#Wattpad4 February Chat: Creating Romantic Tension

Welcome everyone to the #Wattpad4 February Chat!

I’m Lindsey Summers, your host for this month. As Valentine’s Day comes upon us, I thought it’d be a great time to discuss romance and how to create that electric tension between characters that has readers shipping couples.
If you’ve never partaken of a Wattpad4 chat before, it’s easy. I’ll ask a series of questions below, and all you have to do is answer. We can’t wait to read your responses!

Happy writing (and chatting)!
Lindsey & The Wattpad4

To check out our November chat: Productivity and Motivation, click here:
(#Wattpad4 November Chat: Productivity and Motivation! )

To check out our December chat: Productivity and Motivation, click here:
(#Wattpad4 December Chat: So you wrote a story, now what…EDITING! )

To check out our January chat: Can’t Touch This—Writing About Challenging/Sensitive Subject Matter, click here: (#Wattpad4 January Chat: Can't Touch This - writing about challenging/sensitive subject matter)


From left to right:

  • Lindsey Summers @DoNotMicrowave author of Textrovert & The Trouble with Friendship
  • Fallon DeMornay @FallonDeMornay author of The Stiletto Sisterhood & Out of Focus
  • L.D.Crichton @LDCrichton author of All Our Broken Pieces & Enchantment of Emma Fletcher
  • Monica Sanz @DistantDreamer, author of Seventh Born & Mirror Bound (Witchling Academy Series)
  • Rebecca Sky @RebeccaSky author of Arrowheart and Heartstruck (The Love Curse series)

  1. The key ingredients to any romance story are the two main characters. During the first steps in creating them, do you focus on the characters individually or as a couple? Why?


2. Tension means opposing forces pulling in opposite directions. So how do you pull your characters apart? Are fears and internal conflicts making it difficult to get together? Is it the wrong time, or the wrong circumstance?


3. Just as you pull your characters apart, you have to bring them back together. How do you know when the time is right?


4. When creating romantic tension in a scene, what are the key elements that need to be included? ( ie. A lot of description? Tons of internal thoughts? Character reactions?) Why are they important and how do you find the perfect balance?


5. Cliche language and descriptions can be the death of any scene but especially in a romantically charged one. How do you avoid this? Do you have any tips for those struggling?


It’s time for the open Q&A portion of the chat! If you have any questions for the #Wattpad4 or about what we’ve covered in today, let us know!

(Please no read requests!)

Thanks so much for chatting with us! We’ll be back with a new topic every month so be sure to mark your calendars! :slight_smile:

Keep on writing,
Lindsey

Romance! Oh this is exciting. Now to get to a computer so I can really get involved…

EDIT: Answers!

I always do characters individually first. I have a lot of favorite relationship tropes, so they often fall into those without effort on my part. I also care much more about following individual characters than I do A Relationship™, so I prefer having really really standout characters and then watching them interact in exciting ways.

Honestly, a lot of the time it comes from within the characters themselves… usually a major conflict they can’t get over. This, of course, works especially were for enemies to lovers, where I really get to play up the “I really want to date this person but they’re such an annoying jerk” trope. And I like using internal doubts, too, where one character thinks the other doesn’t like them, or maybe that they’ll mess all of this up. And good old obliviousness. Sometimes other people don’t want them to get together, but my characters never seem to care enough about that for it to bother them.

I don’t know what this means… In a plot setting, it’s as simple as following an arc. Meetcute, conflicts arise, make it seem like they’ll never get together, have them solve the Big Problem, they get together. In terms of time I suppose I’d just want the pacing to feel right. Otherwise, it’s really only making sure that the problems have either been solved or look like they will be solved in the future–e.g. characters who could not trust before are either now able to trust or are actively working on that ability. Some kind of resolution to the big issues.

I try to get really detailed so that the reader knows this is important. The best moments are when characters aren’t doing anything major–maybe even just sitting together–but both are genuinely happy in the other’s company. That’s when I start bringing out what they hear, what they feel, the littlest pieces of body language… there’s nothing else to notice. It’s all calm. That’s how I feel about the important things–to get really detailed and let the reader savor the moment.

