For someone who wrote four books with romances, I find it one of the hardest parts of the writing process. Outlining the love story to make sure it fits with everything else is probably one of my weakest points as a writer, and I often have to backtrack so the pacing fits the rest of the story.
And yet four of my stories feature a romance as part of the main character's overall arc. So how exactly do I make it work?
A helpful trick I picked up when I took my senior seminar was to use a spreadsheet to track different story beats, including the romance. Each major story beat gets a color, and each chapter that deals with that beat gets filled in. It helps me see if and when I've neglected something for too long and gives me a visual representation of what I need to work on.
I found it really helpful as I outlined Project GHOST. Though my color sheet is incomplete because I rushed through outlining, I remained conscious of the romance and how quickly it was progressing. It also showed me when I was focusing too much on the romance and too little on the case and the friendships.
As much as I've made it a point to notice the pacing of romance in other books and how the characters interact, I still find it difficult when it comes to my own writing. Learning isn't the same as executing.
Perhaps some of this is due to my own lack of experience with romance. I have little to pull from other than a terribly awkward first date and a relationship that didn't end well. Most of my other experiences are one-sided and didn't amount to anything. So unless I'm writing about a date that probably shouldn't have happened, I really don't have much to pull from.
What I do have that helps a lot is experience in watching other people fall in love. I've gotten really good at noticing when people like each other, probably due to years of watching Criminal Minds and learning how to read body language for fun. Noticing the little things has made a different in my writing because I'm a firm believer that the best kind of build-up is in the tiniest of moments.
In cases like Project Ceiling Cat, my 2017 NaNoWriMo novel, there's some ambiguity to the "romance" because of the little moments. My main character could like the male lead, but they could also just be good friends. The male lead could have slight romantic feelings for my MC, or he could just be a genuinely kind guy. They could have great chemistry, and they could also choose never to act on it. I haven't quite decided what direction their relationship will go in yet.
And after all this, I still find it hard to develop, pace, and write romances. It's something I want to work on because I think romances can add a different dimension to the story. I also think they can be a lot of fun. The ambiguity of the "romance" in Project Ceiling Cat was a ton of fun to write, and I've enjoyed plotting the romance in Project GHOST too.
It's a weird thing to try to explain because I've obviously written stories with romances. Some of my short stories focus entirely on romance. And yet I'm not great at it. For those who haven't read my writing, it's not something you can really see for yourself either. So by writing a blog post about it, I'm really just calling attention to something few people knew before. Wow, maybe I shouldn't have written or posted this.
I guess all of this is to say that with practice comes a chance of better romances in my writing. Though I may struggle with it, the fun I have while writing the little moments are entirely worth it.