Writing one believable love interest can be tricky enough on its own — writing more than one at once is an even more delicate balancing act. Whether you’re writing the traditional love triangle, a more complicated series of potential suitors, or a polyamorous union, it takes time and care to make sure that each one is done justice…
And just as importantly, to make sure that the reader is invested in all of them!
So here are three helpful principles for you to keep in mind as you design, plot, and write your many love interests to life.
Give each love interest unique attractive qualities.
One of the most common complaints I hear about the romance genre and love interests in general is a lack of variety — especially in male love interests.
It sometimes feels like every guy in fiction is tall, dark, and handsome, with alpha energy radiating off of his six pack and a devilish smirk to match. There’s nothing wrong with this character archetype. But the sheer amount of these glossy, unreal men leaves a lot of readers . . . bored.
Yes, the big selling factor of these cookie-cutter men is to create an archetypal batch of wish fulfillment for hungry romance readers to snack on, I know. I’m not saying that if you like your tall, dark chocolate-chip men that you have to stop eating those cookies. I’m saying that I wish people brought more snickerdoodles or triple chocolate cookies to the table as well!
(This metaphor may have gotten a bit out of hand.)
But the point is that other types of romantic interest can be wish fulfillment too, and it’s especially key to diversify your love interests when you have more than one of them.
If the reader can’t distinguish between each love interest in the first place, chances are high that they won’t care if the protagonist manages to make a relationship work with any of them.
And when it comes to “attractive qualities”, you don’t have to limit yourself to physical features — though it would be wonderful to have more variety there too. People are attracted to personality as well. Characters with different interests and different approaches to affection and problem-solving will help liven up your romances and plotlines. So if you want Mr. Tall & Dark to make his appearance, make sure that the other interests contrast him.
Make each of them plot relevant.
There is nothing more damning to a character than when the audience feels the need to ask;
“Okay, but why are they even here?”
It’s okay to have some extraneous elements in your story — fluff can actually serve a purpose to a story, which is a topic for another article — but an unnecessary character can be a problem, since putting focusing on one character will naturally take focus off of other, possibly more interesting characters.
And a character as prominent as a love interest is especially expected to pull their narrative weight. So what does each love interest bring to the table when they aren’t mooning over the main character?
Circling back to the previous point, establishing different narrative uses for each love interest can be a great way to make them distinct. One of them is the girl to go to in combat situations. That other one knows how to fix the broken MacGuffin. Someone else acts as emotional support, giving the main character a grounded perspective when they need it most. This one starts off as a rival, driving the protagonist to make a choice that kicks off the main plot.
So long as the audience sees the value of having them around, you’re good.
A little conflict between characters is often in order.
And yes, not just for the edgier interests — the love triangle rivals, the enemies-to-lovers, so on and so forth. Even the softest, most pastel love interest deserves spicy moments and opinions of their own.
Now, the conflict doesn’t have to be dire, heartbreaking, or horribly betraying. And if you specifically want to portray a healthy relationship, it probably shouldn’t be! But real people are messy and sometimes fit together imperfectly. They have different life experiences, and that leads to different ideas of how the world should work.
A love interest who disagrees with the protagonist (or the other love interests) on some issues will feel more real than one who has the same perspective on everything.
Balance attention between each love interest.
Ask yourself this; if one love interest is hogging all the spotlight, why are the others love interests too? Are you actually interested in writing them as love interests? Or do you just like the idea of writing a love triangle or a romantic threesome?
Since the main character’s investment in their love interests should be high, I argue that it’s best for the story if the author is also invested in them.
If you realize that your heart’s not into every interest, then it’s okay to cut the ones that aren’t working for you, or to turn them into more ordinary side characters. Alternatively, a character redesign might be in order.
Remember what I said about making all the interests distinct from each other? Well, no writing advice is universal, and there are always situations where you are allowed to toss it out the window. Lets say that you really, really, really want to write buff women (or even Mr. Tall & Dark, yes) as every romantic option. You can do that! You’ll just have to find other ways to make each love interest distinct from each other — backstory, plot contributions, skills, so on and so forth.
(And trust me, there will always be other people out in the world who share your sense of taste. No matter what kind of love interest you want to write, there is someone out there who desperately wants to read about it.)
So go do you and write whatever makes you excited. You might get your readers excited too.
And that’s it for writing advice for today. If you find this helpful, then you can support me as a creator by taking a look at Shadow Herald, my debut dark fantasy novel! Thank you, and have a lovely day.