So, you’ve got two characters who are perfect for each other. You know it, but they don’t know it yet, do they? Congratulations! You’re about to write a romance.
As a genre, Romance kind of gets a bad rap. Oftentimes it’s seen as too silly, too lighthearted, maybe sometimes too freaky, but romance is one of the genres that most readily captures the human condition.
After all, isn’t our love for others what makes life worth living?
Love comes in many forms, but this is going to exclusively cover romantic love. I’ll take you from meet-cute all the way to the confession, so let’s get started!
For all those unfamiliar with this term, we’ll start with a definition. Oxford Languages defines the meet-cute as “an amusing or charming first encounter between two characters that leads to the development of a romantic relationship between them.” From the infamous ball of the Cinderella fairytale to Simon seeing Daphne punch a guy in the face from The Duke and I, there are hundreds upon hundreds of ways to do a meet-cute. The meet-cute should of course be memorable, but aside from memorability, I’ve found that there are two things that really make a meet-cute good: the character’s individuality and the feeling the meet-cute leaves the reader with.
When it comes to Romance, the time the characters spend apart is just as important as the time they spend together. Romance is made that much more compelling by the character’s individuality. Allow your reader to get to know your character’s separately first before they have their meet-cute. The scenes don’t have to be really long and in depth. Pick a situation that will show what kind of person each character is and then throw them into your memorable meet-cute situation with each other. For example, if you want to write the coveted enemies-to-lovers trope, each romantic lead can have a scene showing just how different from each other they are. Throw them into their meet-cute and they are going to hate each other at first, just where enemies to lovers should start. If you’re going for a more traditional romance, we still need to know the character’s goals. When watching Bridgerton we know that Simon doesn’t want to marry or have a family while Daphne very much does. This introduces the romantic conflict by the time we get to the meet-cute, building up a ton of tension for the reader.
The feeling the meet-cute leaves is going to depend on what kind of romance is being written. There are so many romance tropes that it’s hard to keep track sometimes. Some of my favorites are enemies-to-lovers, friends-to-lovers, fake dating, and star-crossed lovers. Lots of hyphens in these tropes guys. No matter if you’re following or subverting these tropes, these tropes are going to dictate the general emotions you want to leave a reader with after a meet-cute. If you’re writing any variation of enemies-to-lovers, your characters are going to hate each other at the beginning, and there should be some underlying sparks of attraction as well. If fake dating is happening, the characters should be really really good at pretending to date, leaving your reader wanting them to actually date. If you’re doing something with friends-to-lovers your meet-cute isn’t exactly going to be a meeting. Your characters will instead suddenly develop some inkling of romantic attraction for the other. A good meet-cute should leave a reader wanting more out of the book and the relationship.
We’ve all heard the cliche advice “show don’t tell.” In Romance, this advice takes on a whole new meaning. Your romantic leads WANT to show, not tell, because telling is scary. I mean, haven’t we all hoped that we’ve finally dropped enough hints to our crush that they’ll just ask us out? This brings us to the topic of building tension.
I’ll elaborate further, but the basic gist is that the hints your characters drop to each other are going to get less and less subtle as the story goes on. At the start of the story a display of their romantic attraction to each other could be as simple as a long look or remembering their favorite color. As the story progresses they are going to be drawing ever closer to the happy ending you’ve selected for them and so are their actions. Things like being moments away from kissing each other or confessing their love come to mind. All of these actions are markers of how the relationship is developing, prompting your reader to want them to get together already– dang it!
A lot of this tension building will come down to a healthy mix of time together and time apart. If they are always together there will be no time for yearning (which is a prerequisite in the Romance genre). If they are always apart, the relationship will have no space to grow and evolve as the characters themselves grow and evolve. One of the difficulties in the Romance genre is the character work. Both characters will most likely be dynamic rather than static characters. This relationship will change their goals and personality a little bit as they become each other’s puzzle piece.
The last piece of tension building in a romance is the all important question: what is keeping them apart? As romance writers we always have to be asking ourselves, but what? What’s the problem? Why can’t they be together yet? And, if we’ve done our jobs well, our readers will be asking, “Why can’t these two just kiss already?”
Maybe one of them loves the other… but what?
They both like each other… but what?
They’ve confessed their feelings… but what?
Maybe they were already together at the beginning of the story… but what is the problem?
The only time we don’t have to ask this question is at the resolution, which brings me to…
This is THE moment that everyone has been waiting for, the super dramatic love confession in the rain. The confession doesn’t have to be the actual confession of love. For plot purposes, this moment is the moment where the romantic leads finally come clean to each other about their feelings, desires, everything. It is, for all intents and purposes, the last plot point in a romance story, the moment when the conflict is resolved.
The confession is a carefully balanced moment. If it happens too soon, the whole romance can feel underwhelming, wait too long and a reader will start to lose interest. I personally, made the mistake of having the first kiss happen way too soon in my first draft of Ella and The Prince of Rosailles. The rest of the story fell flat. The problem was that their first kiss was the moment where the all romantic conflict between the leads ended, but there were still miles of external conflict to get through. After a few people read through it, I realized that these two moments needed to be much much closer to each other.
For people like me, so excited for their characters to do all of the mushy stuff, my recommendation is this: once you think that they can probably get together, challenge yourself and have them wait just a little longer. For people who are exactly the opposite, and wait too long, challenge yourself to find a moment earlier in the story where they can relieve some of the romantic tension. Maybe the big confession is their first kiss. Is there a place earlier in the story where they can perhaps confess their feelings to one another? If you don’t know what kind of person you are, get a second opinion. That’s right, submit to the mortifying ordeal of someone you trust reading a romance that you wrote. I’m sorry it has to be this way, I don’t much like it either.
Once you have placement down, the confession needs to be written. I can’t offer much in the way of how the dialogue itself should be written, simply because every romantic pairing is different. Maybe you have a very sarcastic couple, maybe you have a very dramatic ‘I would die for you’ couple. However you write the dialogue, make sure it fits the characters you’ve created. You know them best after all. What I can speak to is the content of a confession. Before writing or editing a confession, refresh yourself on what your plot threads are. What is the romantic conflict? What are the external conflicts? Is there anything these characters need to apologize for or come clean about? Make a list, and then make sure that your confession scene resolves, or at least references each one of these. Even if your scene is simply two characters staring at each other and then kissing, you characters will have thoughts while they are staring and kissing.
The confession is the scene that finally brings the story’s conflict to an end. The only thing left is some short and sweet romantic bliss. Which, I’m not gonna lie, it’s one of my favorite parts (And one of the reasons so many Romances have epilogues).
Epilogue (Closing thoughts)
When it comes to Romance, every couple and every story is different. They all pass through the same building blocks that we discussed above. But every couple will pass through these differently. Some meet-cutes might not even be meetings and tension building will look drastically different from couple to couple. You can write a Romance pretty much any conceivable way that you want to. I hope these building blocks will help start you on your way to your own unique and wonderful Romance!
Meet Maile Starr
Maile Starr is a Romance and New Adult author working towards her dream of becoming a self-published author. Her current works in progress are Ella and The Prince of Rosailles, a dual-perspective Cinderella retelling Romance, and The Marbhaven Reaper, an adventure into the world of Reapers in the New Adult genre! She believes that storytelling is the best way to teach and the best way to learn. In her free time you can find her singing incessantly, pining after Disneyland, or being an absolute nerd with her fiance.
“Meet-cute.” Oxford Languages, 2022.
Perrault, Charles. “Cinderella”
Quinn, Julia. The Duke and I. Avon Books, 2015.
Van Dusen, Chris, creator. Bridgerton. Shondaland, 2020.