Romantic subplots are a great way to add a little spice into a novel. Whether they take only a single book or develop across an entire series, audiences love reading about the relationships between two characters. While they aren’t necessary to any story, there’s no denying that readers can be a very romantic sort.
But there’s no point to putting your protagonist into a romantic relationship if the love interest only exists for that purpose.
I’ve seen it many times before and there’s few writerly things that annoy me more than a love-interest who only exists to be a love-interest. They have only the most basic pieces of personality that are blatantly meant to appeal to the protagonist. They might mention having a job, or some goal they want to achieve, but it’s all waved off, secondary information that never gets elaborated on or shown. Any conversations about those topics end up quickly derailed into talking about the protagonist. The love-interest’s life revolved around the protagonist now that they’ve found each other. You’ll see this more with female love-interests than male ones, though there are cases of the opposite.
A love-interest who only exists to be a love-interest makes the audience wonder what the protagonist sees him them beyond the physical. Yes, there are generic traits like niceness or a sense of humour, but your love-interest needs agency and a life beyond her partner. Here are some things you should consider about your love-interest.
- How are they compatible with your protagonist?
Yes, I did rag on this a bit, but a love-interest needs to have traits the protagonist will find appealing. However, they have to go beyond being “nice” or “having a sense of humour.” Consider the type of person your protagonist is. What qualities might they seek out in a partner? Are they the adventurous type who will want someone who can keep pace with them? Or are they the sort who needs a patient soul to wrangle them in when they get over-excited?
- How are they not compatible?
There’s no such thing as perfection in a relationship. Personalities are going to clash in some cases and on some issues. If you protagonist is a hot-head, their habit of rushing into things full-steam may prove an issue to a more level-headed love-interest. Conversely, a love-interest with a blunt, matter-of-fact nature may be difficult for a sensitive protagonist to deal with. Personalities have to clash in more ways than “You do all these dangerous things and I want you to stop.” The trick to making the relationship interesting is in how they deal with these clashes.
- What kind of life does the love-interest have?
As I said, the biggest issue with some of these love-interests is that they often exist only to be love-interests. Yes, they may be fighting alongside the rebels and wish for peace, but in the end they don’t have any real dreams or goals beyond the plot basics and getting with the protagonist. Your love-interest is a person with a life separate from their dates/random rendezvous in the starship’s halls/banter while travelling the kingdom. Where are they from? What do they do for a living? Who are the other people in their lives? Every person has a story you don’t know, and even if your novel is from the protagonist’s point of view, details of the love-interest’s life should pop up in dialogue or attitude.
- What are the love-interest’s dreams and goals?
Everyone has things they are passionate about and things they wish to do. Losing weight, learning Croatian, getting their beginner’s starship licence—all these are examples of goals a love-interest could have. They could want to write a novel, travel the world by boat, or convert their sinking city into a flying one—all examples of dreams. Honestly, the two can often appear to be the same thing. While finding love and getting married can be one of these things, it shouldn’t be the only goal/dream for your love interest.
- What is their purpose in the story?
To make a love-interest a full-out character, they need to be something more than a person for the protagonist to fall in love with. What’s their role in the overall plot? Are they significant to it? A love-interest is an important character, and they need to have more bearing on the plot then a few scenes showing their bland devotion to the protagonist.
Your love-interest needs to be a character in their own right for the audience to be invested in the relationship you’re building. You need to write your love-interest as a person, first and foremost, keeping their love-interest role as a secondary consideration. Perhaps not even that! Depending on how prominent a character they are in the overall plot, their love-interest status may even be a lesser concern.
Romance is fun, and can make an excellent sub-plot. However, if your love-interest isn’t on equal grounds with your protagonist, your audience is in for a bland, boring ride full of dull devotion and cliché conflicts. Readers get invested in characters, and if there’s nothing to be invested in, your romance will fall flat.
But look at it this way: would you want to be in a relationship with someone whose only interest was in said relationship?