Author Karen Mahoney on Writing a Love Story

14 Things: Writing a Love Story

Karen Mahoney, author of books such as the critically acclaimed and very popular (and very good!) The Wood Queen and The Iron Witch, has been kind enough to help us out with some excellent writing tips. And what could be more fitting than tips on writing a love story, now that Valentine's Day is upon us?


by Karen Mahoney

Here are a few tips for writing your Big Romance. Take the tone of this article with a pinch of salt – but take the advice to heart!

1. Write the completely original, amazing, heartbreaking, fabulous, tear-jerking, beautiful, epic love story that only YOU can write. Easy… yes? ;)

2. If you’re not sure how to go about that, ‘borrow’ from Shakespeare.


3. Trust me, Shakespeare knew a thing or two about love. Don’t forget, this is the guy who wrote Romeo and Juliet as well as a whole bunch of sonnets. Shakespeare was the Doctor Love of Elizabethan England.

4. When writing a love story, always remember:

“The course of true love never did run smooth.”

That’s from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it’s the basis of most (all?) successful romances. If your star-crossed couple aren’t even really star-crossed… where’s the conflict? the drama? the excitement? the tension? You have to put obstacles in the path of True Love in order for your story to keep the reader’s interest. Boy meets girl (or boy), they fall in love and live happily ever after. The End. Well now, that doesn’t bring the passion and chaos that we’re looking for in our love stories, does it?


5. “Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?” (As You Like It)

Love-at-first-sight is all well and good (or ‘insta-love’ as it’s become known online, in recent times), but you have to make it believable. Do your young lovers spot each other in the audience at a local gig? Great! Their eyes meet across the sweaty crowds of moshing emo kids, and their hearts skip a beat… They know, without a shadow of doubt, that they have met… The One! Soulmates have been used a lot in love stories over the centuries, and they work – sometimes – because it really is a solid staple of the romantic genre. It only becomes clichéd if you don’t give it some originality. Maybe you can find a good reason as to WHY your couple would fall instantly in love. Perhaps they really are ‘soulmates’ – as in, they are reincarnations of each others’ lost love. Or maybe that tall boy with the messy black hair and enough piercings to set off a thousand metal detectors had a heart transplant… only the heart he now carries in his skinny chest is actually the heart of the boy you met at last year’s summer camp who died in a biking accident. You’ve been reunited! Sort of. Obviously, I don’t think you should really use these examples. ;) I’m just saying, make love-at-first-sight something a bit different in your story.


6. And talking of making potential clichés come alive: for the love of rhinos, if you intend to write a love triangle, make it something fun and interesting. Give it a shot of genuine mystery. Let’s really (I mean, really and truly) wonder who the heroine might choose at the end of the story – don’t make it too obvious. Or why not have her walk away from BOTH suitors? That would be cool.

7. There are many different kinds of love, from a burning love that consumes and destroys to the kind of love that empowers and strengthens. Personally, I prefer the second type of love, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some amazing stories of destructive love (try Wuthering Heights).


8. My favourite love story used to always be Jane Eyre, until I realized that there’s something pretty dodgy about a guy who keeps his first wife locked in an attic while moving on to wife number two. Of course, I didn’t let this worry me when I was younger because I thought that was ROMANTIC. Remember: not all romantic heroes have to be perfect. They can indeed be flawed, dark and dangerous. This is okay, but there’s a fine line between dark and dangerous in an attractive way, and dark and dangerous in a kidnapping, abusive, stalkerish sort of way.

9. Of course, not all love is of the boy/girl variety. Love is love, no matter who does the loving.

10. When you’re writing a love story, the whole point of that story is the relationship between your characters. Maybe they meet and fall in love during an epic quest of some kind, which is cool, but it’s the ROMANCE that should take centre stage in this sort of tale – not the intricate plot twists. That’s not to say you can’t have intricate plot twists, but you only have a certain amount of space to tell this story and you’d do well to keep that in mind.

11. “Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

I like this one. It’s actually referring to Cupid (who is blind), but it’s a good point to remember when writing your love story. Love connects us in so many ways, but one of the best is through conversation, humour, intelligence, shared hopes and dreams, shared history… So many things! It’s not just about the surface stuff – like the way we look. Sure, it’s nice to find somebody physically attractive, and I’m not saying that shouldn’t be part of your story (hot guys! beautiful girls! go for it!)… But I love a good romance that brings unusual people together. Beauty and the Beast, anyone?

12. Don’t forget to use all the senses when you create your story: let’s see what your characters see, hear what they hear, taste what they taste… etc. Paint a picture with the words you use. Bring the scene alive – and the love story will also come alive.


13. To be, or not to be… a happy ending. Should your story end with an HEA (Happily Ever After), or is your tale of love going to have a more tragic flavour? Or perhaps something else entirely. Anything is fine, just so long as you make it believable. Most romance readers do like to see a traditional happy ending, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go all Romeo and Juliet on them. Nothing like a bit of poison, stabbing and suicide to bring out the romantic in us.

14. When it comes down to it: follow your heart. Trust your instincts about the characters you’ve created. If you love your characters – and if you understand them and their motivations – you’ll write a fun story that will reel in your audience and leave us begging for more. Love stories are just like any other kind of story, in that regard. We just want to read a good one!


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