(note: This is regarding male romantic interests for female characters. There are many potential relationship pairings, and to keep things simple, I’m examining them one type at a time)
One of the first things to consider when you are considering creating a romantic interest for your protagonist is why you are doing it. Your motivation can determine where to go from there.
Because Someone Said I Had To
While it’s true that romantic entanglements can spice up a story, be sure that it isn’t just an afterthought. A lot of stories have a romantic interest shoehorned in, and it becomes apparently pretty quickly. Rather than adding to a story, this ends up taking time away from the plot you actually spent time working out.
It’s the Whole Point
OK, so you’re writing romance or one of the romance subgenres. Fair enough, and we won’t trouble you any further on the subject.
I Just Had a Bunch of Characters and It Sort of Happened
So you wrote a bunch of characters, some male, some female. Literature happened, and these characters decided among themselves that this was the way things were going to be. Either there was just chemistry among them, or the plot demanded they get together, there was at least some compelling reason for the relationship to be portrayed in the story. Carry on!
Now that you’ve determined why you are adding a relationship, think about what type it would be:
Ugh. All the singing dwarfs and fairy godmothers in the world can’t save this one. Show your heroine a bit of respect. If you’re going to have her fall in love at the end, don’t make it some guy she barely (or never) met. If you want to keep the core of this one, change it up in one of two ways. You can set Prince Charming up as a bit character sprinkled throughout the story. Have chance meetings, missed exchanges, and enough hints of sexual tension to make the ending believable. Alternatively, you can have her meet her Prince Charming at the end, but not have her swept off her feet. A spark is fine, and even a bit of romance, but don’t skip straight to assuming Happily Ever After.
Opposite of the Prince Charming who saves the day is the non-hero. He’s an everyday average guy. Whatever else he may have going for him, he’s not designed to go around kicking in doors and leaping from rooftop explosions. In fact, your heroine is probably going to end up saving him one or more times during the story. At his best, in an action situation, he will keep his head and find some other way to contribute. At his worst, your heroine is going to have to find a way to save the day while actively hindered by a blubbering wreck. Just bear in mind that if there’s a lot of action, the latter can get to be pretty insufferable. Give him a redeeming quality to make it clear why your protagonist even puts up with him (especially since most people spend less than 50% of their lives in fight scenes). On the respectable end of the spectrum, he can be a voice of reason for a shoot-first sort of heroine.
Whether he’s the tattooed, leather-jacket-wearing tough guy or the slick-haired con man in the Armani suit, this one doesn’t play by the rules. He’s trouble, and she knows it. That’s what she likes about him. Their relationship is nothing but trouble. Either elements of abuse creep in, his actions start to drift beyond what she’s comfortable with, or unsavory associates come calling. The Bad Boy can go one of three ways.
- He changes his ways. Learning from the protagonist’s example, he straightens out his act because she’s worth that much to him.
- He loses her to another man, one who is better suited to her values. He may be crushed by this, blow it off, or end up dead as a part of some ill-conceived competition with the “better man.”
- She embraces her Bad Girl side and they overcome whatever obstacles stood in their way, on their terms.
Whatever he eventually becomes, Wallet is first and foremost a very wealthy man. He dresses well, owns a nice home (or several homes), drives the fanciest cars, and knows all sorts of wealthy, powerful people. The heroine stumbles into him by chance, and he’s smitten with her (or at least lusts after her). She gets to see behind the curtains of how the upper class live (because she’s almost never upper class herself in this case), and gets to see how the little people are viewed from high above.
The heroine will most often be overwhelmed by the culture shock at first, only stopping to consider the character of Wallet in a rational light once she’s had time to acclimate. The actual character of Wallet can be anything from the genuine philanthropist to the misanthropic miser. How he treats both his wealth and the heroine will determine the texture of the story.
Dogged Nice Guy
They’ve known each other for as long as either of them can remember. There is nothing they don’t share — oh yeah, except that. For the reader or audience, this one seems obvious as soon as the depth of the relationship is established. It’s possible that they’ve just never thought about one another that way before; it could also be that one of them has and has been secretly hoping the other will say something or make the first move.
Most often, there’s going to be a long lag between the reader’s realization that they’re meant for each other and the characters’ realization of that same fact. This will most often involve other (failed) romantic relationships for one or both of them.
He doesn’t like to talk about himself, and what he says has to be taken with a grain of salt. He’s got a silver tongue, a self-assured demeanor, and a past as tangled as an old string of Christmas lights. There’s an aura of danger that hangs around him, whether it’s him that’s dangerous, or someone who’s after him. The heroine won’t be able to tell at first, and he’s not letting on any more than he has to. Most often, he will be the instigator of some adventure that the heroine will get dragged into. He’s not an ideal long-term romance, but he might be good enough for a sequel.
Some Type of Actual Person
What do you call it when two people share common interests and values, meet through work, church, or other common acquaintances, then proceed to date casually for a while before moving on to a more serious relationship? I think the technical term is: normal. Envision a guy who wasn’t created to fill a gap in a story, but was created independently, with a backstory, family, education, career, and dreams of his own. Then have him meet your protagonist. There may be some dramatic potential here, but unless you’re writing romance, you may want to keep the nuts and bolts of this relationship off-page. While it is an admirable goal in real life, healthy, stable, slow-moving relationships usually aren’t good for turning pages and keeping eyes on a screen.