Adult Life Ruins Romance!

Tips on Writing Romance Plots and Subplots from a Demisexual

It’s amazing how romantic views can change over time. When I was a teenager, I used to read chick lit and the occasional romance novel. In college and throughout my 20s, Hallmark Channel Original movies were a comforting tradition every holiday season.

But I’m 30 years old now. And a working adult. Recently, I found myself becoming very picky about what I like in romantic comedies, rom-coms, and adult romance stories. Aside from the fact that I work for a living and got introduced to a lot of stuff that comes with adulting, the biggest disclaimer I have is that I am demisexual. Demisexuality is a type of asexuality. The basic definition is that I only develop an intense attraction/desire through strong, emotional connections. I can literally count the number of guys I consider myself in love with on one hand. And they’re all fictional.

Don’t get me wrong. I do find some guys aesthetically pleasing, but the guys I’m attracted to usually have a personality behind them. I feel like I’m the only woman in the entire world who doesn’t feel any attraction to Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Instead, I swoon over Chris Evans, Tom Holland, Matt Ryan from Constantine…you get the idea.

I think my demisexuality combined with a life of actual adulting changed my views on romantic comedies and romance stories as a whole. So with all that out of the way, here are my 5 tips for writing romance stories and romantic subplots, whether you’re writing a romance novel, a contemporary romcom, or a screenplay for a romantic movie/romcom.

1. Make sure the premise and conflict makes sense, plausibly.

There’s only so much suspension of disbelief can allow for, even by guilty pleasure rom-com standards. One of my favorite “guilty pleasure” romcoms had a lot of over-the-top stuff that didn’t make sense, but the premise was grounded on fairy tale archetypes and tropes (true love breaking a spell). So in spite of how ridiculous some of the characters are and some bad editing, I enjoy watching it because the movie still feels like a modern fairy tale.

In contrast, there was this movie that I used to like where the main characters frequented a dog park, but the problem of the conflict was that apparently the dog park would be closing down to break ground for a day spa. One of the characters said that dog parks don’t pay rent, but I immediately thought “Aren’t parks government funded, even dog parks?”

Basically, make sure that the premise and the conflicts of your novel have some semblance of plausibility. This also applies to the interpersonal conflict in the next tip.

2. Hating a person and finding them hot are majorly unmixy things

I literally cannot comprehend how you can intensely hate a person and find them hotter than Hades. There has to be something endearing about the love interest for both the reader and the love interest.

This is coming from the lady who swoons over Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but toxic issues regarding Season 6 aside, I mostly loved Spike from the start. If there’s something I loved about Spike as a whole, it’s that he owns up to what he is and what he does for better or for worse. He’s reckless and impulsive, but there isn’t any pretense to him. He’s a romantic and he’s a bad boy and while he hates his past as William the Bloody Awful Poet, his romantic tendencies still show. He clearly cares for Drusilla and in later seasons, we see him caring for Dawn and for Buffy as much as he is capable of doing without a soul.

What I can’t comprehend is when there’s a standard romance or rom-com and the two protagonists simultaneously hate each other while also wanting to jump each other’s bones. There has to be some kind of common ground here. If you’re gonna do enemies to lovers or some variation on hate-to-love, they need to respect each other about something. I recently read this short romance novella between a writer and a book critic and while it’s hard for me to buy the premise of a critic who’s so scathing over the romance novel genre, I could get behind the idea of the writer using that criticism to fuel her into doing better in her writing.

If the enemies have this sense of challenging each other, if they start out as something along the lines of rivals or frenemies, the hate-to-love becomes a lot more believable because they have something in common aside from being physically attractive.

3. Pretense can only go so far.

This isn’t a criticism against fake dating. When done well, fake dating can make for amazing stories. I literally reviewed a book centered on the premise of fake dating, for crying out loud. What I liked about that book in particular was the two of them finding the truth within the lie of their relationship.

What I mean by pretense is more along the lines of either party in a romantic plot or subplot pretending to be someone they’re not for a long term relationship. I get the initial first date awkwardness, trying to seem cool. But there’s only so long a person can go faking emotions. Unless you’re writing a romance story that involves a genuine sociopath, at some point, the mask is gonna come off, metaphorically.

I am a firm believer in authenticity when it comes to a lot of different things in life. As I have mentioned before, I loved Spike because he owned up to who he was and he was never pretentious about how he felt about anything. I think I developed a bias against men who do nothing but brood and feel guilty all the time because 1) I’m Catholic and I do enough self-guilting already and 2) guys who brood all the time don’t really change and I don’t feel like they’re owning up to whatever conflicting emotions they have.

Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite novels, has this reputation of being the archetypical hate-to-love story, but in reality, Elizabeth doesn’t really fall for Darcy until she actually sees him for who he really is, where he is most comfortable. And Darcy isn’t worthy of Elizabeth’s love until he comes to terms with his flaws and makes an effort to be a better person, even if it means not having Elizabeth in his life. She doesn’t magically fix him. He changes because of her influence in his life. There’s a huge difference!

Long story short, your characters have to acknowledge the hurt in their hearts, acknowledge their issues, then figure out how to work on healing those wounds. Which leads me to my next tip.

4. Love develops through emotional connection and shared experiences

I love slow burn romances. I love friends-to-lovers. Instalove is a hard sell for me because real love based on big gestures and intense attraction doesn’t really last long in the real world.

There’s a fine line between “shared experiences” and “trauma bonding,” so I advise against putting characters through something that would emotionally scar them for life unless you’re writing dystopia/sci-fi/fantasy, but even then, I advise to proceed with caution and not build the foundation of the romance on something that keeps them in the negative. The kinds of shared experiences I like is when the two people are working together on a project or share in holiday traditions or they go places together.

There also needs to be genuine emotional connection and understanding between the parties involved. By that, I mean that your characters need to be open and vulnerable and genuinely loving to each other at some point. While I realize that it takes time to get to that point, I have seen or heard of way too many “romance” stories where the characters don’t really communicate with each other and spend more time making out and fighting and playing manipulative mind games. (Points to the entire After series.)

Which leads me to the next tip.

5. Manipulation, Mind Games, and Stalking Aren’t Love

While there’s an initial emotional rush towards relationships that are, to quote Taylor Swift “screaming and crying and kissing in the rain,” relationships where people try to manipulate each other and play mind games or do something to trigger some kind of emotional reaction from their partner have major consequences that usually end up with people going to therapy.

There’s no genuine emotional connection when people are playing power games. Love isn’t about dominating or possessing some other person. Why do authors in the YA genre and writers of Netflix romance dramas find that concept so hard to believe?!

Long story short: Writers, stop writing stalking and romances that are founded on emotional abuse. Watch these videos.

In Conclusion

When you’re writing a romance, a rom com, or a romantic subplot, the key theme that ties all my tips together is authenticity. The premise of your story needs to feel real, even when you’re writing outside of the contemporary genre. The people in the story have to own up to who they are and overcome their pretenses.

Authentic love isn’t grounded in manipulation, mind games, or stalking. Real love is about the parties involved being genuinely happy with each other, even if they live in a dystopia. If the parties involved in a relationship of any kind can understand each other and talk their issues out, the relationship becomes all the more endearing because of the vulnerability.

I hope y’all liked these tips. And don’t let me stop you from enjoying your holiday romcoms!

Rent a Boyfriend: Interview with Gloria Chao

This post is an extension of my 15 thoughts on Gloria Chao’s new book Rent A Boyfriend which has been officially released today! If you’re a fan of fake dating, Asian-centric romantic comedies, and young adults in college surviving their sitcom-worthy embarrassing parents, give it a read!

I had the opportunity to ask Gloria Chao some questions about this book. Check out what she has to say!

1.  What inspired you to write this particular book?

RENT A BOYFRIEND is inspired by a real practice that happens in some Asian countries where women sometimes feel so pressured to bring home an acceptable significant other that they turn to hiring a fake boyfriend from the classifieds or a company. I understand this kind of pressure and wanted to write a book that fictionalized this practice and brought it to America. I drew a lot from my own experiences feeling pressured to walk a certain path in life and being set up by my mother.

2.  How familiar are you with the Palo Alto setting? Why did you choose that city as the main setting for the story?

I chose Palo Alto because I wanted a location with a large Asian American population to justify the existence of the boyfriend rental company, Rent for Your ’Rents, which caters to an Asian American clientele. I’m familiar with Palo Alto, so that felt like a natural choice, but of course the fictional community in the book is inspired by many different Asian American communities around the country with which I’ve had lots of personal experience. 

3.  Which character(s) do you relate to the most?

I relate to both Chloe and Drew in different ways. Chloe’s anxiety and her desire to please her parents while somehow walking the path of her choosing are taken from my experience. Drew’s voice, however, is closer to my own. And his backstory of his parents cutting him off for pursuing art is informed by my career switch from dentist to writer. 

4.  You’ve used Chicago as a partial setting for Our Wayward Fate and this novel. Have you ever considered setting an entire story in Chicago?

What a perfect question! I’m currently working on a story that is completely set in my hometown of Chicago! I hope I can share more about this project in the future! I love Chicago so much, and I hope that comes across when I write about it!

5.  What would you say to young adults who are struggling to have a healthy relationship with their parents? (Especially Asian-American young adults)

You are not alone. And it is definitely not easy. There aren’t really any right or wrong answers, only gray and more gray. I’m realizing that the only thing I can control is what I do and how I communicate, which is both fortunate and unfortunate. Hang in there!

