So many ingredients go into writing a strong romance. As with any other genre, we want to develop characters who are complex, fresh, relatable, and unique. They should have strong motives and desires, but also be a bit broken too, people who have been hurt by life, suffered disappointments, and see struggle. They will have had past relationship interactions that have changed them in positive or negative ways but ultimately have left them with a skewed vision on what future ones will look like. This will be a focus in the story as they meet someone they are attracted to that challenges their ideas of what a relationship can be, and awakens their desire to risk their heart in away they didn’t believe they would be capable of doing.
The story will also have tension – disagreements, misunderstandings, beliefs that clash, and possibly other forces that stand in the way, but eventually unmet love and belonging needs, and the story stakes will push the characters to fight through resistance, fears, and differences so each can become the other’s missing piece.
Bringing two people together, especially ones who may be jaded, initially mistrustful, and worried about being hurt by love again, must be handled with care to feel credible. They should be individuals focused on their own realities and goals, and yet their uniqueness, personality, values, and strengths are a perfect fit for the other person, so much so that fighting it is futile.
Writers of romance are obviously very focused on creating the perfect chemistry between the protagonist and love interest, but there’s a third person they also need to think about as they craft this complex tapestry of love: the reader.
If the reader doesn’t fall in love with the couple, the story flops, so they too need to be wooed. This can be tricky because each reader comes to the story with specific beliefs, needs, and ideas of what makes a good partner. Somehow, we need to make them see these two are perfect for each other, and the love interest is worthy of the protagonist.
One route to doing this is thinking about what women (the majority of romance readers) find attractive or admirable. So if you are looking for little ways to get readers to buy into your choice of a love interest for the protagonist, consider the following areas:
A Sense of Humor
There’s something very likable about people who see humor in the day to day, and especially if they can laugh at themselves occasionally. If your Love Interest displays this, a reader will warm to them.
In a world where excuses are often made, plans are sidelined and people are marginalized, holding one’s word is important to women. How can your Love Interest follow through in some small way that shows what kind of guy he is?
In the real world some men struggle with expressing emotions as doing so makes them feel vulnerable. Communication is important in any relationship however, so especially in situations where a love interest is male, showing their willingness to voice feelings that may be difficult or ask perceptive questions that go beneath the surface are two things that will catch the attention of women readers. It needs to be organic, though. A love interest, male or female, that opens up the floodgates to their feelings when it isn’t their nature to do so won’t feel authentic. Find a balance that is believable.
A Willingness to Help
Women appreciate it when someone pitches in unasked. This shows the person is observant and willing to pull their own weight. If your Love Interest finds an opportunity to do this, they will endear themselves to female readers.
Common decency goes a long way: holding a door, offering a genuine compliment without strings, or even standing up on a bus so an elderly man can take a seat. Manners count, and women notice.
Another quality women appreciate is the willingness to give time or resources to another, even when it isn’t asked for or expected. This shows women that your love interest looks beyond themselves and is perceptive to what others need.
There is something highly attractive about a love interest who is confident but doesn’t need to prove it through grand gestures, overly decisive decision-making, situational control, or showiness. They are who they are, and don’t need to do things for approval or to impress.
Being a Good Listener
Women like to feel they are being heard, so if you can demonstrate this in your book, do so. This doesn’t mean a scene where the protagonist pours out their heart while your love interest faithfully listens, just a small moment in the story where your love interest acts thoughtfully BECAUSE they were listening.
Women are hardwired to place importance on security and family, so they approve of a love interest that has their life together: a steady job that shows they can contribute financially, maturity to be a good role model if the protagonist has a family, etc. Set the foundation to show that your love interest has the makings of a good life partner.
Another aspect of likability is when a reader identifies with the love interest because they exhibit qualities that earns their respect. Let’s look at a few of those as well.
Being Low Maintenance
Women are often mothers, wives, and have careers. They work hard and will have little patience for a love interest who is needy, immature, or full of dramatics.
Women respect independence. The love interest should be their own person and while their deep connection with the protagonist will complete them, the romance and “needing to be loved” should not be their only reason for being in this story. Flesh them out so they are complex and real, not arm candy.
Being a Fighter
Women fight for what they want, and who. The love interest shouldn’t quit at the first roadblock. Determination is what women want to see: wanting something bad enough to endure hardship or emotional discomfort to get it.
Women often endure challenges tied to their gender, ones that place limitations on them or come with double standards. This leads to anger, impatience, and resentment, but if the circumstances to change things are outside their control, they must also find a way to move forward. Showing a love interest who similarly struggles with gender bias, discrimination, intolerance, or racism will help women feel solidarity and empathy for the character.
Having Realistic Flaws
Women are bombarded by media that reinforces they should prioritize looking better, standing out, and that they should do what they can to hide aging and lose extra weight. This reinforces the idea that how we look is more important than who we are. Women readers will likely not connect well to a love interest who looks and acts perfect, so stay away from the “flawless” stereotype. People are flawed, readers are flawed. Characters should be, too.
That’s my list…do you have anything to add?
I hope this gives you some ideas on how to create a love interest for your protagonist that readers will feel good about. If you need more help, check out One Stop for Writers’ Character Builder. Not only are there guidelines for brainstorming a Love Interest, this tool will help you explore a character’s deepest layers so you can write their behaviors, actions, and decisions authentically on the page.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.