I’m very straightforward in my writing, so they just don’t come up. If someone’s eyes are blue, then they’re blue; they’re not “blue like the ocean” or “blue like a clear sky” because who notices that even. I write the way I think–what I notice about people. And I consider all the sexy talk carefully because, ladies, I’m sorry, but I can’t read another book involving someone’s length or pipe or Crooked Creek Garlic & Herb Goat’s Milk Cheese Log (12 oz.) I can’t do it. I won’t do it. I would never in my life call anyone’s penis a shaft and I won’t do it in fiction.

(Which is a good rule of thumb, in my opinion–what do you actually call this body part? Do you refer to it at all? Use the words that come naturally.)

I guess that got tangential. Hopefully it was all appropriate for the forums. Thank you for raising these questions! This is really interesting.

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I definitely focus on them individually first.

Usually one character comes to mind right away, with the general scenario that I want to put that “main” character into. Then the love interest character springs into mind next, based on those first two ingredients.

Although I did have one story built off of the love interest first.

I like a mix of external and internal conflicts or the stakes don’t feel high enough. Plus, in real life these two kinds can feed into one another.

For example, after someone has been hurt badly in their past, they often have a genuine fear of being hurt again, and so their friends or family can become very over-protective of them. A love interest then will need to deal with the insecurities of the MC and the meddling family or friends.

Generally 4/5ths of the way through the story.

This varies depending on the story - POV, narration, style, tone, theme, pacing, etc. all influence this for me.

If a character who is narrating has a very poetic or emotional way of describing things, there might be more focus on internal thoughts.

Another story might be more fast-paced and erotic, which requires more graphic descriptions.

It’s not one-size-fits-all, there are lots of ways to view romance and thus lots of ways to build tension.

As they say, “There’s a lid for every pot.”

Personally, I will never use “orbs” to describe eyes. I also greatly dislike the phrase “tongues wrestling for dominance”

I also shy away from too many body part euphemisms because they usually elicit more giggles than anything else.

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I’m dead! Sooooo true!

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Oh how fun! I love getting doses of romance leading up to Valentine’s Day so I’m excited to read all the responses to this!

I had a bit of both with this one, because I wrote best-friends-to-lovers and their “relationship” has already begun, so it was definitely fun to show both their individual growth and how their relationship is changing from purely friendship to romantic. I think in most romantic stories though, you need a bit of exploration of just the individuals first. Mine was a smaller chunk than most because her life and emotions are already so intertwined with her best friends, but I think that’s a very important part of the arc

My characters deal primarily with internal conflict. They’re put in several situations where conversation and confession about their changing feelings is possible, but it’s difficult for them to start discerning friendly affection from “maybe-a-little-more-than-friendly” affection, especially when they’re teenagers, they’re in the middle of some other outside problems (so they don’t see every hint being dropped), and they both have big voices of self-doubt and anxiety that prevent them from believing that it’s possible. They don’t really fight or hate each other, they’re just really confused and trying to be emotionally mature in the middle of a really stressful journey.

There was a point when I took a look at how my characters had grown and matured and I just knew that this was the point where realistically, they would have this conversation. It’s the moment when she decides that honesty and his friendship are more important to her than uncertainty and fear. Regardless of what his feelings were, she was ready to hear and accept them.

Definitely lots of emotion. For me, bodily movement and dialogue is only as important as the emotions and rushes they inspire. It’s important for the author to understand each character’s personality, and they would carry out certain actions and how their partner would react. Does Boy express his affection in big goofy ways? Does he like to communicate things with just a look?

I think this is what makes Romance as a genre really difficult to write. Capturing deep emotion and creating metaphors that fit so much into small spaces, so the scene can keep flowing without giant paragraphs, but still allowing the reader to feel all those complicated emotions and questions and motivations.

Definitely don’t be afraid to take time to write and rewrite. You don’t have to pump out an amazing scene in minutes or even hours. It’s not an easy process, and sometimes it’s easier to just get it out on paper and change it bit by bit than by putting perfection out on the first try. Try and think of similar experiences or emotions that you’ve had, and really put yourself in the shoes of your MC. Watch movies and read lots of other books, but also do exercises where you get to know your characters and their thought processes, because authenticity to the characters is hugely important. One of my MCs wears her heart on her sleeve and is more poetic, the other has a bit of an odd voice and speaks very simply. Both voices have been fun and emotional to work with, because I’ve tried to use metaphors and descriptions that are very personal to them and their culture instead of more generic phrases.

