4 Ways To Deepen Romance Relationships in Any Type of Story

I’ve hesitated to do a post about writing romances since not everyone who visits my blog reads or writes within the romance genre. What’s more, even romance writers have a wide variety of preferences and expectations.

But . . . since today is my twentieth wedding anniversary to my wonderful husband, I figured you wouldn’t mind if I got a little mushy and sentimental!

Besides, in a recent Skype interview with Joanna Penn of, I discussed my thoughts on writing romances. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the elements that are necessary in creating a captivating romance are transferable to relationship development in any genre. After all, nowadays most stories have a romance thread whether they’re thrillers, mysteries, paranormal, or whatever.

So, what are the elements critical to developing a satisfying romance?

Of course, there will always be romances that break the rules. But here are two romance elements I mentioned in my interview with Joanna along with a couple more I’ve added.

1. Create a hero & heroine that readers can fall in love with.

By the end of the story, readers want to ooh and ahh over our larger-than-life heroes and heroines. That doesn’t mean they need to be perfect. But in the process of making our characters fall in love with each other, we want our readers to fall in love with them too.

Think about the heroes that you like the most. They’re usually the ones who have more than just good looks. They DO noble, kind, or otherwise praiseworthy things that make us secretly swoon. Those are the kinds of unforgettable characters that we should strive to have, so that our readers secretly swoon too.

2. Give the relationship a happily-ever-after (HEA).

At the end of the first draft of The Preacher’s Bride, I had my hero stuck in a dark, dank prison away from his beloved. Not a happy ending. My publisher asked me if I’d be willing to change it so that my hero gets out of prison and is reunited with his wife. In hindsight, I’m so glad agreed. I frequently get comments from readers telling me how much they liked my ending. I cringe to think of their response if I’d left my hero in prison as I’d originally planned!

Readers want to walk away from the book with a contented sigh. They’ll do that much more readily if we have an ending that leaves them at an emotional-high—with a deep satisfaction that true love might not be easy but is possible in the face of difficulties.

3. Prolong the HEA until as late in the story as possible.

We need to have realistic and believable reasons to keep our hero and heroine from getting together. And if they proclaim their love for each other early in the book, then we need drive a wedge between them and break them apart until the end.

If we have them living happily-ever-after too soon in our story, we release plot tension. Instead, we want to keep readers turning the pages to find out how the two are going to beat incredible odds to finally get together.

4. Develop the attraction but heap up problems at the same time.

We should strive to gradually build up an emotional awareness of our characters to each other. We want to have them notice each other and find specific traits appealing. But at the same time we need to continually place obstacles and tension between them, so that they’re unable to act on their growing feelings for each other.

Preferably, we’ll engage in a constant push-and-pull where we push our characters together and things seem like they’re going to work out, but then at the last second we pull them apart. The problems that come between them are best when they’re inherent to the external and internal plot developments.

There you have it. That’s my short list of what helps to deepen the impact of a romance within any story.

What are your imperatives for a romance? What kinds of things do you think are necessary to make a romance relationship fulfilling?


  1. I think your list covers best friend relationships too or any story - prolonging everything until the end!

  2. I'm currently working on a YA romance. That HEA is so, so tough to pull off at the end when it seems like it will never happen for those characters. Thank you for these timely reminders! :)

  3. Love this! I must bookmark. I struggle the most with number one. I tend to make my characters so flawed, that I error toward unlikable. Which is not good!

  4. Happy anniversary Jody! Blessings to you today!

    I agree with all your points. I think a romance should certainly have a happily ever after, but it shouldn't have a fairytale quality.

    And when it comes to speaking of characters, as you said looks aren’t the only thing that make us swoon. If a hero or heroine is physically unattractive, they can still melt our hearts just as much (or more) by their thoughtful deeds. I have this scenario in my current WIP and it works very well to show the true inner good in someone.

    Once again wonderful post!

  5. Happy Annivesary Jody! Great post on romance.

  6. I love the push/pull. Both reading and writing it. :)

    Happy Anniversary!

  7. Hi Jody. Great list. I'm saving it.

    I've noticed that I can forgive almost anything from the hero if the story ends with his undying proclamation of love. Gotta have the HEA!

    Happy Anniversary to you and your guy!

  8. Goodmorning, everyone! Thank you for your very sweet Anniversary wishes! I'm enjoying the coffee and chocolate my husband gave me this morning! He knows exactly what I like! :-)

  9. You look 20!! Happy day to you both!
    This is a timely post for me as I am once again attempting to write romance.

  10. Even books that aren't in the *genre* of romance still often feature romantic relationships, so this is great advice! Building up the tension between my heroine and her love interest has been the hardest part, since I want them to just get together already. :)

  11. Happy Anniversary! I've made the mistake of creating characters that were a little too beautiful in their appearance, but hopefully made up for it with some personality flaws (still maintaining some attractive aspects of their personality too). I like what you said about needing to fall in love with the characters before their love with each other is compelling and believable.

