Introducing a new series: Writing Romance Effectively 

Who are your favourite fictional couples? Why do you love them so much? 

In some novels, watching the main characters go from hating to tolerating, working with to admiring, liking to loving, is a joy. As they slowly fall in love, we also fall in love with them and their relationship. A good romance feels like a reminder that the world is not totally bad, nor is it completely against us. In certain people, we can find allies and friends to last our whole lives. 

In other novels, it feels gross. 

Sometimes it’s the characters. Sometimes it’s the way the book’s been written. Sometimes the author seems to approve of behaviour that’s hurtful or toxic. And sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on it, but there’s something about it that feels unsatisfactory, or even downright wrong. 

The Romantic Spectrum - a horizontal line, with "toxic" written on the left and of it and "unrealistic" on the right. A love heart is in the middle of the line.

Why is it so hard to get romance right? 

I think of fictional romance as a spectrum, with “toxic” on one side and “unrealistic” on the other side. In the “toxic” side are the books and romantic arcs that glorify evil, mean or abusive behaviour. Maybe the woman is verbally abusive, or the man body-shames his girlfriend, and these are presented as a haters-to-lovers trope, or even “flirting”. On the “unrealistic” side is another kind of toxic writing, where the love interest is perfect, has no life of his or her own, and exists only to make the main character feel better. As soon as the main character has a need, they drop everything to be there and make it better, but the love interest never has needs or struggles of their own. This kind of toxic writing creates expectations that no one can (or should have to) live up to.

If those are the two ends of the spectrum, the best place to make romance wholesome and realistic is in the middle of the line. Our characters are allowed to make mistakes that hurt those they love, but they also care enough about their loved ones and relationships (and are cared for enough) to seek reconciliation.

That’s alright in theory, but it’s much harder when you sit down to write the darn book. What if my characters don’t want to apologise, or forgive? What if my love interest is particularly dedicated? What if I get to the end of my draft and realise it’s not working at all?

An overview of this series 

After talking to other writers, I’ve decided to start a discussion with you all about how we can stay within that golden section of the spectrum.

It’s too much for one post, so for the next five posts, we’ll be discussing topics such as: 

  • How to make your characters fit each other
  • The difference between love and lust, and why it’s important
  • Common tropes that undermine the depth of your characters’ romance
  • How to follow up a romantic arc in your sequel
  • The big, Biblical picture of romance (and why it’s important).

My aim for this series is to come up with practical tips and guidelines for writers to implement easily into our books, tips that work every time. Whether you write romance or science-fiction, screenplays or novels, I hope these posts will be clear and fun. I will include as much research and examples as I can, so that this won’t be a rant about, but to prove that these are observations and principles that can work for any character.  

Having said that, what I write will be tips and tricks, but not rules. Your book is yours to write. I only hope that if you are struggling with writing romance, you will find these discussions helpful. There is a place to write about toxic relationships, and a place for unrealistic love interests (*cough* The Princess Bride *cough*). But being able to put into words why your characters are behaving a certain way will make your story more cohesive and purposeful.

If there’s something you would like to see covered, please drop a comment below! I can’t say I’ll have an answer to everything, but I’ll do my best. This is a topic I’m passionate about, and have written before (see this post on K-drama and this one about an action novel). 


What would you like advice on in your book’s romance? 

Published by Debbie Coll

I'm a storyteller, songwriter and author who loves God, fairy tales and music. I write about tales, creative tips and process on my blog, debbiecoll.com.

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