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This is true. More far-fetched descriptions generally just make me laugh. I still enjoyed the story, so that’s awesome, but it’s probably not the enjoyment the author intended

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It depends on the story I’m trying to write. If they are in a pre-established relationship, then focusing on the relationship might be a good course of action. However, if they are not starting out together (as is the case with most romance) then focusing on the individual makes more sense. We should learn who they are first before we learn how they are together.

Well, I pit my characters against each other in my story as literal rivals. There are plenty of conflicts to do with nosy people, the secretive status of their relationship, and the importance of the relationship they are establishing.

You have to be able to feel it, there is no clear-cut ‘this is how you do it right’ formula. Make sure it feels right for your characters, and your readers will agree. If it feels like it’s too soon, it likely is. If it feels too late, then see if you can hit that point sooner and keep a conflict whirling off of that.

Emotions are the most important aspect in a romance. That is what we came here to do, we came here to feel! We want to know not only what they look like and where they are, but how their actions and words make each other feel.

Well, it depends on what you mean by cliche language. Are we talking:
“You’re mine,” he growls deeply, nipping at my neck.

Or like:
She was not like other girls. When he saw her rosy red, plump lips he just had to taste them.

Those cliches both are pretty jarring. Honestly, I just try to write what feels right. When I read over it, if I don’t feel similar emotions to those I’m describing my character as having when I put myself in his/her shoes, I try re-writing it. Big emotional tension scenes are HUGELY important, they are the parts people will remember.

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The length… the firmness of his Crooked Creek Garlic & Herb Goat’s Milk Cheese Log (12 oz)… I needed to taste it…

I’m sure “cheese log” has been used. I had to Google to find something long and silly enough, but I’m sure someone has already said something this bad. Oh my God I’m thinking about this right now yep I’m sure someone’s said it.

Never heard this, but I love it!

Right?! Especially the tongue one. I just have to ask: does anybody actually want to tongue-wrestle? I feel like a lot of this comes from people trying to write like they ‘should’, not like they ‘are’. Just write what seems nice to you and it should work out alright.

I never use euphemisms. The absolute most I will do is “length” and it has to be… I don’t know. I have to literally be describing the length of it. Unless it’s relevant that I’m talking about The Length Of The Thing, I’m just going to call it what it is.

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Usually what happens is that I get a concept for two characters who I want to put in a romantic relationship first. I might say ‘I want to write a shygirl/toughguy romance’ and then start with that as my basis, and then focus on individual details. I will come up with romantic scenes and stuff between them as I go will full knowledge that it happens much later in the story. So I guess you could say I do both at once. And I do so since all my best ideas come to me at the drop of a hat so I never know what I am gonna come up with and when.

Oftentimes I use things like self-loathing and lack of confidence to pull them apart (“I love you but you can do so much better than me.”). Sometimes I will also put a conflict between them (like an enemies-to-lovers story). In my newest work in progress, the male MC isn’t very social and has put up so many barriers to keep himself from getting close to others because of a demon possessing him that’s made him kill everyone he’s gotten close to. So that’s an external force keeping them apart. Long story short, I use a lot of methods to pull my characters apart.

I really don’t know honestly. Sometimes, it just feels right. Like, maybe they have an unexpected heartfelt conversation. Or maybe a scene suddenly becomes unexpectedly romantic. The characters know when they want to be together and I can’t force them either together or apart at that point. If that makes any sense.

Internal thoughts are most important I think, since those aren’t censored by the characters, unlike dialog sometimes. I have a scene in one of my stories where the MC lets her mind wander, and it ends up wandering to the thought of her and the one she has a crush on kissing each other. This happens long before she admits to having any feelings towards him. Sexual tension is a bit different but I also think that internal thoughts are really important. The key to sexual tension is teasing something happening but take it away before anything can happen. Like, the two get within kissing range but never actually do something.

