Lucky in Love - 13 Tips for Writing a Love Story

So you want to write a love story? Welcome to the world of romance: sharpen your pencil, recharge your laptop, but above all plug in your brain, because writing in this genre is much deeper and full of complexity than you might think. The old formula of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl will need a bit of a makeover. For the sake of this blog, I am going to stick with boy and girl, but please read that as any mix of gender and make up you like.

Think about your characters

What do they want? And most particularly, what do they want before the story starts, and before they meet each other? What makes a love story a great story to read is the same thing that makes any narrative a story: A character forms a goal and sets out to achieve that goal, but on the way encounters obstacles which, of course, the character must find solutions to (HINT: the greater the obstacles, the greater the page-turning power the narrative has). In a love story, the character may not at first know they are looking for love. So you may need a substitute goal to carry the story forwards while your protagonists discover their true motivation.

During the course of the story, look at fear, pain, disappointment, betrayal and jealousy. Love isn't simple.

Your reader must fall in love with your characters too

If your reader does this, then they will understand immediately the attraction that the two lovers hold for each other. And they will get a double thrill when they get together! Sounds simple, but…erm…Sarah, how do you get a reader to fall in love with a character? (HINT: create reader empathy by making the characters truly heroic and admirable – then chuck in a bit of charisma.)

Try to explore the full range of human emotions

During the course of the story, look at fear, pain, disappointment, betrayal and jealousy. Love isn't simple – so ramp up the full range of emotions.

Keep love powerful

When in love, people are moved to achieve huge things. The obstacles confronting the lovers should be massive, and the power of love even greater than that (HINT: lovers will go to almost any lengths to overcome problems). Don’t forget LOVE CHANGES EVERYTHING. Two people in love are like wildfire. If an inferno isn’t lit between the covers of your novel, the story will be limp too! Both of the lovers should be melted in the crucible of their love, and so become different by the end of the story.

Plan your lovers’ trysting well

How do they meet? By chance? By design? By some cosmic force that pulls them together? (HINT: chuck in a bit of cosmic forces and divine destiny – it goes down well.) Set up their meeting in the story properly, so it is epic!

Start in the middle of the action

Action in a love story starts when the fires of passion are lit, and not before, and definitely not after the two lovers get together! So get going straight away with the longing and the wanting; glimpse, meet or hear about the lover (to be) within the first scene. What’s addictive about a love story is the lead-up to it. The building tension, the reader wondering if it will happen, longing for it … anticipating it … Have the reader asking: when will they meet? How will they feel? What will it be like when they confess their love to each other? (Even if the two lovers haven’t realised they DO love each other and are acting up a bit – the reader always know best.)  That’s the exciting part of the narrative.  

Love at first sight or not?

Cover of Here Be Dragons by Sarah Mussi

How do they first react to each other? Warmly? With hostility? Why? Think all this through, before writing the scene if possible – if not, explore it as you write (HINT: there needs to be that electricity between them from the get go – but they may not accept it straight away).

What do they look like? 

Is this important? Looks are a huge part of falling in love; think about how much you want to include in the story (HINT: a lot of sighing over sculpted profiles and taught muscles is fine, but be careful not to overdo it, plus the gazing deeply into each others’ eyes thing – you know – can get a bit cheesy).

Create a setting or dilemma that poses obstacles to your lovers, but brings them together

Use a setting that can trap or isolate your two lovers together. Weather is always a good one for this – caught in a snowstorm, taking shelter from the rain in an empty building, but also any other kind of danger from the outside which isolates the two of them for a sustained period of time. Then they can get to know each other.

Create internal conflict to parallel the external conflict

Your protagonist and romance character need to ask themselves: Do I love him/her? Does he/she love me? Is this the right decision/person for me? Can we live happily ever after? These inner conflicts can be used to help plot your story (HINT: never keep your lovers more than five pages apart. If a face-to-face meeting is not possible – they must at least be thinking of each other).

Explore your characters' feelings and motivations

We need to see why they are falling in love. Simple scenes can be used to create emotional impact. She likes the way he walks/defends a weaker person/is ready to put himself last. Maybe he likes her courage and good sense. Whichever way, your readers need to get to know them and approve of them and feel they will make a good couple (HINT: the reader needs proof of their good character and compatibility). Meanwhile, don’t forget, build up the tension, keep the anticipation of intimacy with crafted dialogue and telling changes in body language - until the reader wants to jump into the text and say ‘Look you two just get together and kiss each other, OK?’

After a spell thrown together, let 'reality' separate them

Maybe this can be achieved by introducing a villain. One of the obstacles that the lovers must overcome is separation. These days with Skype and texts and face-time and all forms of messaging, the idea of separation is a challenge. Think of ways to really separate the two of them, by time/distance/obstacles/feelings and keep them apart – let the chance of ever being together again begin to look more and more remote, despite their longings (HINT: lovers’ quarrels are tempting, but you run the risk of the reader siding with one party, so use wisely).

Keep the anticipation of intimacy until the reader wants to jump into the text and say ‘Look you two just get together and kiss each other, OK?’

Then create a powerful love scene where they meet under pressure from outside forces – a grand reunion

Romantic scenes can be full of passion, yet also full of doubt. Vulnerability and awkwardness are attractive: keep all that, but let them pull together. During the ALL POWERFUL declaration of love (a reveal scene) the world outside should be in turmoil. Maybe have a storm raging, a wildfire burning or a house under siege from some outside force. Tease this scene out – make it long – but not too long. Don’t forget Wilkie Collin’s famous advice, which is just as valid when it comes to the first kiss or first love reveal: ‘Make ‘em cry, make ‘em laugh, but ABOVE ALL make ‘em wait!'

Sarah Mussi's new book Here Be Dragons is out now!

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Sarah Mussi

Sarah Mussi's new book Here Be Dragons is a scorching teen love story set on icy Mount Snowdon.

Sarah is the multi award winning author of over eight books for children and young adults. As well as romance, Sarah specialises in gripping thrillers: her book Siege was shortlisted for the 2014 Carnegie Medal and won the BBUKYA prize for young adult fiction.