do not have lives outside of their story's protagonists aren’t characters at all, I’d argue. They are objects, cardboard cutouts, prizes to be won.
Writer, don’t objectify your story’s love interest this way. Develop them fully instead, giving them purpose and depth that lend power to your story as a whole, as well to their exciting romance with your protagonist. Where do you begin? Let’s take a look at some structured first steps:
#1: Choose the type of chemistry you’d like to build.
Chemistry is that potent magnetism that draws two people — or, in our case, characters — together. There's certainly something to be said for the mystery of love, but generally speaking, relationships do tend to find their foundations in one or more of the following areas:
• A bond over shared interests or experiences
• A broadening of one another's horizons
• A grounding balance between dichotomous personalities
• A shared admiration for one another’s spirits
These same types of chemistry can be found in others relationships as well, especially friendships, which is something to keep in mind as you craft the relationships between other characters in your story.
That said, knowing which type(s) of chemistry you'd like to serve as the foundation of your story’s romance can go a long way toward helping you define the perfect love interest.
Now is also the time to look back over those relationship tropes we discussed earlier. Is there a specific trope you’d like to employ in your story? This, as well, will play a heavy hand in helping you craft a love interest readers will adore.
#2: Define your protagonist’s romantic interests.
To choose the best type of chemistry to pursue in your story, you may find it helpful to first understand what your protagonist needs in a relationship. Not what they want or what they think they need, but what will truly bring a little love into their life.
Consequently, this means you must first know your protagonist inside and out.
If you haven’t yet taken the time to develop them fully, I’d suggest doing so now. Once you've gotten to know your protagonist, you can begin crafting a love interest who will challenge, aid, encourage, and maybe irritate them in ways that make the connection between them apparent.
“But wait a minute,” you say. “I thought you said not to build a love interest that exists solely for my protagonist. Isn't that the biggest mistake I can make?” Absolutely.
Your love interest should exist as a fully-formed individual, with a life outside of the protagonist's story. Readers don’t necessarily need to see this life play out on the page, of course, but it should be implied. A little backstory here, a quick mention of career goals or family trouble there. You get the gist.
But if you want to build genuine chemistry between your protagonist and their love interest, that most often means crafting a love interest specifically designed first to catch your protagonist’s eye. Which brings us to...
#3: Begin crafting your story’s love interest.
Now that you’ve defined the type of chemistry you’d like to build and what your protagonist needs in a relationship, you’re ready to begin crafting a love interest who can best fulfill their role in your story.
How you go about crafting your love interest will depend greatly on the first two elements we’ve just discussed. In addition to these two elements, however, you’ll want to consider the type of conflict you want your two lovebirds to face.
Will they fight to maintain the love they already share or will one or both characters need to undergo a bit of transformation before their love can blossom? If the later, don’t forget to consider who your love interest is at both the beginning of your story and its happily-ever-after.
Here are some questions you may wish to ask yourself as you work:
What does my protagonist find attractive in a partner?
What kind of partner would bring my protagonist true happiness?
Does my protagonist have any prejudices that would blind them to true love?
What values does my protagonist hold dear?
In what ways does my protagonist feel alone?
What is my protagonist's biggest fear, flaw, or regret?
What kind of love interest could challenge this fear, flaw, or regret?
Do I want to utilize a specific romantic trope in my story?
If so, what elements of this trope would my love interest need to embody?
These questions should help you determine who your love interest needs to be in order to fulfill their role in the romance. After defining their position, you can begin to craft the details of their life outside of the protagonist's story with these thirty-three ways to write stronger characters.
Additional Tips for Crafting Love Interests
Crafting a sensational love interest is certainly no easy task, as each romance is unique its own right. However, I do have a few additional tips you may find helpful as you dive into this tricky character-creation process:
#1: Give your love interest autonomy.
As we briefly discussed, love interests should never be treated as a prize your protagonist is awarded after overcoming the villain, achieving their story goal, or undergoing a necessary inner transformation.
This trope, which disproportionately affects female love interests, is a form of objectification that's sure to leave a bad taste in many readers' mouths. To counteract this, treat your love interest as the protagonist of their own story, giving them autonomy in the form of their own goals, desires, and needs.
#2: Make your love interest human.
It’s easy to idealize our love interests, projecting onto them our own unrealistic wishes and desires. But doing so is a surefire way to make them unbelievable as characters, even cringeworthy.
To take this trope to task, make your love interest just as human as any other character. A few fears, flaws, and regrets can go a long way!
#3: Make your love interest irreplaceable.
Further your love interest's development as a character by giving them a role in your story that is unrelated to their romance with the protagonist. If the love interest can be removed from your story with little to no consequence to the main storyline, it's likely you're treating them as a prize to be won.
Instead, take a look at some of the purposes sidekicks and mentor characters can serve, and consider how these elements may apply to your story’s love interest. This tip is especially helpful for romantic subplots, where removing a love interest wouldn't automatically destroy the entire plot.
#4: Ensure influence is a two-way street.
Relationships are a push-and-pull, a give-and-take. Protagonists are often challenged or transformed by their relationship with the love interest, but don’t forget to allow the relationship to shape your love interest in return. For more on that, consider crafting your story's character arcs today!
Romantic relationships are complex and diverse, as evidenced by the depth and popularity of romance as a genre.
But whether you’re writing the next great love story or simply including a romantic subplot in your book, giving your love interest and their relationship with the protagonist the time and intention they deserve is the surest way to craft a sensational romance readers won’t soon forget!