Friday, October 21, 2016

How to Make a Romance Perfectly Frustrating

Everyone loves a good romance, right?  Whether you're into something classic like Pride and Prejudice, something a bit more atypical and mysterious like Jane Eyre, or a romance set in the background of a larger story like The Hunger Games, I feel like every fiction-lover has a special place for romance in their book heart.

My book heart <3

While I do love a happy ending like Pride and Prejudice, the masterful thing about that book is that it makes you work for the ending.  How boring that book would be if it was just about Lizzie and Darcy meeting and immediately falling in love!

I mean, as much as I love Mr. Bingley and Jane, their romance would make a much more dull book than Lizzie and Darcy's did.

I personally love a frustrating romance, one that has you rooting for the pair but not quite able to attain the end satisfaction of seeing them together.

A prime example of this in The Hunger Games.  Everyone loves Peeta, right? (If you're a Gale supporter leave now--just kidding ;)

Image result for katniss and peeta gif

You root for Peeta because he's nice and you can tell he really loves Katniss.  For this reason, you desperately want his relationship with her to work out.

Katniss, on the other hand, is indecisive and preoccupied which gets in the way.  Some times you hate Katniss for not seeing clearly that Peeta is the one for her, but you never give up on the two because of Peeta's unwavering affection.

If Peeta were as wishy-washy as Katniss, chances are I would have given up on the both of them and not cared if they ever found happiness.  But since I love Peeta, I wanted him and Katniss to work out and it caused me a great deal of frustration through the three books.

Image result for katniss and peeta kiss gif

So tip number one is:

Make your readers root for the relationship

If your readers simply don't care if the characters are happy, then they won't be invested in their relationship.  

This was basically what happened to me in Divergent.  I didn't like the characters of Four and Tris, so I couldn't care less if they were together or happy.  This caused the entire romance plot-line to fall short and since that was such a big part of the story, I found that I didn't really like the series that much. 

 It was decent, but with a better romance, I feel that it could have been great.

Image result for four and tris

Set up realistic conflicts, both external and internal

If both your characters are likable but they are just not getting together for no apparent reason, it's going to frustrate your readers in a very real (and not good) way.  We're looking for frustration to lead to interest, not frustration to lead to despair and apathy.

You need actual, concrete reasons for your characters to not be getting together.

A good way to make sure you have a clear conflict is to make it external.  In The Hunger Games, Peeta and Katniss have a very real external force preventing them from initially being together, namely the fact that they are both pitted against each other in an only-one-person-can-be-victorious death match.  

Image result for happy hunger games

This puts a bit of a block in the way of their relationship, and while it's frustrating to the reader that it is in the way, it is understandable.

You don't have to have something that extreme though, as long as you have a strong internal conflict preventing the union, like in Pride and Prejudice.  

There was nothing physically keeping Lizzie and Darcy apart, but they both had, pride and prejudice....preventing them from getting together.  

Image result for lizzie and darcy gif

Leave your readers wanting more

You can do this to varying degrees, depending on how frustrated you want your readers to be.  I personally love to torture my readers by leaving my romances up to the imagination.

Pride and Prejudice has a fairly conclusive ending, with Lizzie and Mr. Darcy getting married, but it still leaves somethings open-ended to allow the readers to think for themselves.  What happens after they get married?  Are they happy forever?  

There is a whole TV show that takes place after the wedding called Death Comes to Pemberly.  If Jane Austen had just sealed the ending air-tight no one would have spent that extra time thinking about her characters and what happened to them.

Image result for death comes to pemberley

In my novel, (I don't want to give much away so I'm going to be extremely vague) I am hoping to drop hints along the way that the characters are going to get together, but it doesn't happen until the very end when one of the characters is erm...incapacitated...and they don't actually get the chance to be together.  

My hope is that readers will be satisfied that the two characters revealed their feelings at the end, but also I'm leaving things open by not allowing the characters to completely be happy.  This was a very horrible description of what I'm doing, but it basically summarizes my intention.

Image result for lizzie and darcy gif

The above gif represents one of the greatest scenes in Pride and Prejudice (2005).  Darcy and Lizzie fight and towards the end it seems like they are about to kiss, and Darcy leans in.  

Closer...closer...closer!  And then suddenly it breaks off and he leaves.

This is the ultimate crushing moment for and P&P fan.  They were so close!  It makes the watcher want more, for sure.

So how are you going to make the romance in your next novel dramatic, suspenseful, and just a wee bit frustrating?


  1. I'm taking part in NANOWRIMO again this year so I've been contemplating this. My main couple is already married and they have kids. For me the drama of their relationship comes from the fact that you can love someone very much and still not feel it all of the time. Some of the most successful relationships I see in real life involve people who've "fallen" in love with their partner more than once, and each time the intimacy grows and the experience of love becomes a lifelong adventure.

    The other "couple" are currently arch-enemies dead set on destroying each other's lives. I'm rooting for them, but I'm struggling with how to communicate that on page when all I have them actively doing is trying to destroy each other. I guess I'll have to try and work on the internal conflict a bit more :)

    BTW I LOVE Death Comes to Pemberly! I liked the book, but the mini-series was even better.

    1. I think that's a beautiful idea for a story. It sounds very grounded and realistic, not to mention unique. So many modern books focus too much on "destiny, it's the stars!" relationships that really don't seem like they are based on much more than a few glances. I think your idea sounds wonderful!

      Oh my, that's also a unique dynamic! It sounds like a case of very drastic internal conflict for sure.

      I must confess as it concerns Death Comes to Pemberly that I'm only familiar with the vaguest of outlines as I have never read the book nor seen the series... ;)