Writing a slow-burn romance...
The other day, I was speaking to a friend of mine about the art of writing romance. She told me:
I love a slow-burn. Almost all of my books involve a slow-burn, with only a few exceptions. Wanting to read a believable slow-burn romance is literally the reason I published my first novel—a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I wanted the audience to be able to see the characters falling in love, to know it before they did, to feel it. Thankfully, I seem to have succeeded, with so many readers praising the quality of the romance.
I started to think—how did I accomplish that? How do I craft slow-burn romance? How can this be replicated to help other writers?
First off, I think it’s important to note that you can have attraction and still make it a slow burn. Your characters can notice how their love interest’s eyes glow like amber, or savour the whiff of their skin as they pass by that makes their spines tingle with heat. You can have that from day one, if you like!
But pull back on the active romance—the physical actions, the desirable thoughts, the realisation of the attraction. Have them deny it, and know why they’re denying it. Have they been hurt in the past? Is the romance forbidden? A bad idea due to their roles in life? Are they scared of ruining a friendship? Are they just new to romance and don’t know why they’re reacting this way?
I’m personally a big fan of denial due to fear of being hurt, but somewhere, deep down, they know there’s something there. It makes for some great chemistry!
So—how do you generate that chemistry once you’ve decided on the dynamic?
First off, lay off on the touching. No handshakes, hugs—nada. Have them literally dance around each other, physically skirting around each other’s bodies. Next, if they’re relative strangers, have them talk about frivolous things; anything you want. The colour of the sunset. Their favourite meal. A childhood memory. Let them be at ease with one another… and share a significant look. They notice something about the other person. The colour of their eyes. The glint of their hair. Their smile.
And then—go deeper. Before your couple touch, they should share a hope or a fear. Just a small one, to begin with. Something that tugs them together emotionally. Before they kiss, they need to have gone even deeper—a big fear, a dream they've never told anyone, a confession about their past. They need to be a different kind of honest with this person, a different kind of vulnerable. Whatever they're afraid of, they're afraid of it less, now. Show us that they're right for one another. What do they have in common? Why this person? Why not someone else?
You want to be begging them to kiss before they kiss because they already seem so closely connected in their minds, that their bodies need to follow through in some way.
If you’ve read my book The Rose and the Thorn, you’ll know the entire plot relies on them not being honest with each other, but if they were honest earlier, it would not have worked, because Rose needed to come to terms with her own fears about love first, and Thorn had to realise he wanted her to be happy more than himself. They both had to do a lot of growing before they could come together effectively.
So what do your characters need to do or realise before they can be together and make it work? How will they get there? How do they need to grow?
I’m also a big fan of really holding back the ‘I love you’ until a really pivotal, dramatic moment. Save those words! They can say anything but that, they can allude to it heavily, but put off the confession for as long as possible. Make a list of ways to say “I love you” without saying it directly—either through actions (the classic blanket over the shoulders, for example) or through words that have so much sentiment but stop short of the actual words, e.g. Rose’s, “Your soul is shaped like mine.”
So, in summary:
No immediate touching!
What holds them back?
What do they notice about the other person first?
What’s the first ‘easy’ conversation that they have?
Where is the first touch—how does it happen?
What’s the ‘deeper’ conversation that they have?
What do they have in common?
Why this person? Why not someone else?
How do they say I love you without saying it?
That’s it. Those are all the tips I have. Hopefully, this has given you some ideas about how to craft some terrific slow-burn romance. Let me know how it goes, or if you think there’s something I’ve missed!