Angela Ackerman joins us today to discuss the importance of developing a relationship between your characters and your readers.
Welcome back, Angela!
As anyone writing romance knows, the love connection takes center stage. And to nail a love story, writers must first do their homework and figure out who their protagonist really is. A compelling lead character means uncovering their inner complexity – everything from determining personal goals and desires, to defining their attributes, flaws and morals. It means understanding their past, and unravelling the fears and old wounds that are somehow holding them back, especially when it comes to finding lasting love. All of this backstory prep will help a writer shape their story, and determine just what type of Love Interest will be the right fit.
NOTE: While there are many different pairings in romance, commonly protagonists are female and the love interest is male. So for the sake of simplicity, I’ll work with that dynamic in this post.
Let’s say your main character needs to learn to let go of the expectations of others and find her own path to happiness. If so, a fun-loving man who encourages her to listen to her own heart and take risks might be Mr. Right. Or perhaps your protagonist comes from a broken past, and opening herself up to others seems impossible. Her Mr. Right may be slightly broken himself, and something grows from a friendship as they each learn to trust, bit by bit. Knowing your female lead intimately is really key to forming an authentic love match.
Now when it comes to a male Love Interest, tall, dark and handsome is best left in the cliché closet. Readers want depth, and this means designing someone who challenges your Protagonist, someone strong enough to break through her particular emotional barriers and help illuminate what is broken, lacking or simply incomplete. In return, she opens his eyes, and fills a hole inside him. This two-way emotional bond of being what the other needs is really the magic in a powerful love story, and ignites romantic sparks on so many levels.
Okay, you did your homework. You created the perfect match between your female Protagonist and male Love Interest. Now, let’s talk about the Other Woman.
EVERY ROMANCE HAS A LOVE TRIANGLE
That’s right, the protagonist’s heart is not the only one your Love Interest must capture. There’s another woman to contend with…the reader. (Certainly men read romance too, but the majority are women.)
Romancing the reader can mean the difference between a good romance and a great one, but it isn’t always easy to do. After all, I just reinforced how important it is to tailor your Love Interest around what the protagonist needs. But the reader has needs too. Where it gets tricky is that women are unique, and so are the qualities each finds attractive in a man. So how can your Love Interest woo both the Protagonist and your widely diverse audience?
ROMANCE THE READER THROUGH THE LITTLE THINGS
Our job is to make readers feel the Love Interest is worthy of the Protagonist. This means a bit of romancing by appealing to women as a whole. So what small yet important things do women find attractive or admirable? Here’s a list:
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.
Following Through. 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?
Emotional Perceptiveness. Often in real life, men struggle with emotions because they feel vulnerable. Communication is important in any relationship however, so showing willingness to voice feelings or ask perceptive questions that go beneath the surface are two things women readers gravitate to. The only gotcha is that this must be organic. A Love Interest that opens up the floodgates to his feelings 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, he will endear himself to female readers.
Good Manners. 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.
Generosity. Another quality women appreciate is the willingness to give one’s time or resources, even when it isn’t asked for or expected. This shows women that the Love Interest looks beyond himself to others, and what they need.
Quiet Confidence. There is something highly attractive about a man who is confident but doesn’t need to prove it through grand gestures, overly decisive decision-making or showiness. He’s simply confident through things like strong eye contact (especially with the protagonist), openness with others, and not doing things for approval.
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 her heart while the Love Interest faithfully listens, just a small moment in the story where he acts thoughtfully BECAUSE he was listening.
Providing Support. Women are hardwired to place importance on security and family, so they approve of men who have their lives together: a steady job shows he is capable of helping to contribute financially, maturity shows he will serve as a father figure if the protagonist has a family, etc. Set the foundation to show that he has the makings of a good life partner.
And now let’s flip the Romance coin. How can we convince women readers that a female Love Interest is worthy of a male Protagonist?
Women have high expectations of other women. So, in this case, romancing readers means earning their respect.
Being Low Maintenance. Women are often mothers, wives, and have careers. They work hard, and will have little patience for a female Love Interest who is needy, immature or full of dramatics.
Independence. Women respect independence. The Love Interest should be her own person and while the love connection should complete her, it isn’t her main reason for being.
Being A Fighter. Women fight for what they want, and who. Show us a female who won’t take off at the first road block. Determination is what women expect to see…no one likes a quitter.
Struggling with Patience. This attribute often does not come naturally, so most women struggle with it. Showing your Love Interest also wrestling with having enough patience will resonate with readers.
Having Realistic Flaws. Women are bombarded by media that states they should strive for perfection and who they are is not good enough. Flawlessness is impossible, so when women see a female character who seems to have it all together, it is a turn off. Give your Love Interest real flaws. Imperfections are human and women want to see part of themselves represented on the page.
How do you romance your reader, and what would you add to this list? Tell me in the comments!
Bio: ANGELA ACKERMAN is a writing coach and co-author of the bestselling writing resources, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression, The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Attributes and its darker cousin, The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and at Writers Helping Writers.
Next up: Ditch Your Craft Books and Write with Corrina Lawson on Wednesday, March 4th.
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