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!

Valentine’s Day Writing Tag

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Once again, Jenna Moreci has participated in a holiday-related writing tag and once again, I decided to blog about it. Valentine’s Day may be over, but since all the candy is on sale for uber-cheap, I decided to keep up the spirit since I was a bit busy being penitential yesterday for Ash Wednesday.

The Valentine’s Day writing tag was created by AuthorTube vlogger Bree Barton, whose debut novel will be coming out this year.

RULES: Describe your WIP in three sentences or fewer. Then answer the following 10 questions.

For this tag, I want to use the characters from my chick lit novel, Love Notes. Love Notes centers on Allie, an aspiring professional pianist who becomes a contestant in a talent search reality show around the same time she begins a relationship with the bass player of a semi-famous rock band. Allie’s ability to be more sociable are constantly put to the test, as she is portrayed as the token “Ice Queen.” Will Allie be able to find her creative voice and become the musician she always wanted to be?

Well, that’s what you’ll have to find out.

Onto the questions!

1. Which character does something epic for another character on Valentine’s Day, only to have it go epically wrong?

This doesn’t happen in the novel, but Allie has tried a grand gesture for her ex-boyfriend back in her college days by singing karaoke in public for him and it went epically wrong because he verbally chastised her after she finished singing. Did I mention that her ex-boyfriend is a narcissistic jerk?

2. Nine million people buy their pets a gift for Valentine’s Day. Which of your characters does this, and what’s the gift?

Nobody in my novel owns any pets, but I can see Elena doing this. Elena is a dancer that Allie befriends on the show. Elena is sweet, nice, and would probably buy a cozy Valentine’s Day sweater for the most adorable kitten in the world.

3. Which character is celebrating Singles Awareness Day (S.A.D.) and how do they celebrate?

Allie’s sister, Stephanie. Stephanie is a college senior interning for a TV show and prefers to just casually date guys for the moment. However, she does want to have a serious relationship eventually, so she would celebrate the “S.A.D.” part of Single Awareness Day by watching Marilyn Monroe movies like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to boost her mood.

4. In 1537, King Henry the Eighth declared February 14th the official holiday of St. Valentine . . . the same King Henry who beheaded two of his six wives. Which character decides to murder someone on February 14th?

Spoiler alert: nobody dies or tries to kill anyone in Love Notes. It’s not that kind of novel! But if someone were inclined to kill someone, even on Valentine’s Day, it would be Regan. Regan is the main antagonist in Love Notes who acts like such a sweet girl on camera, but is actually a total diva in real life. If she could, Regan would murder the people she considers to be her biggest threats to winning the show. And she wouldn’t care if she did it on Valentine’s Day. But that’s not something she would say out loud!

5. Which character writes and performs a sappy love song for their crush?

Jethro, no contest. Jethro is Allie’s new boyfriend and the bass player of a rock band. He also writes songs along with the other members of his band. He actually wrote a sappy love song for her that they dance to in one of the chapters. It’s an adorable little scene!

6. Fill in the blanks: I saw ________ [character] give a box of __________ [noun] to __________ [other character], which made them wildly __________ [adjective/verb].

I saw Cassie give a box of baby clothes to her husband, Pete, which made him wildly ecstatic and sappy. Cassie and Pete are part of Jethro’s band, happily married, but they’re at a point in their lives when they want to have kids. This would probably be Cassie’s way of telling Pete that she was expecting.

7. Every February, the Italian city of Verona receives approximately 1,000 letters addressed to Juliet. Which character writes a love letter to someone who does not exist, and what does it say?

I’m gonna pick a minor character for this one and go with one of the Songbirds. The Songbirds are Regan’s cronies and they’re basically an a capella quartet, but you can’t really tell any of them apart aside from their hair color because they all act very similar. I can see any one of them writing a letter to their “Future Husband” in the Meghan Trainor style. Like “Dear Future Husband, I’m writing this cuz I want to let you know what I want out of a relationship…” You get the idea.

8. Which character breaks up with their significant other on Valentine’s Day by text message (or an equally awful way if there are no texts in your world)?

Eric. Remember that narcissistic jerk of an ex-boyfriend that I mentioned earlier? That’s him. Eric is the most entitled, presumptuous rake who thinks that he’s the smartest man in the universe and deserves the smartest, prettiest woman as his wife. He would dump a girl on Valentine’s Day via text message without a second thought if he finds someone else or just because he doesn’t see any value in her anymore.

9. In Finland, Valentine’s Day isn’t romantic—it’s called Ystävänpäivä, or “Friend’s Day.” Which character celebrates Friend’s Day by playing a massive prank?

Ruby would probably do this. Ruby is an aspiring country rock singer from Memphis who wouldn’t mind playing a prank on the reality show favorites like Regan or the Songbirds as a nice set-down. Regan and her cronies usually get perceived as being the cool girls that everyone wants to be friends with, so a little on-camera prank would show the world what kind of people they really are.