For dialog, I highly suggest thinking ‘does this sound like something a person would say’. When confronted with cheesy dialog tho, have the other character comment about how cheesy it was. That way you can include the cheesy dialog as well as be fully aware of how cheesy it is. I do this frequently. It’s kinda my way to say ‘yes, I know that was cheesy, I couldn’t help myself, moving on.’

Conclusion: With all of this being said, the most important thing about romance is the emotions of the characters. Because if those emotions aren’t there, all you’ve written is lust. Remember, sex can exist without love, and love can exist without sex, but love cannot exist without a strong emotional connection. And what is the point of romance if not to show love?

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It sounds so goofy and immature - akin to “tonsil hockey” which nobody says in a serious romantic scenario, and yet “tongue wrestling” is meant to be sexy?!

I will never get it.

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Hi! I’m new here, but I’m writing a romance series on Wattpad–The Soundcrush Series–about the members of a rock band names Soundcrush, so I thought I would give it ago and describe my process:

I definitely think of my characters as a single unit I’m trying to build. I first flesh out the emotional issues and defining character traits in tandem. I think of their “stuff” and their “strengths” like a Yin-Yan symbol. Then I imagine their unique baggage that will bump against one another’s to create romantic tension and their defining features that will make them highly attractive to one another. It’s not always an opposites attract scenario that creates the attraction. Sometimes it’s a shared history or a common passion.

Since I’ve built my characters to have “emotional stuff” that will push each other to grow or accept things they find difficult , it’s pretty easy to find a trigger that will set one half of my matched pair running for the hills or declaring a deal-breaker. Those triggers typically come in the form of a third party–but not necessary in a Love Triangle scenario. Sometimes the third party is offering professional opportunities, or giving one a characters a line of escape from the emotional tension in their relationship.

My plots get pretty twisty, but I like to incorporate action and suspense in the reunion moment. I think of it like this “flip a coin” scenario. If you have a choice to make with two options, and you choose to flip a coin to decide, in that moment the coin is in the air, you ALWAYS know what you truly want. So I put my characters in a tense moment of decision, and they follow their hearts to the right place!

I like using small but unique physical gestures to build tension. For example, I just wrote a scene this week where my male lead, a drummer named Bodie, is flirting with his drug therapist, named Marley. They also happen to share a thirteen year old son that Bodie just became aware of. Bodie is very attracted to his Babymama, but she has placed boundaries because she’s re-entered his life as his therapist/sobriety companion. In the scene, his objective is to show his bandmates that he’s attracted to her and stake a claim, daring anyone to object to his desire for this relationship to take an unprofessional turn. He very casually shares his bottle of sparkling water with her during a heated poolside moment. She’s rendered speechless by the way he offers it, and the rock star chin tip of encouragment that compels her to share his drink. The tension is thick, because they can’t have a romantic liason at this point, but his making intimate but non-sexual gestures like this with increasing frequency.

And then of course, she has a funny inner monologue where’s she drooling over his appeal and denying herself.

I place a lot of emphasis on the physical details, and then I make terse and sometimes sarcastic inner monologue statements to show the frustration that arises from the sexual tension. So the rhythym of the scene is an excruciatingly sensual gesture and then a swooning inner monologue quip! Back and forth, like a tennis match.

  1. Cliche language and descriptions can be the death of any scene but especially in a romantically charged one. How do you avoid this? Do you have any tips for those struggling?
    I try to go for simple statements that balance the character’s physical response and emotions. I try for original metaphors that fit the action and setting of the love scene. For example, the following is an excerpt from Tantric, where my couple, Leed and Ashlynn have a romantic moment on a private jet mid flight

I kiss her long and lazily, and we make love like magic. Somehow our clothes seem to disappear without effort, and our bodies melt together until we are in that sublime place of opposites—wild yet slow, drunk but sharply aware. Completely full of feeling, yet empty of everything but each other. As heavy and as light as the clouds themselves.

So there is physical description but I also describe the emotions and ground the description in the setting. Don’t forget where your characters are and what’s happening around them!

Yep, so that’s how I do. Looking forward to the answers of others, as I find writing love scenes really difficult!