  12. Happy Anniversary!
    I agree with your list. I think we need to keep things fresh as we write our romances. I had a favorite author years ago that I loved, but each story followed the same pattern. So much so, that I could predict each twist and turn of the love story.

  13. I love sacrifices in my romances and also a love that is exciting and thrilling but will last through hard times.
    I'm so glad you let them meet up. I would've been bummed. Your story would've been more of a literary love story if they hadn't, imo. Congrats on your anniversary!!!

  14. Jody: thanks for this. I've ended up with my WIP leaning towards a paranormal romance, which was not my original intention, but hey, it's not really my story, but theirs.

    After reading this, I am leaning towards as HEA in the here-after for the ending, as I see the emotional tug of that relationship to be the stronger of the two the MC will have to choose from.

    Then again, that may change. I'll be keeping this on file for the duration of my work.

    thanks, too, to Laura Pauling for sending this my way!

  15. Oh, I needed this! I've been currently contemplating the relationship development in my WIP.
    Thanks so much, and Happy Anniversary!!

  16. My novel is a romance and I almost didn't give my characters a HEA. It didn't even sit right with me so I just HAD to change it. It's so much better this way!

  17. Great post!

    I too, struggle with #1 sometimes. I tend to go heavy on the "bad boy". Is that saying something about my psyche?? I hope not. :)

  18. Great post, thank you so much Jody! This was all very, very helpful!!!! :) *stars the post*

  19. Wishing you and your real-life hero a wonderful celebration of your twenty years together.

    I'm all about romance and happy-ever-afters, but I make my characters earn them. When they endure all the challenges I put in their paths, they deserve a reward.

    Of course, I did have a wee bit of a problem learning this lesson, as you know. If I'd read your post and taken point #3 to heart, I wouldn't have had to rewrite 3/4ths of my debut novel before it sold. =)

  20. I think it helps me to fall in love with a character if I can see myself in them. Either who I am, or who I want to be.

    Make someone too perfect, and they're totally not like me.

    Make them too imperfect, and they don't have any attributes I want to make part of myself.

  21. Great tips, Jody. I struggle making too many problems for my couple when my plots usually have so many problems anyway. It's a tough balance.

  22. I'd have to say that I disagree with the HEA. Although an imperative for Romances, it's not true for every genre. Take a look at most of what Nicholas Sparks writes. At least one person of some sort dies in the end. Or even a lot of the more literary works. I'm reading The Painted Veil and there's isn't any HEA for that couple. Quite the opposite actually. How the story ends depends on genre and keeping with the formula to certain genres. Romance demands an HEA. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I'm just playing the devil's advocate a little, I guess!

  23. Happy Anniversary (we're almost anniversary twins--my husband and I celebrate our 4th tomorrow).

    Thanks for all the helpful tips, I'm working out the structure of my own YA romance, so I'll keep your list in mind as I go.

  24. Happy Anniversary! (A day late). My Internet was down and I missed such a GREAT post. Sigh . . . I love the romance element of stories.

    I've had to work at two of the things you mentioned in my book that releases next April. I went back and made the hero more heroic, likeable, and noble at the end. Then I changed the ending. I originally had my hero and heroine get together, but after discussing things with my agent, I now have them get together in a bigger, more future-minded way.

    It's great. I LOVE romance and could talk about it all day, but since this is just a comment on a day old blog post, I'll force myself to stop. :-)

  25. Love this post! I ditto everything you say ... I also like to throw in those intense moments where he's going for the kiss, going, going, going ... AH! Something happens and whammo, heroine's left alone. Those scenes give me shivers :)

  26. Happy Anniversary to you, Jodie! 20 years - incredible. :)

    I am definitely not a romance novel reader. I actually prefer dashed hopes and love with a twist. I don't necessarily want the hero and heroine to end up in a HEA, unless it's realistic. I'm a bit pessimistic about romance, I admit. :)

  27. Happy anniversary, Jody!

    I love a great love story, and admire writers who write them well. When I think back on THE PREACHER'S BRIDE, I can remember exactly where you used these techniques. And I loved the push and pull until the very end.

  28. Love the list!!! I think #4 is one of the hardest... and one of the ones that makes a romance so-so or really good!

    I've read WAY too many romances where there was hatred and NO chemistry between the characters (a result of the author trying to add tension...) until the very end when they looked at each other and were like, "oh... i thought I hated you, but really, I love you! How about that!"

    Or visa versa... there is an immense attraction but the tension is just purely there because it "has" to be and it isn't really believable that they let such goofy stuff keep them apart.

    It really is a fine line, and one that requires the most work in my personal opinion!

  29. What a great post! My hardest one is #1. I've got the other three going on, but I'm not sure I've got my main characters quite deep enough. Gonna keep working it, though. Thanks for the tips!
    Blessings <><

  30. Great post! This kind of thing is very helpful in the revision stage for making sure I stayed on track.

    And I would love to see more posts on writing romance from you! You're obviously very knowlegeable about it, and I'm sure we can all find such discussions useful in some aspect of our work.

  31. Thank you, Anon! I'll keep in mind sharing more about romance elements for a future blog post!


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