As per my longstanding, one-year February tradition dictates, I’ll be spending this month doling out articles about love. Or more accurately, writing romance.
What better way to kick off this series of articles than with our stone-cold smoldering love interest? We’re talking, leaving our hearts in a melty puddle of milk chocolate. We’re talking, sending shivers of desire up our spines. We’re talking, claiming them as our fictional spouses.
Just like any character, there are many ways to write and present a love interest.
Must I make them attractive?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Sure, describing your character with an angelic face and lustful body might crank up the heat in your novel, but it won’t be what going to drill right into the chest of your reader and thrum on their heartstrings.
I’m not going to tell you whether you should make your love interest a total hottie. What I will tell you is that looks are only skin deep. Your readers will take whatever lines of description you feed them and form their own image regardless. I will repeat myself on this point, but how they look is not the most important factor in the game.
Show why the character falls for them
Don’t just give the reader a bland description of their hormones, slap in some I love you’s and call it a happily ever after. If you want your readers to love your love interest, your protagonist has to love them too. This doesn’t mean simply stating that they do, but by showing why they do.
Despite what they say about love at first sight, characters cannot believably fall madly, truly, deeply in a single moment. You need to show the give and take.
Write a romantic partner you’d swoon over
Similar to the adage “write what you know,” don’t be afraid to write what you desire, especially if you want your readers to feel that desire radiate off the page.
With the exception of creating the character’s physical description, this is not necessarily indicative of gender or even race. There are several personality traits, internal and external factors, that can add to a character’s “swoonability”.
There will always be differences in a reader’s personal taste and values within romantic relationships, but if you write according to what you cherish, the chances are you aren’t the only person in the world who does.
Actions speak louder than words
Okay, since we are talking about writing and everything is in words, I suppose I should say actions speak louder than physical descriptions. While having a total 10/10 smoke show will add to the desirability of the characters, a gorgeous love interest with no other substance won’t make your reader’s heart skip a few beats.
What is important is how they act and what they do.
Give them dimension and flaws
We obviously want to avoid love interests feeling like prizes to be won. The best way to do that is by giving them dimension. Give them goals and motivations. Give them a backstory. Give them their own needs and desires. Essentially, flush them out to the point where they could be the protagonist of their own story if it was written from a different point of view.
Don’t forget to give them flaws!
Humans have flaws. If you concoct a love interest of myth that never makes a mistake or has no weaknesses, your readers will have a hard time swooning over unattainable levels of perfection. No one in the real world is perfect. You want your love interest to feel like a real person.
Half the battle of a swoon is getting your reader to connect to the love interest as they would a real-life romantic partner.
They must satisfy the need of the protagonist (and vice versa)
Partners have undeniable chemistry because they both have what the other is looking for (whether they realize it or not). When creating your protagonist, you’re going to create their goals, wants, needs, and flaws. Your love interest should have all of the above, but do it in a way that compliments the protagonist.
If your protagonist second guesses themselves and their talents, have the love interest seek out the protagonist because of their specific skill set. If the protagonist is big-headed and steamrolls her peers, having a love interest who is sarcastic and doesn’t back down could be a very nice compliment. If your protagonist has suffered a loss, the love interest could help to provide exactly what they need to gain closure.
Love is not a one-way street. Since the reader will experience the love interest through the eyes of your protagonist, it’s important to emphasize how the love interest fills voids and needs in their lives. It is also important to show what the protagonist gives to the love interest. They should also fill certain needs and help heal character flaws.
Write a love interest using these three easy steps
1. Introduce the character in a way that sets them apart and draws the reader’s attention to them.
A first impression can make a difference. Make them active with their own sense of agency and motivation. Also showcase characteristics of this character that will either lure in your protagonist, push them away, or perhaps even a little of both.
2. Time to layer on the depth to your character. Expand on a goal, showcase a vulnerability, highlight contradictions within their character.
I call out contradictions because that is a great way to emphasize depth to a character. If you introduce them in a certain way, you can show them in an opposite way later on. The tough emotionless recluse could be seen adopting a kitten and thus already melting the hearts of your reader. A timid character could be shown speaking out about an injustice.
3. Emphasize their flaws!!
You have already intrigued and seduced your reader with this great love interest. Now you need to show them absolutely messing up (cause we are human and this is inevitable) but when they redeem themselves for their mistake, they will have wormed their way into the reader’s hearts and will most likely stay there.