3 Simple Tips to Writing Believable Couples
Updated: Feb 3, 2022
Have you ever been reading a book and just not fully bought into the romance and wondered why?
The characters seem great, the plot is fast, you’re laughing out loud at some of the jokes… and then suddenly two characters announce they’re in love and you’re like… when did that happen?
Sure, you saw them flirt. There were some glances, a bit of hand holding… but all that’s just attraction. Love is deeper than that.
Even when I was a teen with no real romantic experience I remember reading books and knowing, knowing that something was missing---that some couples made me so invested and others missed the mark.
I lacked the understanding to analyse or explain it back then, but now I’m 32 with almost a decade of teaching English under my belt, a degree in creative writing, four years of working in a bookshop and 14 romance novels out. I think I’ve finally, finally cracked it.
If you want to have real, heart-stopping, oh-dear-god-they’re-going-to-kill-me-if-they-don’t-kiss-RIGHT-NOW, super believable romance, follow these tips…
1. How does the other character make them feel?
Is he super lonely and she’s the first thing that makes him feel like family? Does she have a temper and he mellows her out? Does he support her unconditionally? Do they push each other to be better? Do their flaws compliment each other?
Don’t be tempted to just say they’re attracted to one another. If you want believable romance, make it more than physical.
2. What do they connect over?
Sure, opposites attract, but I dare you to find any couple that have nothing in common. They might have completely opposing interests but bond over a mutual ideal, a beloved friend, a shared goal. There’s a moment when they come together and you just go ‘oooh’. Think of your favourite love/hate couples. What moment did you actually see them coming together?
3. Why should we root for them?
Are they nice people? Are they morally grey but somehow better together? Do they have to be apart for a “good reason”? Are they overcoming some obstacle by being together, or are their lives so awful you just want them to have this moment of goodness?
Weaker couples tend to have a narrative that suggests “you just should.” There’s no real reason other than the author tells you to.
Let’s apply the questions to a classic couple: Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet
Mr Darcy feels challenged by Elizabeth. He’s not used to women who aren’t swooning for him, so he’s deeply intrigued. He respects her enough that even when she rejects him, he listens to her criticism and decides to become a better person. He accepts he needs to change, “what did you say of me that I did not deserve?” Elizabeth, once she gets over her initial prejudice, learns that he is actually kind, generous, and protective of those he loves. She’s not used to men respecting her, or appreciating her intelligence.
This is tougher, but I think they connect over a similar perception of society and a mutual intelligence. Neither of them likes pretending to be something they are not and both are very sure of their opinions. Both don’t care for idle talk and silliness, and both care a great deal for their loved ones.
We should root for them because they’re an excellent match and challenge each other to be better versions of themselves. They’re also likeable, and make each other happy.
What do you think? Do these three rules work for your favourite fictional couples? Can you apply it to your own?
Let me know in the comments!