Amping Up Chemistry Between Characters
Today’s post is brought to you by The Bee’s Knees Editorial
You know that scene in Silver Linings Playbook where Bradley Cooper chucks A Farewell to Arms out the window because the ending was bananas? That’s readers the world over when they pick up a romance expecting to be swept off their feet and instead are met with a meh story about two people who might kiss but aren't convincingly in love.
That's because something big is missing — chemistry!
Don’t be Bradley Cooper. Better yet, don’t give your readers a reason to be Bradley Cooper.
The secret to increasing chemistry between characters often starts with an incendiary spark. It’s in the details. A glance, a touch, the fleeting thought of wanting more. But chemistry is also closely rooted in the basics of good storytelling. Here are three quick tips to see if your story is on track, and what to look for if it’s falling flat.
Why should readers care about your characters?
Good characters can make a romance. Dynamic characters can make a romance that holding-your-breath-as-they-almost-kiss page-turner you want to deliver readers. But what’s the difference between a good character and your new, totally swoon-worthy book boyfriend?
Characters are more than those pre-writing interviews. Knowing they like peanut butter and banana sandwiches and celebrate a July birthday is a start, but those details aren’t what will ultimately stick with readers. They’re context. So what will help?
Well, that's where understanding the relationship between a reader’s brain and story comes in handy. (Bear with me, I promise this will make sense in a minute.)
Readers might pick up your book because it has a drool-worthy manchest cover or a juicy blurb, but they keep reading that book because they’re searching for an emotional connection.
Think of it this way, readers aren’t likely to remember the freckle next to your hero’s eye or his fondness peanut butter banana sandwiches. What they will connect to (and remember) is that painfully shy bluestocking who’s pining after her childhood friend — London’s most notorious rogue — who just happens to be days away from being engaged to her sister. That longing and hope that heroine has to tackle to reach her Happily Ever After (HEA) are universal conditions.
This is why tropes work so well; they come pre-packed with established emotional expectations by readers. Those emotions are what readers remember, not that your hero has blue eyes. That’s a detail that helps them create the character they’ve fallen in love with.
So whether you’re drafting or revising, step back and examine your characters. Do they have depth? When in doubt, fall back to brain science and storytelling. Lisa Cron’s Wired For Story is an excellent resource to check out. Drill down to find those bigger universal emotions — those hopes and fears and secrets — then use them to your advantage to pull at reader’s heartstrings.
Are the stakes big enough? Is there tension?
In romance, plot and character are closely intertwined, and both can sink a manuscript quick if they don’t hit the right notes. Are your characters passive or do they drive the action of your story? What do they have to lose at the start? How about in the middle of the story?
If a character isn’t driven to change, nothing is going to happen and you’ll be stuck with talking heads for 300 pages and a whole lot of boring.
Think about the start of your story. Characters have mostly been hanging out, okay with what’s been. But it takes something to shake that up - either a person or an event. Make it big. Make it count. And then do it again, and again, raising those stakes. Give your character two choices, and don’t make either too easy. Let your characters make mistakes. Let them be messy humans. And please, for the love of Tom Hardy’s gorgeous lips, that applies to your heroines too, not just heroes.
Without tension, a story fizzles to a slow death. Tension is what drives characters to make decisions (and mistakes), it’s what drives scenes, and it helps amp up chemistry between your characters. More on this below. But remember this, you have two characters who have separate lives, fears, and desires who are crashing together as they tumble heart-first into love — it’s not going to be a tidy process.
If you’re feeling like your story is flat, go back to the basics here: are the stakes high enough to push the story forward and help your characters reach their HEA?
Are you building intimacy between your characters?
Characters need to explore intimacy with their love interest in order to fall in love - both emotional and physical. Again, this is something that draws on character. Every character is going to have something that’s missing for them that needs to be resolved by the end of the story. Whether they have a need to find their place in the world or to find love again after a horrible divorce. And for this to happen, they need to let their guard down, admit they want this thing, and be vulnerable.
Characters are going to guard their hearts and they won’t always open up at the same time. For a character to honestly connect to their love interest, they also need to be vulnerable. You can have the grumpiest mountain man hero who’s smoking hot and the best dirty talker around, but without him ever honestly opening up to his love interest, their connection is going to fall flat because it's not authentic.
If you’re finding your characters have met but the lack of tension between them is making the romance arc a whole lot of bleh, check out The 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy. You don’t need to include each step, but it’s a great guideline on how to add tension to your scenes.
So there you have it. If you’re stuck in a scene or finding that your characters aren’t setting the page on fire during revisions, do a quick check for character depth, stakes and tension, and emotional (and physical) intimacy.
About The Bee’s Knees Editorial
The Bee’s Knees Editorial offers affordable, comprehensive editorial services to romance indie authors. All romance sub-genres are welcome, though Rebecca has a soft spot for character-driven historical and contemporary romance. To receive your free sample edit, or to schedule an edit on your next manuscript, visit www.thebeeskneeseditorial.com.
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