(Note: this is a satirical article. I wish I didn’t have to make this disclaimer, but if I don’t, someone will take this whole joke way too seriously. This is literally how not to write a romantic subplot. Are we clear? Cool.)
Here are some tips for writing an amazing, spectacular, absolutely perfect romantic subplot that nobody will hate!!
#1: It’s Mandatory
Every story must have a romantic subplot! It’s gotta be a law or something, since 95% of all stories have one.
You’re writing an epic science fiction adventure? Romantic subplot! A coming-of-age young adult novel? Romantic subplot! A historical fiction with complex political intrigue and an emphasis on the parallels to our current social problems? Better shoe in a romantic subplot!
Feel free to derail the rest of the story. It’s not like readers picked up your book to read about actual fantasy adventure or spy intrigue. They chose your book—which was intentionally placed outside of the romance genre—specifically for the romance.
Also, feel free to completely pull your characters out of character to advance the subplot. Everyone acts totally unlike themselves when pursuing and maintaining a romantic relationship. That’s not sacrificing your characters’ integrity for the sake of a cheap subplot, that’s just fact.
#2: The Love Interest’s Character is Optional
The main character needs a romantic partner, but it’s not like she needs any actual character or anything. Don’t worry; no modern woman will get up in arms about seeing a someone of her marginalised gender reduced to flat, two-dimensional stereotype.
Most genres will allow you to turn the love interest into a damsel where she gets captured by the villain, effectively taking her out of the story for large chunks of time so you don’t have to worry about characterising her. Unless you decide to tell some chapters from her point of view, but it’s not like you need to give insight into her villainous captors, or create an intense escape attempt where she tries to get out or send information to the hero, or show off both the villain and love interest’s various skills as they try to out-manipulate the other to achieve their own respective goals.
If you do give her character, make sure “petty” and “jealous” are in there somewhere. We want her to act like a total child whenever she gets even a hint that the hero might be interested in someone else. Guys love it when women make out with random men to make them jealous, or give them the cold shoulder after a totally innocent conversation with another woman.
#3: When in Doubt, Add a Love Triangle!
If your romantic subplot is feeling a little flat, you can easily spice it up with a love triangle. That trope hasn’t been done so often and so poorly that it’s now one of the most recognisably bad cliches.
Some authors might decide to do a more modern twist on this trope and turn the love triangle into a polyamorous relationship, or have the two branches of the triangle hook up with each other (re: instead of Bella choosing between Edward and Jacob, the two boys dump her and date the other guy).
But tropes exist for a reason: they’re proven to work, so you should just follow the formula as it is and leave it at that.
#4: “I’m not interested in you romantically. Except I am.”
Sometimes, instead of immediately getting romantically involved, the leading man and leading lady will be friends, first. Perhaps they grew up together. Or they’re just really great friends who repeatedly say that they only want to be friends and have no sexual/romantic interest in each other. You can then surprise the reader by having them start a sexual/romantic relationship. In no way will the reader feel betrayed by your apparent irreverence for male-female platonic friendships. After all, everyone knows that men and women can’t exist in a platonic relationship unless one of them is gay. At least one must always be pining for the other.
If you are worried about “betraying” your readers, you could avoid this by including the fact that the two characters used to date each other in the past before a messy breakup, and are now forced to work together for the purposes of plot. In which case, the romantic subplot will focus on how they get back together, instead of healthily moving on, or even becoming friends.
#5: Drag It Out To Eternity
It’s not like people who are attracted to each other ever act on it, or worse, communicate their feelings. If your characters did that, they might get together before the halfway point, and then the rest of the story would show how a new relationship can (or cannot) withstand the stress of whatever else is going on in the story. No, better for your characters to hook up during or right after the story’s climax. Then it’ll be a proper reward for the hero, like a magic goblet, glowing sword, or other inanimate object that women love to be compared to.
#6: Everyone Wants a Romantic Partner
Wanting a romantic relationship is the single unifying human experience, so every single character in your story should strive to have one. Every character should be pining for another character, or in a relationship with another character, or mournfully wishing for that special someone.
This will in no way insult the aromantic community, that is, those people who experience no romantic feelings (or only experience them under very specific circumstances). Nor will it insult those non-aromantic people who simply aren’t interested in a romance at this point in their lives and want to focus on other things like their career or recovering from mental health issues. These people are more fictional than unicorns. It’s fine.
And don’t worry: this won’t grow tiresome for any of your readers. They’ll be just as enthusiastic for the twenty-seventh romantic subplot in the same trilogy as they were for the first! You’ve gotta pair the spares! Who cares that these two characters have barely interacted over the course of the story? They would totally be cute together.
Oh, and make sure everyone is straight, cisgender, and allosexual. We wouldn’t want to include gay, queer, or asexual relationships.
#7: Forget What Happens After
Everyone knows that the hardest part of a romantic relationship is getting one, and not maintaining it.
Some authors might get the idea to have the romantic subplot focus on two characters that are already in a stable relationship. If that’s the case, then the romantic subplot needs to focus on the man’s desire to propose, which keeps getting derailed by increasingly improbable situations.
Is your romantic couple already married? Do they have kids? How would such a family dynamic do under the strain of your main story, be it an intergalactic alien war or historical political upheaval? If both of those characters were involved in a traditional epic adventure in their youth—which is how they get together in the first place—how does that affect them now that they’re older and wiser? Does one or both of them have PTSD or some sort of physical injury that the other has to help them through?
Those questions don’t matter. Writers never write such romantic subplots that take place after “The Big Kiss,” so it’s better to do what they’ve done a million times rather than do a new spin on it. Readers hate new stuff.
And that’s how your right an amazing romantic subplot! List your tips in the comments below!