6.  A lot of adults are still reading YA. What would you say to Asian-American adults who are reading this book while raising the next generation?

I don’t have kids so I don’t have any advice from experience, but I guess the least we can hope to do is not repeat the mistakes of the previous generation.

7.  Do you think there could be a possible sequel to this particular book? 

I am open to anything! But I personally think I would write a spin-off before I wrote a sequel. There are plenty of other possible Rent for Your ‘Rents stories to explore!

8.  How do you think Chloe and Drew would handle living in our current complicated year? What would they do in quarantine?

Like a lot of us, I think they would be taking it one day at a time. In quarantine, I think there would be plenty of couch-snuggling, watching feel-good movies, and playing board games like Takenoko, Splendor, or Ticket to Ride! 

Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao: 15 Thoughts While Reading

Thank you to Hear Our Voices and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this wonderful YA rom-com and including me on this Blog Tour!

Synopsis

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.

Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.

Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.

When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.

But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: November 10, 2020

Genre: YA Contemporary

Pages: 320 pages

Links:

About the Author

Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American Panda, Our Wayward Fateand Rent a Boyfriend. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her husband on the curling ice or hiking the Indiana Dunes. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths.

Her award-winning books have been featured on the “Best of” lists of SeventeenBustle, Barnes & NoblesPopSugarPaste Magazine, and more. American Panda received four starred trade reviews, was a Junior Library Guild Selection and Indie Next Pick, was a YALSA Teen’s Top 10 Pick, and on the Amelia Bloomer List.

Links: Author Website Twitter Goodreads Instagram

15 Thoughts I Had While Reading

  1. I love Chloe’s “mooncake points” aka her way of measuring her parents’ approval of either her boyfriend or herself.
  2. I low-key love that Chloe sort of has this “dual identity,” a version of herself when she’s at home (Jing-Jing), but wants to be her authentic self (Chloe). Drew has a similar dual identity, acting as “Andrew” when he’s being a fake boyfriend and wanting to just be himself when he’s off the clock. Bonus: This book shows scenes in Chloe and Drew’s POVs, though the story centers more on Chloe and her relationship with her family.
  3. I seriously wish that Chloe’s dad could’ve been more open and honest about how he regards Drew. He seemed very supportive of the relationship.
  4. Fun Fact: There’s a more famous Chloe Wang. You might know her better as Chloe Bennet aka Daisy from Marvel’s Agents of Shield. Before she became an actress, she was a pop star and one song came to mind as the chemistry between Chloe and Drew began to develop.
  5. The guy that Chloe’s parents want her to marry is a serious douche canoe and the excuses Chloe’s mother makes for him are a sorry sight to read. Double standards abound within Chloe’s family and their Chinese community. Mr. All-Wrong-For-Chloe is a shining turd example of the patriarchy! (Insert patriarchy jingle from Buffering Podcast here.)
  6. A lot of emphasis is put on one’s reputation within a community. I basically wanted to blast Taylor Swift’s “I Did Something Bad” during one particular scene centering on Chloe!
  7. I seriously imagine Drew having an Instagram account devoted to his art. He could make some serious merch from the little cartoon sheep, similar to this Instagram account.
  8. The word “verisimilitude” came to mind while reading through Chloe and Drew’s relationship. The word means “something having the appearance of truth.” It summarizes their fake dating perfectly!
  9. I had to unpack my bias about the value of a college education because I wasn’t sure why Drew didn’t go to somewhere like the Art Institute and Chloe had to set aside her own biases.
  10. I had a feeling that Gloria Chao really leaned into her previous career (she used to be a dentist) when she wrote the scene that centered on Chloe’s dad.
  11. I don’t understand why studying economics is frowned upon in these strict Chinese families. I’m speaking as a Filipino, but economics leads to a career in business, which is equally as lucrative as law or medicine.
  12. Given that Chloe’s dating a guy named Drew and that I’m a Taylor Swift fan, this song inevitably came to mind.
  13. Mahjong is featured in this book. I was instantly reminded of the famous scene from Crazy Rich Asians (which incidentally is a movie-exclusive scene). Even though I’m Filipino, I have very vague childhood memories of the various aunts in my very expansive extended family playing mahjong for money, though I never played it myself.
  14. Can this book have a sequel? No spoilers, but stuff they showed towards the end opens up the possibility of a majorly awesome sequel that centers more on Drew.
  15. I like the way that Gloria Chao included Chicago as a secondary setting, both in this book and in Our Wayward Fate. As she considers that city home, Chicago is her equivalent of Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice or Brigadoon. I look forward to seeing an entire story set in Chicago someday.

If you want to know more, check out my review of this book on Goodreads and get this book! It’s such a fun read and perfect for early holiday season rom com feels without buying into the Hallmark bandwagon.