The Art of Mirriam Neal

with love

kissI’ve been writing a LOT recently. I’ve been avoiding social media for this very purpose; and as I’ve been writing, I’ve been thinking. (Yes, I can multitask.) I love having couples in my novels. I love exploring romantic relationships and the ways different people make them tick. And it bothers me in so many books – particularly the young adult genre – how love either consists of A) constant fights and arguments or B) constant making out. Now, I’m not hating on fights or kissing – they’re bound to happen if you’re in a romantic relationship, and they’re great. We wouldn’t have Pride & Prejudice without the constant verbal sparring, and love lives would be pretty dull without some mouth-to-mouth.

What bothers me is that there are so many other ways to explore romantic relationships, and so many of them are left unused. Jumping at the last minute to save someone’s life? Yes! That’s awesome. Passionately declaring you love someone? Also awesome, in the right place. But what about the rest of it? What about the quieter moments, the subtle moments? How do you write a romantic relationship without leaving the important stuff by the wayside?

I’ve been exploring this (it’s one of my favorite things, I’ll be honest. I love love. I do.) and I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned, since I’m definitely not the only person I know who writes romances into her novels. Let’s face it; we’re all hopeless romantics. We love to watch as two unlikely people fall for each other, or as two likely people continue on, oblivious to the fact they’re perfect for each other.

Figuring out how each different relationship works out on the page is a different matter. Here are some of the ways I deal with it.

– If they’re going to fight, there has to be a reason for it, because guess what? Some people really do hate each other. Some people really do fight out of something other than sexual tension. If two people are going to have an argument, make it meaningful. Make them pour out their true feelings, hint that they’re upset at something other than the present subject. People don’t argue in a straight line. When people get angry, they begin to pull in things that happened months ago. They pull in personal feelings. They accuse and say things like ‘always’ and ‘never’ and other things they don’t mean. If two characters just argue for the sake of arguing, it gets old.

– I’ve seen so many movies where one person changes for the better, but there’s no good reason for it. Take Thor, for example. It’s a fun movie, and Thor really grows up and changes – but why? Jane’s influence? He hasn’t known her long enough, and she isn’t that influential. He changes, but without any real motive. Have motives. If you want someone to influence someone else, to effect a change in them, that’s great – but show it happening. You can’t have someone go to bed harsh and wake up soft and kind the next morning.

– Have the characters go through something difficult together. You can bond more with someone over one difficult, active day than most people bond over a year of casual acquaintance. Have their mettle tested, have them watch.

– While it’s frequently true that ‘opposites attract’ and ‘similar personalities make the best friends,’ you should balance it. You can have two characters that are opposites, but give them something in common; be it a goal or a personality trait. Oil and water won’t mix unless you give it a reason to.

– Try to avoid falling into the same patterns. I personally have a habit of writing relationships that go something like this – spunky girl meets and dislikes some troubled guy, they change each other for the better, happily ever after (maybe). And every writer will have their ‘favorite formula,’ and that’s fine – but change it up a little. Different personalities create different relationships, no matter your romantic recipe. I use the ‘Spunky Girl Troubled Guy’ formula in Natural Disasters and Dark is the Night, but December/Jasper and Easton/Angel are not identical relationships. Shake things up and do your best to be unpredictable. Do they look like they’re going to kiss? Well, what if she slapped him instead? Do they look like they’re going to fight? Well, what if he kissed her on the forehead instead? Thing outside the box and give your relationship more dimension.

There are a lot of nuances that go into writing a romantic relationship – and, I imagine, being involved in one. No relationship is perfectly easy, but no relationship will stand if it’s ridiculously unbearable, either. No matter how high the fantasy of your novel, remember that a relationship is a real thing, no matter the genre. Don’t box it up.

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