Creating Character: Love Interests

And we’re at the end of my little character series. Today we examine the love interest and how it can be used to create conflict. Love interests have a huge potential for creating tension and conflict, or vomit. This is why I’ve given them their own little article in this series. Love is a powerful force, and it’s a curious one. It makes one person miserable, another gloriously happy. It can change a baddie into a pseudo-goodie, and it can sometimes save a life. Love is a wonderful tool in fiction, but when creating a love interest, too many of us get it wrong by dragging the pendulum a little too far one way or the other.

Love interests are a special kind of character that I think should be in every book, even if it’s not a romance. They don’t have to play a huge role, and they don’t have to be a main character. They serve to add drama, interest, and can sometimes be very useful in resolving conflict. But how do we use them to improve the story? That’s easy. Just be realistic.
I’ll explain.

Chemistry has long been considered the driving force behind love. We search for that other half of our soul and many writers mistakenly believe that means the person we’re meant to love and be with forever. No. Soul mate is something totally different. Your soul mate might be your best friend, a family member or even your dog. Soul mates are those souls that seem to be the perfect match to ours. Love and sex may not be part of it.

When you’re creating a love interest, you’re not looking for a soul mate for your character. You’re trying to find someone that makes sense to them romantically. You have to create a character that would be appealing to your protagonist or antagonist (could be that both need a little love) and their attractiveness must have a reason. The potential love interest’s traits and behavior must resonate with your character because they somehow make him or her more human…or maybe they just float their boat sexually and the love is a superficial thing. That’s okay too.

Many writers create love interests that reflect their own ideas of the “perfect” man or woman (including me, I’m not proud of it, but I do tend to let my fantasies take control now and then), and this is really annoying. What that writer is doing is creating a love interest for herself instead of her character, and this can make the story fall flat. You don’t want that.

Consider something, if you will, about these universally appealing love interests. If he or she is so damn attractive, smart, rich, and such, why hasn’t he or she been snatched by someone equally fantastic? Why is your character so special that this perfect love is only interested in her? Yeah, seems a bit farfetched when you think about it, doesn’t it?

Stories with characters that fall in love with a fantasy are doomed to fail, just as they would in the real world, and your reader knows this. Creating a “perfect” love interest is a sure way to turn the reader off simply because it’s not plausible. There is no such thing as perfection, and we rarely choose the people we love based on appearance, social status and their goodness or badness alone.

Did you know that love at first sight (whether you believe in it or not, and I don’t) is not even based on beauty or any of that superficial crap? It’s based on the idea that when seeing a certain image of ourselves (or the self we hope to be), without consciously knowing we maintain such an image deep inside, we’re enthralled by it. We connect with it immediately, and we are drawn toward it. Shit might not pan out, but that initial meeting, that first look, is like a punch in the nuts…but in a good way.

Most of the time such gut reactions turn out to be huge mistakes. Love at first sight is rarely love that endures. In reality we find getting along with those we love is hard. We misunderstand, insult and hurt each other. Not on purpose, but we do. It’s what makes us human.

So creating a love interest who your character falls for instantly because he is perfect and forgiving and all things wonderful and butterfly-shitting, is bad. Don’t do it. Your characters will not live happily ever after with none of the conflict that filled every page before “the end.” It doesn’t work that way in real life, so don’t do it in fiction.

Conflict is the engine that keeps the story going, and the love interests should be a vital part of that engine. The gas, if you will.

So, whether your love interest is Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, make sure he’s real and he makes sense in terms of being with your protagonist or antagonist. Make sure he’s flawed, but not too flawed. Make sure his interest in your character, and your character’s interest in him, makes sense. I know, it’s just so damn easy. (that would be sarcasm)

What are some fictional pairings that left you scratching your head? How do you go about creating a love interest?

4 thoughts on “Creating Character: Love Interests

  1. I absolutely agree with you, Renee.

    Aaah… the perfect lover who bonds with us eternally from the first second they lay eyes on us… everyone would like to have on, nobody in reality ever does.

    Romance fiction has a place for such love interests, but that’s the ONLY genre. Stories of other genres immediately become ridiculous and unbelievable the moment they splat that perfect, instant connection down on the table.

    1. The cheesy romance novels anyway. The good romance authors don’t make the lovers soul mates either. But you’re right, Veronica. It’s the only genre in which we can get away with such things, probably because when you read romance, you’re wanting a fantastical escape where love and life aren’t as brutal as they are in reality.

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