Of my 26-and-three-quarter years, I’ve spent the vast majority of the time “single” – as if one’s inability to be alluring to the opposite sex (or same-sex if that’s your thing) deserves an important label. I was quite a hopeless romantic in my adolescence and read lots of books where the characters fell in love or where secretly in love or something along those lines.
My first ever attempt at “serious” writing was a 20-page novella about teens falling in love and one of them was a werewolf. I was thirteen and it was deliciously awful. This book was directly influenced by Twilight being the most popular YA supernatural romance but before the movies came and ruined everything.
But my idea of writing romance stemmed only from what I’d read in books, not what I’d experienced myself. I’d had plenty of crushes that mostly went unrequited and a couple of weird half-baked attempts at dating as a young teen before I was emotionally mature enough to even understand what being in a relationship was. I was so caught up in what I thought a romantic relationship should be that I didn’t stop to think about whether I was actually ready to be in one.
All this culminated in only one long-term serious relationship during my late teens/early 20s. And it was by no means healthy. It wasn’t even interesting enough to be used as inspiration for any writing. We’d be happy, he’d cheat on me, we’d break up. Rinse and repeat a few times before I decided that I was better than that mess.
Now I’m quite particular with who I spend my time with. Some would say too particular. But, I’d rather spend my time on other things — like writing and painting and eating loads of baked goods — than go on awkward dates with guys that won’t text me back.
So if I’ve never had a decent relationship, how can I write it in my own work?
Isn’t the rule to write what you know?
Write what you dream and what you read
I find it best to ignore that rule and write what I can imagine. Despite not having much experience, I do know what love feels like. I’ve felt it through every character I’ve read. Through all my fictional crushes — some quite serious — I’m able to dream up the type of men I want for my fictional heroines.
It’s easy enough to dream about what love should be now that I’m older and not so in love with the idea of love. My comfort in solitude has allowed me to realize fully what I look for in a partner.
Dreams make good inspiration for your fictional romances. Imagine your ideal partner and make them real on the page. Perhaps that sounds too much like wish fulfillment, but who says a little wish fulfillment makes for bad writing?
There are too many books with sub-par romances based on unhealthy ideals and power imbalances. What I want to write is something that people can use as a basis for their own ideals.
The key is filtering through the relationships we view in the media. Some aren’t healthy, usually accompanied by lots of drama, cheating, and even sometimes abuse, whether physical, verbal, emotional, etc. Unless this is a theme you want to cover in your writing, it’s best to give these ones a wide birth. Most relationships in books, movies, and TV aren’t going to be drama-free, but serious red flags are generally easy to spot.
Use the resources around you as much as you can and sometimes the best resource is your own imagination.
Use any experience you have
While I don’t have much experience in the dating world — it doesn’t help that outside of my one relationship I am chronically bad at dating, specifically online dating — the experiences I do have still provide some knowledge.
I know what I don’t want in a relationship and what I value in a partner. Before my long-term relationship, I was basically happy to date any guy who showed interest in me. But that’s not good for anyone. Now I know what I want in a romantic relationship and what is important to me.
I can use this information to shape the relationships I write. On the page, the relationships can bloom and flourish naturally based on shared values and compromise. And I can develop them without it feeling contrived.
Through my sparse experience with actual dates but plenty of experience with using dating apps, I’ve learned how much my instincts are usually right but also I’ve gained inspiration for many new characters. As much as dating apps seem like a soulless game, they’re also a giant database of potential characters.
Just do it
Sometimes you just got to write it. Throw caution to the wind and write the romance. It might end up awkward and cringy, but that’s how you grow as a writer.
I know when I was writing the scene in my first real novel where my main characters kiss for the first time, I felt so awkward. It took a couple tries to get it right. I put on some romantic music and wrote the scene over and over until I was happy with it.
Only through trial and error will you develop the knowledge and skills to write romance more easily.
But don’t force it.
Yesterday I had a revelation about the novel I’m drafting. Two of my characters, who were supposed to end up together at some point, weren’t jiving the way I thought they would. So I decided I wouldn’t force them to be together if they didn’t actually like each other.
Listen to what your characters are telling you because they will let you know when something isn’t working.
Now, I’m not actually a romance writer and I don’t think I could ever be. My muscular shirtless man would inevitably turn into the son of some fairy prince with a tragic destiny. But romance is something that can be sprinkled into any genre if you want.
Don’t be afraid to write romance even if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Let your creativity flow. Listen to some cheesy romantic songs, eat some chocolate (or some sweet snack), and get writing.