I’m a sucker for a good romance in my reading and writing. Unfortunately, I’m also a bit picky about exactly what constitutes “good.” So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, here are the top five things I like to see if my fictional relationships!
- Respect. I know, it seems obvious, but especially in YA (which is most of what I like to read and write) there’s been a rash of love interests that treat the protagonist in… less than respectful terms, often being rude, overbearing, or even blatantly abusive. I very much prefer my romances with a heavy helping of respect for the other’s wishes, their dreams, their autonomy, even if they don’t always get along. Heck, even if it’s grudgingly given. Especially when the author is using–
- A slow build. Maybe it’s my own life experience bleeding in, or maybe it’s that a long line of insta-love stories have left a bad taste in my mouth, but I like my romances to start lukewarm and grow to be something more through the course of the story. Maybe they start off as friends, co-workers, strangers, rivals, but in any case, if the romance is an important part of the story, I want it to feel like a journey, like they’re growing and changing. Especially if the protagonist is young.
- Distinct personalities. I don’t like my romantic pairings to read like they’re the same person, just split in two. I don’t particularly enjoy it when characters are treated like a unit, as if being married or engaged or even just having casual sex means that they’ve lost their right to be their own person. I’ve seen it happen entirely too many times that an otherwise interesting character becomes completely bland as soon as they enter a relationship. Or that a character’s sole defining feature is who they go to bed with. That’s why a lot of my favorite stories are the ones that feature characters who retain their quirks and their own separate ideals and goals even after landing the man or woman of their dreams. This goes hand in hand with–
- Disagreements. Yes, even big ones. It lends a sense of realism to their relationship. No matter how strong the pairing, people fight. It happens. It’s part of being alive and part of being in love. It provides tension and makes the story more interesting to follow, especially if it’s not just the romantic interests but the entire cast. No two characters should ever be in complete agreement 100% of the time. It’s seeing the characters work through the bad times that makes me believe in the good, makes me feel like they’ve earned it.
- CONSENT. Nothing ruins a book faster for me than consent being overridden or ignored. I don’t care if it’s supposed to be edgy or even if the writer thinks it’s sweet. There’s nothing romantic to me about sneaking a kiss while your love interest is asleep unless they’re already in a committed, consensual relationship.I enjoy it when characters talk about their boundaries; I enjoy it when those boundaries are tested but not crossed. Not just in the bedroom, but also when it comes to other physical or social boundaries. If character A had a rough childhood and doesn’t want to talk about it, it’s creepy for me if B goes and rifles through their things, looking for old diaries. This goes back to the point about respect. If there is none, to me it’s not a romance.
I suppose most of these points would actually fit for almost any relationship, not just the romantic ones. But the added dimensions that they bring to a fictional romance make it feel more alive to me. In the end, anything that brings that sort of warmth and realism to the page is a win for me!
Be sure to also check out my sister-blog, written by Rachel Serbicki!