Wuv. Twoo wuv.
Love is a beautiful, magical, whimsical, and tragic thing that makes everyone tick. It causes our hearts to stop and our heads to spin (or is it the other way around? I'm never too sure). But whatever love does to you, it's a driving factor in all our lives. We cherish our successes and mourn our losses, but whichever way it goes, love shares a common symptom -- we want to see other people in love, and we want specific things from these fictional romances.
Since people are, in fact, so particular about what they want to see in romance, it can be very tricky to write. Don't worry -- I'm here to help. Call me Joygirl, the Love Doctor.
Act I: Tension
You have to start your romance off somehow. Whether boy meets boy, boy meets girl, girl meets girl, or anything in between, the couples in question have to meet each other somehow. This is the easiest part to play with -- you can change and alter things from the normal course in various ways without affecting the ultimate outcome (happy ending), without upsetting your reader. This is a great place to make your romance unique. For my example, we'll use the very malleable couple-to-be, Azrael DeLioncourt and Belladonna Valentine (made up one second ago by yours truly).
- Maybe they hate each other? This is always fun, and about 80% of romance novels have used this particular formula to their benefit. Think Xander and Cordelia (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), or some such. Perhaps Lord Azrael is a bit of a noble prankster, playful and a bit naughty, whereas Belladonna is prim and proper. They could despise each other initially, but, forced in some way to interact with each other, could slowly grow accustomed to one another until they realize they aren't so different. This is a good formula if you have a non-romantic storyline that you also want to play through, forcing Azrael and Belladonna into adventures together through some misadventure. When Belladonna starts laughing at Azrael's jokes and Azrael starts to act a little more responsibly, romance can blossom.
- Love at first sight? This one's a little simpler but it can always work. Love at first sight stories tend to be simpler but cuter overall. Some examples are John Carter and Dejah Thoris (Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars series), Westley and Buttercup (The Princess Bride), or another couple that experiences true love almost before the story even starts. These storylines have to focus more completely on romance, and will depend heavily on Act II.
- Unrequited? Maybe Azrael is mad for Belladonna, up in her little tower with her pale, flowing tresses blowing in the breeze out her window. Think along the lines of Anthony and Johanna (Sweeney Todd). Maybe he's watched her for ages, and can't get enough of her. And maybe she's never even noticed him. These scenarios are fun but tragic, and when things turn out sweetly in the end, can garner a very strong reaction. Maybe they finally meet due to Azrael's efforts, or perhaps the storyline forces them together in some way.
You have a ton of options in this category -- these are merely a few.
Act II: Conflict
Things get tricky here. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, both in real life and in fiction. When the love interests are separated in some way, in urges the reader to press on, desperate to find out what happened to Azrael and Belladonna. These challenges have less forms in which they can take place.
- Outside influence. Belladonna Valentine has been kidnapped by evil space pirates, and it's up to Azrael to save her! Perhaps Azrael has been imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, forcing Belladonna to either wait for him (possibly fending off the advances of his rival, Rodrigo), or save him from the corrupt magistrate that had him locked up in the first place. This category involves something happening that separates the love interests against their will, forcing them apart. During this part of the story, the will of the prospective romantics will be the only thing that can keep them together.
- Personal influence. Lord Azrael DeLioncourt's father is forcing him into an arranged marriage, something he must agree to as part of his responsibility to his family. Belladonna, however, loves him, as he does her. The fact that Azrael has to specifically avoid her for the good of his family is the conflict here. Maybe Belladonna is a mystical seer who will lose her powers should she lay with Azrael, forcing her to avoid him. This category comes into affect when the players avoid one another of their own free will, despite being crazy about each other.
However, all things must come to an end.
Act III: Payoff
Somewhere along the line, things have to come to an end. Whether or not Azrael and Belladonna have always loved each other, no matter what they've had to endure, they have to have their happy ending (or do they? more on that later). Act III involves Azrael killing the space pirates, Belladonna exposing the evil magistrate's plans and freeing Azrael, or Azrael creating a clone of himself to take part in the arranged marriage he is desperate to avoid. This is where the payoff happens. This is the big damn kiss. The happy ending. Congratulations - you've written a romance.
"You're spoiling it! You're spoiling EVERYTHING!"
Sometimes authors decide that basic romantic storylines are FOR THE WEAK. They challenge traditions in various ways, maybe they create a love triangle or decide to end the story as a tragedy. This happens, and it's all too possible. It can garner even stronger reactions than a normal romance, at times. But you have to be careful.
For fear of making this article way too long, however, I'm not going to go into the literally infinite variables that can so easily take place in a romantic storyline. Take this much, and see what you can do with it. Once you've written a few successfully cute and touching romances, see how you can spice things up.
This concludes "How to Write Romance". Hope you enjoyed, hope you learned.