In my earlier post, I mentioned how I’ve been thinking about the elements of an effective romance, and how those elements come together to build a compelling, addictive story. So in this post, I want to talk about longing. I’d define this concept as the drama that happens when a character loves someone they can’t have or shouldn’t want. In order to build relatable, believable longing between characters, an author has to answer a few key questions.
What’s the attraction?
What’s the problem?
What’s the effect?
Each of these questions is an entire blog post in and of themselves, and later on I will break them down into more detail. But for now, let’s just take them one at a time – and use some Disney favorites for reference.
What’s the Attraction?
The first question is our set up. We’re asking what it is about Character A that Character B loves. It requires us to figure out where the longing COMES FROM. Your readers have to know this, and sometimes it’s an easy thing for an author to underdevelop. Factors that affect attraction include things like physical appearance, striking personality traits, admirable skills, shared history, and most importantly, the ways in which Character A fills a need, complements a strength, or offsets a weakness of Character B.
What’s the Problem?
Ah, this one is a big part not just of romance but often the plot itself. Here, we are asking why the characters’ longing is unresolved. This is the conflict question, and it often drives plot as well as jacking up the romantic tension. Here is where we find out why the characters’ longing PERSISTS AND GROWS. The conflict could be internal or external in nature. Some of the most common include: differences in socio-economic class, familial or societal pressures, personal fears or secrets, unrequited attraction, distance, occupations that disallow a romantic partner, etc. Some of the best stories interweave multiple threads of conflict to create something complex and interesting.
What’s the Effect?
Another way of asking this might be, what makes the longing heartwrenching? What makes it a good story? What makes it sexy? There are a lot of manifestations to play with, but this is the part where we find out what the longing DOES. The way a character internalizes their longing deepens our connection to them, allows us to relate to their feelings and begin rooting for them to find happiness. Longing also drives some of the most key plot developments, such as scenes of jealousy, grief, sacrifice, romantic gestures, and of course, the requisite confession of feelings. And longing has a physical component as well, one that’s especially important when it comes to developing sexual tension and making those kissing and sex scenes pop off the page.
I have the feeling that this topic is going to turn into an entire blog series, because each of the questions above really deserves its own, separate post (or two.)
To be continued, then…