I write love stories set among the upper classes of England and Wales in the Regency era (1811-1820). A love story is not just a narrative; it is the story of the growth of a relationship between two people, a growth through indifference (sometimes even hostility), through liking and friendship and being in love to the ultimate fullness of love itself. The ending of a love story should leave the reader sighing with contentment, convinced that this couple shares a very special love, one that will stand the test of time and last forever and even beyond. It should give the impression of happily-ever-after. But in order to get this feeling, the reader has to be drawn into the story and into the main characters and into the love connection. He/She has to feel these characters, to be emotionally involved in their journey. It is the writer’s job to see that this happens. But how is it done?
First of all, the characters have to be real. Whether the hero is a tall, dark, handsome macho man or something quite different, whether the heroine is cover model gorgeous or not, they must be real people, ones the reader can relate to and identify with. They cannot be cardboard characters with little depth beyond the character details the writer jotted down when creating them. They have to be living, breathing people with strengths and weaknesses, with triumphs and problems, as full of contradictions as any real people. They have to be people we root for in their struggles and fall in love with in their vulnerability—if this is indeed a love story.
In order to make a character real, the writer has to know him/her soul deep. It is possible to know a great deal about another person without really knowing them at all. Sometimes we do not even fully know ourselves. Do you ever find yourself saying or doing something that takes you by surprise? Do you really know exactly how you would behave in a life-and-death emergency? When I am writing a book, I stop and go back and rewrite time after time before I come to the end. Usually it is to adjust the story as I get to know the main characters better. It is never easy. They are rarely willing to give up all their secrets early. Sometimes—usually, in fact—I end up asking where the deepest pain of that character is. And there always is something. Once I know it, I can set about bringing that character to some sort of healing so that he/she grows to the point of being able to give and receive love and settle to a lasting, meaningful love relationship. And remember that this must happen for both main characters.
There must be growth in the characters if the reader is going to invest time and emotion in their story. Admittedly there are action stories where very little emotional involvement with the characters is necessary, but this is not so in a love story. And if the hero, for example, is just gorgeous and irresistible and does nothing but macho things throughout—well the reader might enjoy reading about him being those things but there will be very little emotional empathy with him.
The best way of getting this depth of character and pulling the reader into it is by using point of view carefully. Point of view is the person through whose eyes and viewpoint the story is being told. It can be first person though then the action of the story can be seen through the mind of only the one character. I always choose what I call third person deep internal point of view. I usually alternate between the hero and heroine, though there is no strict rule about it. I tell an episode from the hero’s point of view and then one from the heroine’s. That way, the reader gets to experience the story not through the mind of the author who is writing it but through the mind and emotions of the character experiencing the story. If you think about it, everything that happens in our lives has an emotional component. We are the ones who experience everything that happens in our own lives, and everything that happens is coloured by our own experiences and character and background and emotions—mostly our emotions. There is very little that happens to us that does not carry some emotion with it. The aim of the writer should be to duplicate that with characters. They are living, emotional beings, and if their story is told from deep inside them, then the reader will be there too, experiencing everything with them and feeling with them—living with them.
Creating this emotional connection among writer, character, and reader is one of the greatest challenges of writing a love story. It can also be one of the greatest joys! Make your readers laugh with the characters—and cry with them and fall in love with them.
Mary Balogh is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous books, including the acclaimed Slightly and Simply novels, the Mistress trilogy, and the five titles in her Huxtable series: First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Seduction, At Last Comes Love, Seducing an Angel, and A Secret Affair. A former teacher, she grew up in Wales and now lives in Canada. She is the recipient of seven Waldenbooks Awards and two B. Dalton Awards for her novels, as well as a Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award.
You can find Mary Balogh at http://www.marybalogh.com/