Wright’s Writing Corner: Romantic Tension…kind of


The next tip from my list of Writing Tips  is:

Romantic Tension: To make a character seem attractive to another character (at least to women) list a character trait of character A and an emotional reaction to this trait from character B).  (example: she had an air of mystery that intrigued him. Or, her shy retiring manner made him wish he could protect her.)


Okay, folks, we are on shaky ground here.


The truth is I know almost nothing about writing Romantic Tension. This tip I wrote for myself above was my first insight into the topic.


I love romance. When I was young, I would devour whole books just because there was a hint, a whisper, of romance promised in the pages. From those few whispers, I would weave elaborate fantasies. Back then, I would have ‘shipped with the best of them. But, alas, there was no Internet, no way to ever meet anyone else who read the books I read. So, I was left merely thinking about these things on my own.


I love romance novels, too. I used to love all romance novels. Nowadays, I only read one or two favorite authors. But for those authors, I buy everything they put out. There are no fantasy or science fictions authors left alive who I can say that about.


The only kind of romances I have not been able to get myself to read are the paranormal romances. I do not know why. You would think they would be exactly to my taste…fantasy and romance together. But I nearly always find the fantasy part so undefined and ill-thought out that it ruins my enjoyment of the book.


(I have yet to see a paranormal romance that you could run a roleplaying game from without your characters instantly unbalancing the world. Player characters always immediately abuse any possibly loopholes. This does not mean that there are not paranormal romances out there with well thought out magic systems…just that I have not yet seen one.)


But when I set out to write a novel, I picked, for no particular reason, a young woman who worked for a unicorn, and therefore, had to remain a virgin. This severely curtailed her romantic possibilities.


There is a romance in the Prospero’s Daughter series, but it is not the main emphasis of the story, it is kind of a side plot. Or, rather, it is part of the “Miranda wants to be a Sibyl” plot, but not the main emphasis of the story. So, while I did get to play around with romantic tension a little, I was not really put to the test.


So…even though I have read many romances and I have enchanted and dazzled players with romance plotlines in roleplaying games for years (melodrama seems to be my specialty as a game moderator) I am really not quite certain how to write romantic tension.


So, rather than advice, this particular post is just going to contain some observations.


In reading Romances, here is what I have noticed.

The more masculine a hero acts, the more sexy he seems. But what does “masculine” mean in this context? I have carefully studied this and discovered that it means: difficult.


Arrogance. Obnoxiousness. Contrariness. Pig-headedness. The more bull-headed the guy, the more devoted to what he wants to do/thinks is right, the less concerned about the dictates of society, the more interesting and attractive he is.


The more uninterested in what others want, the more he moves like a lazy panther, the more he sneers, and mocks, the more sardonic and satanic, the more he does everything you really would not want a guy you knew to do (except for maybe the lazy panther part) the more he stands out on the page.


You could fill a book just with the names of romantic heroes who are called “devil” or “satanic”. Nearly all the best ones are.

And, if you do this part right, the author hardly has to say how the hero affects the heroine, because it is the reader who is really being seduced.


Want an example? How about Rhett Butler? He is the ultimate romantic hero. (Gone With The Wind is to the romance genre as The Lord of the Rings is to the fantasy genre.) He is surly, arrogant, bold, uncaring, brave as sin, carefree – everything that everyone in the society around him is not. And that is what makes him stand out on the page, what makes him so desirable. Every action of his screams “hard to tame” and the harder the fellow is to tame, the more intriguing it is to see it happen.


Readers cannot help yearning for Scarlet to wake up and realize that he is the one.

What is the difference between Rhett Butler, who practically could walk off the page, and the average romance novel, where the hero is unusually forgotten as soon as the book is over?

Rhett stays difficult.

Even when he is in love, even when he is married, he is still his own man: difficult, opinionated, arrogant.


In romance novels, the authors do a good job of showing us a devilish rake at the beginning, but it never lasts. As soon as the heroine gets to know him, he is almost always the same good-natured, child-loving, do-gooder as every other romantic hero. He becomes the perfect family man and loses all his individuality.


I think that is why Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh is my favorite romance novel. The Duke of Bewcastle never changes. He remains his irascible self. 


 Because what really causes romantic tension is a promise…that promise that drew me along when I was 12…the promise of reaching through all the shields and prickles to touch the softness beating like a bird within. The harder this is, the more we wish to see it happen. The harder it actually is, the more rewarding the story.


Okay…that is all I have so far. What about you guys? What makes romantic tension work for you?