How to Turn your Love Interest into a Living Character
The love interest is an integral part of contemporary plot structure. But too often that character is little more than a pretty face designed to be the main character’s dream girl. Today’s love interest needs to be more than just a skirt waiting to be rescued. Make sure your love interest is a person who matters.
Steps to Creating a Meaningful Love Interest
Your love interest must be a fully realized character
If you haven’t already, make a character sheet for your love interest. For now, skip over the physical description and think about him as a person. What does he want? Yes, your love interest needs to have his own wants. He is just more than arm candy. He needs to have his own life. How does he fit into the narrative? Is he a protagonist force, or an antagonistic force?
In The Lego Batman Movie, Barbara Gordon’s role was antagonistic. She represented the rule of law, whereas Batman assumed a vigilante role. She worked with her team, Batman was a loner. She also had no interest in Batman romantically, whereas Batman became obsessed with her. If you removed the romantic aspect, Barbara still had a role to play in the plot. This is what makes her a fully formed character.
Your love interest shouldn’t be perfect
No matter what you see in Hollywood, your love interest should not just be a piece of tail in leather pants. Give him a real personality that includes a flaw. Real people have flaws. If your love interest is too perfect, the relationship will feel contrived. Readers will sense that this is a person created as a cuddle doll for your main character. Rather than feeling like a real person, your love interest will be nothing more than a personal fantasy. Your love interest needs to be more than just “hot.” If your character only ever describes him by his physical characteristics, then she isn’t really falling in love.
If your love interest is male, watch out for the “alpha-hole” problem. This is more prevalent in romance novels where the male character is basically a self-centered jerk, but for some reason, the behavior is excusable because he’s really good in bed. If your main character really is interested in this type of guy, then you need to address whatever character flaw attracts her to him and make that part of her inner journey.
Your love interest should affect the plot
This does not mean just getting kidnapped. The modern love interest needs to be more than the girl your hero rescues. Make sure you have your main character and the love interest interacting outside the romantic subplot. Give your love interest a function from the secondary character list: antagonist, side-kick, complicating factor, or teacher. Think through how this role will affect the budding romance. This will ensure the romantic subplot doesn’t feel like an afterthought.
Your romantic subplot should be fully formed
Make a quick synopsis of their romance. This will prevent you from falling into the “instant love’ trap. Instant love happens when two characters don’t have enough time to develop a relationship before falling in love. Consider your own relationships. How many interactions did you typically have with a person before a first date? How many dates did you go on before you made a commitment? If your character becomes obsessed on the first date, this could be a symptom of a serious psychological problem. While this might add an interesting dynamic to your character, make sure this is a direction you really want to go. If you want your characters to make a real love connection, you will need to make sure your romantic subplot is fully formed.
Beats for a romantic subplot
While a romance novel will have more plot points, for a romantic subplot your should have at least four: the meeting, the turning point, the crisis, the resolution. These can happen during other scenes, but you should be able to identify them in your story.
The meeting is nothing more than the moment your characters first meet. If your characters already know each other, this will be the first moment your main character begins to think about him in a romantic capacity.
The turning point is the moment the love interest becomes aware of the main character’s interest. This will change the dynamic between the two characters. Either the love interest will be receptive to the attention, or she will reject it. Whichever you choose, this will establish the nature of the relationship until the next plot point
The dark moment is the event that challenges the status quo. If the relationship is amicable, then this will be the major conflict coming to fruition. In romance novels, this conflict is usually based on a character’s flaw or fear. If the relationship is antagonistic, this will be the moment that changes something for the love interest. She will begin to see the hero in another light.
The final point is the resolution. Here, whatever problem arose in the dark moment will be overcome. This does not necessarily mean that the couple will live happily ever after. It means the conflict between the parties has ended. The guy doesn’t always have to get the girl. Having the couple split but being better for the experience is also acceptable. Likewise, the “love interest” doesn’t even need to be a romantic role. This function could also be served by two sworn enemies learning to trust one another. A Romulan and a Klingon overcoming personal prejudices could function as a love interest. The purpose of the love interest subplot is to show personal growth in the main character.
Getting Down and Dirty
Unless you are writing for a specific romance line (Harlequin Blaze, etc.) then the level of on-page sex you wish to include in your story is up to you. There is nothing that says you must have a sex scene in your story. If you wish to include one, the level of description is a personal choice. Some writers favor innuendo while others include every graphic detail. There is no wrong answer. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of writing a sexual encounter, end the scene by implying the next step and leave the details to the reader’s imagination. Then, pick up the story the next morning. If you wish to include a sex scene, go for it.
Not every story needs a love interest, but if you have one, make sure you take the time to make yours a living, breathing person.
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