Emotion is the heart of any story, and there is no genre where this holds more true than romance. Readers look forward to a romantically tense roller coaster ride (how’s that for alliteration) that feels authentic and satisfying as characters are drawn together. Often though, characters fight this attraction. They might have goals or responsibilities they believe require all their focus or have something to prove and so are determined to remain independent. And of course, many try to avoid entanglements because their past has shown them that love leads to emotional pain.
This last one (emotional pain), is almost always the biggest factor, and no wonder. When it comes to the heart, vulnerability threads itself through everything, leading to a deep, loving bond or a terrible wound that makes trust all but impossible moving forward. However, despite the baggage your characters lug into the story or their desire to avoid romantic collisions, our job is to bring the protagonist and love interest together.
When our characters are invested in a romantic connection, it’s easier to show it through behavior by progressing through the stages of attraction: Interest, Flirtation, Desire, and Lust.
These tip sheets from One Stop for Writers list some possibilities. (Download here)
But if one or both characters fight the attraction, there’s more of a push & pull progression to intimacy and connection, and showing that becomes more complicated.
The extra work is worth it, though. Friction means the romance won’t be easy, and readers love to bear witness to a challenge, especially when they can see how good the two will be together. When readers are invested and want to see a certain outcome, those pages keep turning.
What Does Character Resistance Look Like?
Characters who are fearful of being hurt often try to stay in control by denying their feelings. This resistance is mental as well as physical. For example, if the POV character is trying to resist or deny their feelings for another, they will often try to reframe the person in their mind, finding flaws to counteract the attraction they feel. These thoughts often carry a tone of anger, frustration, and impatience, because these emotions can help turn down the dimmer switch on their desire.
But will it work? It depends on the level of their attraction and desire. After all, control weakens when strong emotions swoop in. The more their desire takes over, the weaker their ability is to try and diminish the other person so they can trick themselves into believing they are not a suitable match.
One way to show this tug of war is to show a “disconnect” between what they think and what they do. People can try to lie to themselves about what they feel but in some way their body will always reveal the truth through uncontrolled responses (taking a step toward another, reaching out for them, getting flustered when speaking, etc.). For realism, our characters should behave as we do, so using this disconnect will show readers that despite whatever excuses the character tries to come up with in their mind or whatever they try to do to control the situation, love is starting to bloom.
One obvious type of “disconnect” might be your character telling themselves they are going to make a point of ignoring the love interest at an event, yet their attention is repeatedly drawn to them, and they seem unable to control it. When they realize what they are doing, the deception might weakly continue as they come up with arguments as to why such monitoring is needed. But the real reasons, often helped along by interest and attraction body language cues, will leak through to readers.
It can be tricky to show readers something that the character themselves doesn’t see, like their own primal attraction for another person. But this is where uncontrolled body language cues and visceral sensations (blushing, sweating, heartbeat racing) help show your character is being gripped by romantic feelings. And often the harder they try to resist, the more obvious their feelings become to other characters and the reader.
Need help writing body language tied to the Stages of Attraction?
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.