10. One of your characters consumes too much chocolate and champagne and gets sick all over the love of their life. Which character is it?

Chad, the token “heartthrob” of the show, whose only talent is being the white guy with the acoustic guitar. Aside from Ted, Chad is a guy who can get carried away with himself and I can see him overindulging on all the Valentine’s Day related food and drink, only to puke all over Regan because he doesn’t actually have any game underneath his pretty boy demeanor. Chad is the epitome of “all style, no substance.”

Three To Get Married/In Good Times And Bad

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From Heart of Mary Women’s Fellowship

The first time that I heard today’s passages, I was at my friend’s wedding. The priest at their wedding complimented my friend on her choice of readings and I couldn’t help but agree with him. It was my first time ever hearing a passage from Tobit, so right off the bat, I knew that my friend and her husband had something different in mind from the typical feel good sentimentality most couples want. 

 

Whether you are single, in a relationship, or already married, I hope that you can find something to relate to in the first part of today’s reflections. Read here for part 1.

 

 

in good times and bad

 

In Part 2, I compare Tobit and Sarah’s wedding party to the Wedding at Cana.

I always felt that if I ever get married, I want the Gospel to be today’s passage from the Gospel of John. I’m not someone who constantly dreams of the perfect wedding (although I do have a wedding Pinterest board like every other girl who uses Pinterest), but I always loved the Wedding at Cana because it’s a microcosm of what I feel life is like for married couples and for those who enter into religious life.

 

What do they have common? Find out here!

 

And finally, I want to share with you the YouTube playlist I created to go with this study:

"But They're Not My Type!" – Balancing Standards and Flexibility in Dating

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As many of you know, I’m a huge fan of Taylor Swift. I really hope I’m not jumping the gun when I say this, but as I showed in a previous post, I’ve been very supportive of Taylor Swift’s recent relationship with Calvin Harris. Her recent posts on Instagram (as well as one post from Calvin Harris) has only made me all the more excited. But what makes this particular relationship interesting, aside from the fact that Taylor is being open about it, is that before they met, Calvin Harris didn’t consider Taylor Swift to be his “type.” Given what I know about Taylor’s relationship history, Calvin wasn’t someone she would’ve considered dating in the past, either.

We all have this image of the “type” of significant other we want to have. We have an idea of what love is and what the perfect relationship is. If you asked me what my type was, I would show you a picture of my favorite vampire from Buffy, the one with the bleach blonde hair, gorgeous blue eyes, and bad boy attitude all wrapped up in a black leather duster. My relationship history, however, has been very different from that. I dated different types of guys in the past: a dry-witted boy next door who liked The Godfather, a wild-eyed bad boy that always made me laugh, and a guy that I met in a ballroom dance class who couldn’t sing on-key to save his life. Growing up, my “type” was similar to the one I still have, except I wanted a nice, romantic guy who was taller than me and a big brain. There were parts of my “type” in each of the guys I crushed on and/or dated, but none of those guys were everything I pictured in my head.

It’s one thing to have standards when it comes to dating. We need to make sure that we’re safe, after all. But life can’t be like The Ugly Truth or Hallmark’s The Wish List, where a girl has a long list of things she wants in a guy and judges every guy she meets based on that one list. When it comes to dating, you gotta be flexible to some extent. What exactly is a “deal breaker” for you? There are things to keep in mind, like making sure that we stay chaste when dating and not go after married men, but we shouldn’t turn down a guy just because he doesn’t dress nicely or likes a kind of music that we’d rather not listen to.

Dating in the 21st century has turned into a balancing act: making sure you stay safe, but at the same time being willing to risk your heart. You have to think ahead, but enjoy the moment at the same time. Most of all, you have to be sure that you still love God and yourself and not make an idol out of the person that you’re dating or the ideal relationship you have in your head.

Relationships aren’t fairy tales that end with a happily ever after. They’re messy and broken and change as we get older. Relationships are a lot like this spoken word poem by Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye:

The best advice I can give about dating and relationships is to offer it up to God. Just when you start to accept that you’re single and not ready for a relationship, He’ll probably turn around and surprise you. After all, as they say “Man makes plans, God laughs.”

 

My Year In Photos: October

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The month of October usually consisted of 2 things: 1) Prepping for Halloween and 2) watching lots of scary movies. But this year, Taylor Swift took over with the premiere of her latest album, 1989. I already went into detail about how I obsessed over Taylor Swift ever since her first album came out. And lately, it seems like each song from 1989 has been applying to things I’m experiencing now or plan to do in the future.

Today, I wrote my first song and I listened to some of the tracks to get the bridge done correctly. And like Taylor Swift, this song was inspired by love. All I need now is just to set it to music.

