Romantic relationships often (but not always) follow a linear path based on connections that grow stronger as the lovers find out more about each other, including how they behave under the pressures of the life or, in the case of story, under the pressures of the plot.
Below is a vastly simplified outline of the stages many people pass through as they fall in love (with a big thank you to Millie the Model comics):
Warning: Although those four stages would seem to fit neatly into a four act structure, the progress of the relationship won’t always follow the progress of the plot. For example, two people who were in a relationship once before and broke it off because the conditions were no longer met (fell out of infatuation), might meet again, older and wiser, find themselves falling back into the same infatuation, and this time be able to mature into commitment; in that case, the first act would start at rekindling the infatuation. Or your lovers may go through the first three stages in the first two acts, and then find that the stresses of the last two acts move them into mature love. Or they may move through all four stages in the first act and spend the rest of the novel battling zombies together to cement their commitment.
The real benefit of analyzing your love story using these stages is that you can check to make sure you’re showing the reader how they got to their Happily Ever After by showing her why they are attracted to each other, how knowing more about each other leads to them attaching, how learning even more about each other as they battle their way through their conflict leads to them falling in love, and how that immature love evolves into mature love.
EXAMPLE: Bet Me
Min and Cal go to dinner annoyed with each other, so their conversation is honest and they find they like each other.
They talk and it’s great. They meet each other’s friends and family and it’s (mostly) great. They kiss and it’s great. Basically, it’s great.
They fall for each other. Cal talks Min into serious dating, and they begin to cautiously explore a future together.
Commitment: After a fight in which they both violate each other’s conditions, they come back together with no conditions because they need each other because they love each other (mature love).
It takes time to get to mature love, anywhere from six months to three years. Most novels don’t last that long, so the key is to foreshadow unconditional love by testing the infatuation through the story conflict. The test can’t be a stupid mistaken assumption, it has to be real, and it has to evoke those deal-breaker conditions that will foreshadow a life-long relationship.
An important thing to remember in writing love is that the physical is only part of the equation; if your story concentrates on that and doesn’t show how and why the relationship grows emotionally and psychologically, you’re writing erotica, not romance. (That’s good, too, it’s just not romance.)
For other posts in this unit, see The Structure Unit Table of Contents.