Jennifer E. Smith on writing believable romance


The author of Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between shares her writing know how


I write books with hearts on the covers.  Which is why it’s completely understandable that people often refer to them as romances.  And in some ways, they are.  After all, I’ve written stories about people meeting in airports and elevators and through misdirected emails.  And my newest one – Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between – is about a couple who are about to leave for separate colleges, so they spend their last night revisiting all the places that meant something to their relationship.

Definitely romantic.

But still, I don’t think of my books as romances.

Not that I mind when others do.  I’m a firm believer that once a story is out in the world, it belongs more to the readers than the author.  And nothing makes me happier than hearing people swoon over the characters in my stories.

But to me, the most important thing in writing a love story is balance.  Which means I try to make sure my books are never just about the romantic element.  They’re about love, sure, but they’re also about family and friends, change and acceptance, obstacles and dreams.

Which is to say, they’re about life.

So here’s what I try to keep in mind as I write:

First of all, creating believable love stories means creating three-dimensional characters.  Life is never about just one thing, so why should a book be?  There’s got to be more to the story than just the falling-in-love part.  Love doesn’t solve everything.  It can’t be the answer to every riddle.  It has to be just one part of the main character’s journey.

Which brings me to my second point: each character should have his or her own separate storyline, a personal quest or challenge or goal that’s wholly separate from the love story.  Nobody wants to read about the boy who only dreams about a girl, or the guy who spends an entire book thinking about the boy in his math class, or the girl who can’t stop pining over some dude she just met.  You want to read about two people who not only find each other, but who also find themselves. 

And lastly, if you’ve read any of my books before, you’ll know that I tend to leave things a little open-ended.  I always joke that I punctuate my stories with an ellipses rather than an exclamation mark.  But in life, not everything is tied up neatly with a bow, and not everyone automatically gets a happily ever after.  So I usually prefer to end things on a hopeful note, rather than a sweeping, eternal love kind of note.  I realize it’s not for everyone, and as a reader, I often enjoy knowing more at the end.  But for me, this has always felt more realistic.

Of course, there are tons of other tricks and tips for creating a believable love story, and if you asked a dozen different writers, they’d probably tell you a dozen different things.  So ultimately, you just have to write the story in a way that feels most true to you. 

But these are just a few of the things that have been useful to me.  So whether you’re working on a romance or a love story or a story that just happens to be about two people who come into each other’s lives at the exact right moment, I hope you’ll find them helpful too. 

Happy writing!


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