Friday, February 18, 2022

Karen S. Wiesner: Deep, Multi-Faceted Development and Progression of Romantic Relationships

 Writer's Craft Article by Karen S. Wiesner 

Deep, Multi-Faceted Development and Progression of Romantic Relationships

Based on CPR for Dead or Lifeless Fiction {A Writer's Guide to Deep and Multifaceted Development and Progression of Characters, Plot, and Relationships}  

"Character is not created in isolation or repose; it’s forged through interaction with others and the world." ~The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV by David Corbett 

Human beings tend to live in groups, whether because one person has the limited ability to live by himself or because we like to be dependent on each other--and of course we like and care about each other as well. This is how societies, communities, and relationships are born.           

All relationships must have purpose in the story or there’s no reason to include them and, quite frankly, what's the purpose in even writing a story without relationships? While there are interesting stories about hermits, survivalists or loners who have little or no contact with other human beings (Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!), most characters are social people in some degree--and that's where things get really interesting because there are rules in in a society that simply don't exist in isolation. People need people more often than not, and nearly all stories need incredible relationships that are completely cohesive with the characters and conflicts. What purpose do the relationships have in light of the plot?

Writing a Romantic Relationship 

Writing a romance story is the hardest category that exists. Nothing can convince me otherwise. Let me tell you why. First, I'm not a romantic in any sense of the word. That's true, and I'd be the first person to tell you that. But I do write deep, rich, realistic love stories. Realism is the most important thing to me as a writer. If it doesn't feel real, like I could step into someone's lives with these characters and their relationship, it doesn’t interest me. I want the down-and-dirty, gritty, excruciating pain and joy that could be actually lead to blood flow or shouts of exhilaration, the so-deep-I-can-feel-and-hear-the-heartbeat, so intense I can't breathe and my hands are actually shaking, I can't gulp because I'm paralyzed waiting restlessly for the next move. That's romance at its best, most ideal. That's what I want with every story that categorizes itself as a romance. 

I'm a strong believer that the things two people who become lovers go through together right from the start to the bitter end need to develop unbreakable affection and commonality, one step after the other, leading to an iron bond. I call them links in the chain of romantic relationships. Especially in a romance story, you can't rush ahead, skipping links, without leaving the reader behind, wondering what's going on and just not feeling anything between the two people you want to bring together romantically. 

Unless she's extremely talented, most romance writers can't hurtle from a couple's first meeting or meeting again (where they may already seem to be falling in love instead of simply being attracted to each other) to the middle of what's generally considered a romance (in which expectations are already in place and both want and need each other--too much, too soon). This forces a romance to never feel quite well setup enough to come off as justified, warranted, believable, and realistic. It also assumes the supernatural is in control, which is sappy and silly. Build each link in the chain steadily, providing the proper setup for every development. Readers won't accept anything forced or unprecedented. 

Mystical developments in a fictional relationship are nothing more than cheating. Basically, nothing has been set up in advance to produce a compelling reason for the characters to feel the way they suddenly (i.e., one minute it doesn't exist, the next it's there and in spades) do about each other, but they'll go from barely knowing each other to feeling strong affection or love in the course of two back-to-back scenes. Maybe some people believe that something magical happens when two people who are destined to fall in love and spend the rest of their lives together meet (those are the kinds of romance novels that make me and those with strong aversions to the genre as a whole want to puke!) but in fiction and I believe in real life, something has to warrant development in a relationship (any relationship--romance or otherwise and if you take the sexual component out of it, the chain of romantic relationship development links can be used for any relationship in your story) to make it authentic and believable. Usually, this amounts to a steady progression of things that help the two people to get to know each other better and actually develop strong feelings for each other. Again, links in the chain. Without steady development of one link after the other, the reader might never be brought to the place where she feels ready for anything overt that happens between a couple, or she'll feel frustrated and even disgusted, maybe even actively hoping they'll break up.

In a romance novel, romantic/sexual tension is essential, although novels in other genres may also develop the same tension between romantic interests. It’s like cake and frosting. Take away one, and what’s the point? This kind of tension refers to anything that brings the romance to the fever pitch of anticipation for the reader. It’s also been described as an exaggerated awareness between the hero and the heroine. You want to start this tension as early in the story as you possibly can. If you don’t start the suspense promptly and keep it intense, the reader will be disappointed--or worse, embarrassed--during moments she should be temporarily relieved or exalted. Just as with plot tension, a romance novel without romantic/sexual tension leaves the reader uninvolved and unemotional toward the focal relationship happening.

A romance story has to have a specific chain of development that can't be rushed, and it doesn’t matter in the least what genre of romance it is. The steady progression of sexual tension, emotional culmination, and physical demonstration is required to bring the couple to the place where they've believably fall in love and can justify declarations of monogamous love, sex, along with a commitment of forever. Even in a Christian or "clean" romance, sexual tension and physical romantic development are required and vital to making the romance genuine and believable. In the sweet romances, how strong or sensual the tension and romantic developments are may be somewhat muted with any heavy intimacy taking place off-screen.

What your characters are experiencing is what your reader should experience. But if the characters are chagrined or want to escape, that's what your reader will want to do, too. The point of writing a romance is to make the reader fall in love (an emotional and physical reaction) with your characters one scene to the next, escalating into the payoff you've promised, and experiencing bliss and joy at the culmination. Readers may even shed tears. I'll tell you this, if you've gotten a reader to weep, she'll never forget the story, the characters and their romance for as long as she lives, and she'll read that story over and over again in her lifetime. A romance author wants that scenario. Otherwise, what's the point of writing a romance story? No point. And that's why I believe writing romance is the hardest genre on the planet. Because, if you write a bad romance, it's not worth having told the story at all. It's failed on all levels instead of simply on one.

Only with the steady establishment and buildup of sexual tension and romance development--fully meshed with a logical resolution--will allow your reader be left satisfied and smiling upon closing the book.

Karen S. Wiesner is the author of CPR for Dead or Lifeless Fiction {A Writer's Guide to Deep and Multifaceted Development and Progression of Characters, Plot, and Relationships}

Volume 6 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection 

Happy writing! 

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series. Visit her here:

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