There is one thing that no great romance can go without and that’s chemistry.
Whether you’re writing a romance novel or crafting a romantic subplot, chemistry is the magic that takes a relationship from “meh” to magnetic.
It’s not just about physical attraction and declarations of love. Chemistry is something you feel and makes the interaction between two characters come alive on the page (or screen), whether the relationship is platonic or romantic.
It’s about more than just putting two attractive characters together and relying on cliches. It goes much deeper. It’s what sucks you in and keeps you invested in their romance.
WHAT EXACTLY IS CHEMISTRY?
Chemistry is hard to define but undeniable; we all recognize it even if we can’t quite explain what “it” is. It’s often referred to as a “spark” because it’s an energetic exchange that we naturally detect as humans.
Actors can have incredible chemistry that jumps off the screen, but how do you create it between two characters on the page?
Here are four keys to crafting romantic chemistry that will make the relationships in your stories come to life.
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Creating Romantic Chemistry
Make each character compelling on their own
A big faux pas in writing romance is creating characters solely as a unit rather than as individuals who connect.
Just as in life, your characters shouldn’t exist for the sole purpose of getting together and becoming a couple. Even though you may be focusing on their love story (such as in a romance novel), each character should have their own fleshed-out existence outside of that love story.
When we invest in characters as individuals, it makes the pairings even more powerful because we first fall in love with them individually and then want to see them find love with someone who fits what we know they need.
It makes it exciting to see how perfectly the other character compliments them and that’s when the ship officially sets sail.
Stray away from the “you complete me” narrative and create two fully-formed characters who are strong and complete on their own, but made even better when they are together.
It’s a much more satisfying experience when we are invested not only in the concept of a couple but in these two particular individuals finding each other and the journey they go on together in the greater scope of their lives.
Make the relationship dynamic
When a romance falls flat, it’s often because the relationship is too one-dimensional.
If they have insta-love, agree on everything, never experience any conflict, and only focus on the physical attraction they feel toward one another, it can get boring really fast.
A dynamic relationship is one where the characters challenge each other. This is why the enemies-to-lovers trope is so popular, but you don’t have to take it to that extreme to apply the principle of it. It’s about the two characters aiding each other in their growth to move the story forward.
- How do they challenge each other in fundamental ways?
- How do their differences feed into and support each other’s respective character arcs, and tie into the story as a whole?
Creating synergy between your characters’ individual arcs, their relationship, and the overarching themes will supercharge your story and create a much deeper emotional punch that will captivate readers.
Also, keep in mind that well-rounded relationships are more than just a physical attraction. How do they stimulate each other mentally and emotionally?
Think about how often characters that never have romantic interactions are still shipped by readers or viewers because they have undeniable chemistry. Start with the foundation of how they complement and challenge each other on a non-romantic level, and then build the romantic/sexual tension on top of it.
Take advantage of popular tropes
Popular tropes become tropes for a reason; there is something about them that captures readers over and over again. It’s important to understand them well because they offer a lot of insight into what lovers of the romance genre are attracted to.
This is not to say that you should rely on cliches. That will produce forced, manufactured chemistry that isn’t real chemistry at all but rather just a cheap alternative. However, they became tropes for a reason, so if you take the time to learn what makes them work and study the best examples of them, you can gain a lot of insight into how to use them to your advantage.
You can then get creative with them and even subvert expectations while staying true to the core of what makes those tropes so compelling.
Some examples of popular romantic tropes are:
- Enemies to lovers
- Friends to lovers
- Forbidden love
- Love triangle
- Opposites attract
There are many others that even break off into sub-genres of romance, so do your research and start studying your favorite romances. What tropes are you most attracted to and why?
Physical manifestations of chemistry
Once you’ve created the foundation for the chemistry between your characters, you can have fun bringing it to life through how your characters interact with each other.
The way we feel about someone, even on a subconscious level, comes out through our body language, eye contact, vocal inflections, and language. We recognize these instinctively as human beings.
The subtler ways a couple interacts through human behavior can be even sexier and more romantic than the more obvious signs of passion.
Examples of romantic chemistry manifested physically are:
- Touching and physical interaction ─ We feel a sort of magnetic force pulling us toward someone we are attracted to, so we’ll be compelled to turn are bodies toward them, find any excuse to touch them, and mirror their movements. A lack of physical interaction can also raise the tension between two characters if they desperately want to touch but can’t for some reason.
- Glances and eye contact ─ Their attention will constantly be pulled toward one another, so they’re likely to steal glances when the other isn’t looking or intentionally seek out eye contact. People who have chemistry are also great at unspoken communication with each other, as though they’re on the same “wavelength” and can express their feelings or carry on a whole conversation with just a look.
- Subtext ─ When people have chemistry, they don’t have to spend as much time explaining or clarifying themselves. Their connection allows them to use subtext to communicate their ideas and feelings and be understood on a deeper level. It can also make for fun, sexy dialogue and more powerful romantic declarations that aren’t on-the-nose but deeply felt.
- Banter ─ Who doesn’t love two characters that can engage in clever, sarcastic banter? However, be careful not to use this as a crutch. Just because characters are able to banter back and forth doesn’t automatically mean their relationship is dynamic. It’s a tool, not a substitute.
Put all of these ingredients together and you’ll have the recipe for romantic chemistry that will hook readers from start to finish.
To see these keys in action, do case studies on your favorite romantic pairings and also study the ones that fell flat for you to determine what was missing.
Take notes and you’ll start to internalize what makes up great romantic chemistry so you can craft it into your own stories.