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I also try to think about whether a character would actually sound saying his or her lines. A lot of times I say them out loud to test out their sound.

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Great point! External and internal conflicts are key to creating that push and pull that creates dynamic tension.

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This is so true. Emotions are critical to a romance story and even harder to make it believable unless you understand the character’s personality.

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Exactly! I think the best writing comes when we feel what we write.

  1. The key ingredients to any romance story are the two main characters. During the first steps in creating them, do you focus on the characters individually or as a couple? Why?

Usually the first moment I envision my characters is seeing them in some kind of interaction with each other – usually a fight :wink: So this is my inspirational moment.
I then start building ma characters individually.

  1. Tension means opposing forces pulling in opposite directions. So how do you pull your characters apart? Are fears and internal conflicts making it difficult to get together? Is it the wrong time, or the wrong circumstance?

I love the tension between my characters! There is a thin line between love and hate, so I always like to start from… well maybe not hate, that’s too strong, but a dislike.
In my case what makes them dislike each other is prejudice, prejudice that comes from some kind of life experience.
And then when they do get together, and I need to pull them apart, their prejudice and fears show their mean faces again…

  1. Just as you pull your characters apart, you have to bring them back together. How do you know when the time is right?

They belong together! So no matter the obstacles they will find their way back to each other… :wink:
But actually, I’ve watched so many romantic comedies in my life that I think I just instinctively know when the time is right (and I do not deny that when I do bring them together this might seem like a cliché )

  1. When creating romantic tension in a scene, what are the key elements that need to be included? ( ie. A lot of description? Tons of internal thoughts? Character reactions?) Why are they important and how do you find the perfect balance?

As I mentioned before, I like that thin line between love and hate, so for me the romantic tension usually happens after a fight :smiley: so both are still pissed, probably breathing hard, there is silence and yeah, definitely internal thoughts and then…

  1. Cliche language and descriptions can be the death of any scene but especially in a romantically charged one. How do you avoid this? Do you have any tips for those struggling?
    Again, I think having watched so many romantic comedies – both good and bad ones – I kind of instinctively know what would be a cliché. I usually just go by my gut feeling.
    So my tip, watch a couple of bad romantic comedies or read few of the Harlequin Romances and then you should know the Do’s and Don’ts :wink:

And now a question from me for #Wattpad4:
What is the best romantic comedy or a romance story you’ve ever watched or read?
and what is the worst?
:slight_smile:

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I think it’s important to focus on them individually so that later on in the story you (as the reader) understand the character’s motivations and the reasons behind them

In my current WIP, my tension comes from more of internal conflict between the characters and how life just gets in the way of that. And also the insecurity of the characters as well.

When they come together and talk about their issues and how they can help each other overcome them

Emotions, definitely emotions. And how the other character reacts to either their own or the other person’s emotions. Internal thoughts definitely help too but I realise when tensions arise, people don’t really process their thoughts properly and they just speak without a filter.

I read more romance books and ask for advice on how to improve a scene or how to improve the conflict between the two characters. Tips would be to watch more romance movies and read similar books to what you’re writing.

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Hmm that’s a hard one. I don’t think I can narrow it down to one but a movie that stands out is Love in the Afternoon with Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper. It’s an oldie but a goodie. And if you’re looking for a great romance author I would point to the queen herself–Nora Roberts. She creates fantastic leading men and women.

I can’t say off the top of my head the worst but there’s definitely been some doozies especially when a romance book gets turned into a movie. A lot times the magic and chemistry is lost which makes the movie flat as a pancake.

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Ah i forgot to post my questions:

  1. Is it hard to write people falling out of love rather than falling in love?

  2. What do you think about stories that have that theme? Well not really a theme but more of consequence (?), plot point? I don’t know what to call it really haha

  3. Also, do you think it’s important for romantic stories to have a theme?

Did you see the Netflix movie Marriage Story?

Though not a novel, it was a very well written script about the demise of a marriage.

It made me ugly cry (granted I’m a child of bitterly divorced parents) because of the depth of feeling in the screenplay and from the superb acting.

Personally, I think it might not be “harder” to write such a story, but certainly a lot less fun to write than the falling in love part.