Spark It Up

Is your book dry and old?

Spark it up with some romance.

No, not the Romance Genre.

I’m thinking about how to add a romantic thread to a story in whatever other genre the book belongs in. So I’m inflicting my thoughts on you.

First, your reader needs to be introduced to the characters you’re planning to have attracted to each other. And like any foreshadowing, their names need to come up early, and get mentioned a few times.

The Characters have to notice each other. They don’t even have to be introduced to each other right away, but they do need to meet fairly early in the book. A bit of attraction and or repulsion immediately is a good thing.

Now since this isn’t a romance, it needs a lot of other story elements, a murder to solve, an evil plot to foil, an Alien space empire to negotiate trading rights with, the five magical talismans to find. Whatever. These soon-to-be-love-struck people need to encounter each other, either to help each other or to beat the other one to the prize.

Now while they’re running around doing things, they need to learn to respect each other, and gradually understand the other.

If they’ve been at odds, something that causes them to need to work together as partners is always useful to edge toward friendship.

To get over the final hump, it helps if the pair have been admiring each other’s bodies for a while. You need a little titillation, some sparks, good old fashioned lust.

And please, a bit of humor!

The genre and subgenre pretty well determines what happens after the first kiss. Or fiftieth. The reader expectations as to the amount of sex and whether it’s behind closed doors or right there on the page (with unlikely flexibility, endurance, shooting stars, and screaming orgasms) needs to be considered.

Ditto marriage proposals.

Or someone riding off into the sunset, leaving a broken heart behind.

Or one or the other might die.

Happens. Might be needed for the plot. This is a lot like a romance novel, but the actual focus of the story is not the romance. The romance is extra. A secondary thread. Hence the possibility of not having a Happy Ever After.

Okay. Now having pontificated on the subject, I’m going to look at one of mine. It’s got two romances in it. The two men get the most page time, but the two women are also POV characters. 354 pages, 125K words, so a good sized novel.

Mystery Man shows up on page 2. The reader knows who he is, from the start. The second man, I’ll call him the Cop, but he’s actually now a hotshot analyst, reports to the president and so forth. Page 4.

On page 22, the Cop meets the Ice Princess, a presidential security agent, and is immediately attracted.

On page 33, we meet the Ditsy Sexpot. It’s an act, she’s also presidential security. The two women spot the Mystery Man. Comments are made, physique is admired.

Okay 10% into the novel and all the romantic people have assembled.

So, all kinds of story stuff, with the Cop suspecting the Mystery Man of criminal activities, presidential security checking MM out because he’s regularly in the same venue as the president’s daughter. So the Cop and the Ice Princess are regularly working together and she starts defrosting.

The Cop kisses the IP on page 95. About 25% of the way in.

Conflicts, disasters, rescues . . . Mentions of politics and conflicts and whether or not to invade another world . . .

Okay, everyone finally gets together on page 155. So the Ditsy Sexpot can chase the MM, who declines to be caught.

More investigations of MM. Frustrated Ditsy can’t get anywhere, but is showing signs of liking and . . . mistrust.

The Cop and the Ice Princess finally hop in the sack on page 225. Behind closed doors, as it’s not that kind of story. 60% through the story.

Page 289 before the Ditsy Sexpot get the MM into bed, but he’s just distracting her from her investigations. 80% of the page count, but clearly not a resolved romance.

Then the big final scene where the Cop realizes that MM is not a criminal, he’s a spy from the world they’re planning to invade. And this enemy is currently at a big party at Government House, with the President. He rushes there only to run head on into an attempt to assassinate the president by a rival political faction. Mystery Man saves the president after the Ditsy Sexpot takes a bullet.

And . . . you know this sounds pretty good, but it was complete chaos to write.

MM was supposed to fall for the Ice Princess. But when they met on page, it was with complete indifference. When she was kill saving the president it was “shame, nice lady.” The SOB had no skin in the game.

The Cop and the Ice Princess just sort of happened.

The Ditsy Sexpot was forcibly inserted into the book, an “afterthought” that worked out really well, from start to finish. And then MM went on strike until I rewrote the end and let her survive.

Catching things like a character’s lack of emotional commitment to much of anything is one of the reasons I analyze my stuff after I’ve written it. I’ve been known to outline it, and/or map it out and compare it to the Hero’s Journey.

And I listen to my subconscious about who ought to be falling in love with whom.

And who I let live.

The last scene, with Ditsy in the hospital, and MM dropping by gets regularly mentioned as readers’ favorite bits in a series that’s gotten seriously out of hand.
100%. Ended the book on an emotional high point.

So when writing a romance into your novel, listen to your heart, and make it a good romance.


And if you want to read the whole thing, after all the spoilers:


  1. (Looks skeptical, doing a very poor Fred Savage impersonation)
    Is this a kissing book?

    Once upon a time, the above would have been a selling point for me. (It *is* relevant that I bought a lot more books back then.)
    I’ve been married for a long time, and have three daughters in various stages of puberty. Relationship drama is what i want to escape *from*! At this point in my life “this book failed the Bechel test” is the strongest of selling points.

    (OK, it likely doesn’t help that my idea of a romantic gift was spending the hours at the DMV so that my wife wouldn’t have to.)

    1. All the subgenres have their own level of “How much sex is in there” and also “Does it wallow in emotions or is it just a side thread?”

      Mine tend to run “important side thread.” I don’t *think* I wallow.

    2. The “Bechdel Test” doesn’t actually exist (there never was a test. It was just a punchline taken -wildly- out of context by activists from a single 1980s era comic strip), but considering what the activists -claim- the test is, failing it means would be more likely to encounter relationship drama than not.

      1. It’s been pointed out before that Bechdel’s characters are lesbians, meaning they still spend plenty of time bitching about their relationships…but since those relationships are with women it “passes” the “test.”