 

I Always Tell Myself

 

Lately I find myself constantly astonished

At the way you always smile at me

You come into my life and all of a sudden

Part of myself wants to run and flee

 

Pre-Chorus:

Because I’m not afraid of wanting you

Not scared of losing what I never had

But I’m terrified at the idea that

you could love me back

 

Chorus:

I always tell myself you gotta take chances

I always tell myself you gotta take risks

Even when I’m standing next to you

Feels like I can’t handle it but

I’m willing to see this to the end

Put my heart on the line again

Want to see if this goes well

I always tell myself

 

I have no idea how this all began

It’s like I had all these questions

But the answer’s in your hands

Just when I thought I was safely in isolation

I find myself off my guard, at a loss for explanation

 

Pre-Chorus and Chorus

 

Bridge:

Sparks make flames where love begins

Felt so warm when you let me in

Could love give me a second chance

make me happy once again?

 

Four Loves Friday (Late due to Sochi)

Eros is probably the most well known and also the most misunderstood of the Four Loves. For one thing, sexuality and lust aren’t always a part of Eros (think about someone you know that had meaningless sex with somebody). However, C.S. Lewis doesn’t say that Eros (which he defines as romantic love) and sexuality are incompatible. He just wants to make a distinction between Eros and what we call “erotic.”

Lewis says that romantic love begins with a pre-occupation with the Beloved. In other words, the “crush” phase. Going back to my post about Spike and Buffy, this happens when Spike dreamt of Buffy kissing him instead of staking him at the end of the episode “Out of My Mind.” Ideally, sex is not the first thing that comes to mind during this phase. Instead, the person with the crush is more pre-occupied with the person he or she is crushing on. It’s kind of a “Getting To Know You” phase. Lewis describes having what I call a crush as entering “like an invader, taking over.” How many times have we often said that we can’t get that person we’re crushing on out of our head?

Lewis continues to make a distinction between Eros and the erotic by citing George Orwell’s 1984. Two things: 1) Lewis calls the protagonist of 1984 less human than the “four footed heroes” of Animal Farm and 2) Without Eros, the beloved is an object, lusted after as a means to an end; with Eros, the Beloved is cherished as a person. Ideally, the Lover puts the Beloved first. 

So why is romantic love so messed up? According to Lewis, it’s because both Eros and the erotic are taken too seriously. How many times in our lives have we seen stories where getting the guy/girl at the end is seen as the end-all, be-all? How many teenagers feel insecure because of their apparent sexual inexperience and see being a virgin as a crime? While both Eros and the erotic need to be taken seriously, neither one can’t be the end-all, be-all. People shouldn’t constantly worry about not having a relationship or “dying a virgin.” There’s more to life than that. And yet, because of the culture we live in, this distorted version of romantic love has become an idol, a standard that many people try to measure up to.

Part of this problem comes from three views on what the human body is. One view, called asceticism, sees the body as a prison for the soul. The second view, hedonism, worships the body too much. The third view takes inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi who called his body “Brother Ass.” This view is self-depreciating, humble without being humiliating. We need to be able to laugh at ourselves when it comes to acknowledging ourselves as human beings before we approach a romantic relationship. Think about Elizabeth Bennet and William Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Both of them learned to laugh at themselves and the mistakes they made throughout the time that they knew each other. 

When we fall in love, we lose ourselves, but we never feel like we have lost unless the love we have is unrequited. We have to realize what we’re feeling and accept it. Otherwise, we fight a losing battle. And yet there’s also an element of masquerade to romance. We put our best foot forward in hopes of winning the heart of the Beloved. Is this bad? According to Lewis, no. The masquerade highlights the lovers as individuals.

Lewis moves on to quote one of the most controversial Bible verses. You know the one: Ephesians 5:25. Here’s the thing. That verse? It’s not misogynistic. It’s a verse that talks about mutual surrender. Yes, men have to make the first move, but the move he makes is the will to lay down his life for his wife. An ideal marriage, according to Theology of the Body, is a reflection of Christ’s spiritual marriage to the Church, which is seen as His bridegroom.

In the end, Eros’s endgame isn’t happiness. There is a reason “for better and for worse” is written in the marriage vows. Real love is choosing to suffer with your loved one rather than let them suffer alone. Real love is realizing that you make each other’s lives better and willing to make sure that you spend the rest of your days making each other happy. “Better this than parting. Better to be miserable with her than happy without her. Let our hearts break, provided they break together.” 

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? I’m not saying that this advocates staying in an abusive relationship because the heartbreak is one-sided in that scenario. I’m just saying that as long as people learn to stop being self-centered when it comes to romantic love and stop seeing relationships and sex as a be-all, end-all, we might learn to see the people we love for who they are and not just what they mean to us.