Romantic tension is the suspense you build as a writer around two characters who have feelings for each other but haven’t gotten together yet. This suspense will make readers wonder whether these characters will be together or not. These characters may or may not admit their feelings out loud, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings. That can be part of creating romantic tension.
Whether you’re writing a romance or a novel with a love interest, knowing how to write romantic tension in your story is a must. That’s what we’re discussing today. To create romantic tension in your story, be sure to stick around.
How to write romantic tension?
Romantic tension quite simply is desire. Unfulfilled characters want to be with each other, but they can’t. Everything in your story has to be filtered through this idea of desire fulfilled. Does the dialogue create desire? That’s unfulfilled.
There are two different types of romantic tension. The two types are:
- Positive romantic tension.
- Negative romantic tension.
Positive romantic tension is about the certainty and hope of the relationship. It is the promise and increasing certainty of a relationship. When two people show a desire for each other, they’re moving closer to a clear relationship to fulfill that tension positively. This tension is all about anticipation and optimism.
Negative romantic tension is the opposite. It is romantic tension about uncertainty, creating fear and anxiety.
You either increase the desire or decrease the character’s ability to release the romantic tension in two ways. It’s based on how much the characters desire each other and their inability to be able to fulfill that desire. So to amplify and escalate romantic tension between two characters, you have to focus on one or both variables. You either increase how most of the characters like and love and what these others do, or you decrease their ability. That’s how you build tension. I will discuss my 5 tips for writing romantic tension to give you more ideas. Let’s get started.
1. Use the five senses
You can only build romantic tension when there is romance involved. So before anything else, your characters must be attracted to each other. What better way to show that attraction than by utilizing the five senses? What do characters feel when their hands accidentally touch? Are they drawn to each other’s smell? What do they visually like about each other? What specific words do they say around each other? Do they flirt or tease each other, or are they competitive?
Even how they behave can say a lot and build tension, and often what they don’t do can be crucial to perhaps they say hello to everyone at the party. Show us all these things and let us experience what they feel using the five senses.
2. Create some confusion
The characters have doubts about each other. Maybe they don’t fully trust the other person or have issues of their own that prevent them from being honest about their feelings. Or an aspect about the other person goes against what they believe in.
Remember, if your characters like each other and nothing stops them from getting together, there’s no tension. So their demons or misconceptions should stand in the way. Creating obstacles is crucial, and I recommend you use lots of variety and types of interruptions.
For the tension to rising, consider the forbidden romance trope. It works so well because the characters aren’t allowed to be together. Something stands in their way. They want each other, but there’s a lot against them, and that only makes them want each other more. It’s the same idea with any relationship where you want romantic tension. If they have the relationship easily, it won’t be as worthwhile, and readers won’t be as invested. So make readers invested with all the ups and downs.
3. Show the characters having an emotional connection
What do characters bond over? Although we’re trying to build tension, we also want these characters to have a connection. After all, our goal is to get them close and pull them apart. We must do that over and over until they get together. That’s how tension is built.
What do they connect over? Do they both have a love for old movies? Do they bond over a stray dog they rescued together? What keeps them coming back to each other? What do they find in the other person that they can’t seem to find elsewhere? Allow them to fall in love despite all their doubts and fears about the relationship and the other person.
So it started as a physical attraction, but now it’s moved into an emotional, mental, or spiritual attraction. The other person is more attractive to one of the characters, or both want each other more. Anytime you increase your desire for each other, you increase the tension.
4. Pull away from each other again
As soon as the characters/protagonists get close, make something, pull them away again. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. Maybe the character chickens out and tells the character to be how they feel, and they start avoiding them but find obstacles to keep building that tension. Eventually, your characters will get together, but for now, build that tension.
How do you also decrease the ability of the characters to get together? Another way to put that is to increase their inability to get together. Maybe they’re not together in the first place or can’t get together in the first place because they are on the opposite sides of some legal battle. Maybe they’re on opposite legal teams and some lawsuits, and that’s going on in a tab. You have to have something to keep the characters apart, so they don’t get together and increase their inability to get together.
5. Add forced proximity trope
Building romantic tension between two characters is to force them together. You’ve raised the story stakes and decreased their ability to get together. Force the characters together as much as possible that will bring the tension boiling to the surface. Maybe your two main characters are stuck in an elevator together. They can not escape each other’s presence.
So this tension is thick in the air, maybe with the example of the teacher or principal and the student’s mother. Or they are asked by the school board to work together on some events or some projects. So they’re forced to be together.
They can’t run away and hide from the tension, nor can the reader. The reader wants the characters together because it’s more compelling. To build, escalate, prolong, and amplify romantic tension between two characters, especially near the end of your story’s middle and end.
Do you love stories with romantic tension? Let me know in the comments.
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