        1. In context, the punchline was about how the character speaking didn’t want to go with a straight female friend to a 1980s era Hollywood romantic movie, as such films cater to straight women and their desire to see stories where women are interested in men, leaving her feeling under-served. It wasn’t an actual test or intended as a measurement for how worthy or sexist a film (or any work of fiction) is. It was merely someone pointing out “Hey, I’m not the audience.” This is what was turned into this TREMENDOUS THING that activists confidently (and cluelessly) treat like this major revelation, an ironclad LAW that determines QUALITY…and it doesn’t even flippin’ exist. :/ Explains a lot, really.

    3. (OK, it likely doesn’t help that my idea of a romantic gift was spending the hours at the DMV so that my wife wouldn’t have to.)

      Wow, it sounds like you’re quite the catch. And that isn’t sarcastic. A diamond necklace is nice, but ultimately it’s just a pretty charm to hang around your neck. The chance to not spend the morning in the DMV…that’s a gift beyond price.

    4. I’m passing the Bechdel Test in a breeze. But all the women are conservatives with guns, even the two gay ones.

      So, probable ShirtStorm material.

      I will not be reading the reviews. >:D

      1. “Two female characters…who have a conversation with each other…about whether they’re using the proper optics mounts on their AR-15s.”

        Sounds about right to me. All hail The Phantom, champion of feminist literature!

        1. I think they were talking about the best place to shoot a zombie. ~:D Consensus was “in the head” rather than “in the driveway.”

  2. There’s also “all the other characters are watching Guy and Chick [or whatever combo these days] and placing wagers on how long until G and C admit/realize that they are in love and make it official.”

  3. I tend to have your problem in trying to add romance: my characters never seem to fall for the love interests I put in their way. I remember a few NaNos ago when I gave the hero a perfectly nice, pretty, intelligent damsel-in-distress for a romantic subplot, and he proceeded to ignore her in order to chase after his best friend’s girlfriend. It didn’t help when I realized that best friend’s girl was pushing the damsel-in-distress (who was also her friend) in his way because she wanted the hero and was using her friend as a proxy. Since a relationship between them would have caused complications the plot didn’t need, I told them to hold onto their hormones, and if they managed to be good, I’d get them together in the sequel.

  4. I’m doing the “nobody ever does anything except moomoo face unless there is a catastrophe” path.

    Start with romantic holiday getaway for over-stressed cop and his fabulous robot girlfriend, rapidly introduce COMBAT SPIDERS!!!!! Lippy ones. ~:D

    I finally FINISHED it last night. Holy crap, 203,628 words. Spoiler, its a happy ending. I don’t do tragedies, they’re bad for my complexion.

    You know, I read my little precis there and it sounds completely nuts, but honestly if the usual person had enough money and amazing people to hang out with, they would hang out full time and never do a tap of work.

    I consider the plots of stories, and I sometimes find the motivation very thin. I think about what it would take to get me out in the woods with a gun, on the hunt, and frankly it would take an awful lot. No offense to pride or honor would suffice, it would have to be an immanent threat to my life or close family. Or I just landed in the shit by accident and managed not to die immediately.

      1. Thanks!

        Next step, covers. Working on that today, in between putting salt on the driveway etc. Learning curve is steep, but isn’t it always?

  5. My favorite genre to read (and hopefully, some day, to write in) is westerns. I have recently been re-reading a bunch of my Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour books (and Max Brand, and others). In every one of those western stories, there is a romance of some sort (short stories excepted, some times. But of course, in those westerns, the romance usually causes some kind of complication for the protagonist (like the guy is an “outlaw” on the run from the law, for example). But of course, in those older westerns, the romance doesn’t go any farther than kissing.


    1. The romance usually happens as a sub-text. There’s not even any internal monologue in Louis L’Amour, for example. The reader has to actually think about the characters and how they’d feel instead of being told how they feel. Sometimes the only bit *expressed* is a single statement such as “If you come back, I’ll be here.”


  6. There’s a work in progress where I started out with a group of two men and two women. Hmm — are she and he going to be romantically involved? No, that’s the other woman — is she going for the other guy?

    Oh boy, he’s a jerk. In fact, he’s so much of a jerk he’s going to get himself killed half way through the book.

    And meanwhile, they are chasing after a problem. By the end, they know there are two people ahead of them, a woman — and a man. . . .

    The book will have a wedding near the end, but it’s a couple whom they interacted with on the way.

    1. And sometimes just because you have mixed gender group, nothing clicks. Or the fireworks are the wrong type altogether. You’ve got a jerk who’s going to get himself killed. _If_ it helps the story along, you can have one of the women reject him, highly vocally, or the other guy call him on his behavior and so forth, where in a guys only group there’d be less in-group conflict. And he wouldn’t have done whatever and gotten himself killed.

      Never forget the story, and what does, or doesn’t, help it along. You need the dark times, the failures, so the final victory is brighter by contrast.

      1. Oh, he’s already dead. They’re a bit peeved about it, in fact, because it trapped all four of the them — the three remaining and the man ahead — into a dungeon crawl.

        Progress has occurred.

  7. Don’t the man and the woman have to irritate each other and argue a lot (say, a cavern’s worth) before they can get around to maybe beginning to think of liking the other? (More pages, more money, maybe?)

    1. That’s standard for the Romance genre. If you just want a little romance in your Mystery or SF/F you’ll want to low key the typical romance plot points–unless an argument can produce an action that you need for your mystery plot that the character is much too sensible to do–unless they’re stomping off mad after that argument.

      I mean, we all do stupid things out of inattention, habit, or just not thinking. But in a story, readers like a more substantial reason. Emotions work great for this.

Comments are closed.