Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Writing Believable Love Stories by Rhonda Frankhouser

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When I first started writing, I fancied myself a philosopher of sorts. I read books by critical thinkers like Aldous Huxley, René Descartes, and Ayn Rand. I watched movies with French subtitles and meditated to the new age, spiritual strumming of Santoo Govi. I was all about broadening my mind and creating intellectual prose that would impress even the most persnickety scholar. My dream was to - let’s say it together – write the next great American classic.

All that changed on a flight from California to Hawaii. I’d picked up a copy of Nicolas Evans’ best-seller, The Horse Whisperer, looking for a light read to pass the time. What I found was anything but light. The plot was sophisticated and unpredictable, and one of the most romantic I’d ever read.

I was converted.  

So, I laid down my feathered philosopher pen and turned my sights to romance. A jump from complicated prose to stories about real human connection would be easy, right? Ummmm, no. Romance authors are magicians who weave emotions, scents, visions, sounds, and touch into something that makes the reader actually experience love as it blooms between the characters. That is no easy task, let me tell you.

After many failed attempts, and a truck load of over-used adjectives, I stopped trying so hard to FORCE my characters to love one another. Instead of creating the cliché tall, dark, and handsome heroes, and perky, blonde heroines, I penned a list of characteristics I find intriguing. I closed my eyes and visualized the person I wanted to create. How they walked. Their ticks. How their clothes fit against their body. The way their mouth moved when they spoke. Not only the way they smelled and tasted, but how those things affected me. And this list went on and on, for each character.  Once I employed all the senses, the characters came to life and guided me through their story.

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My trick to writing believable love stories is simple. Make the characters real, and flawed. It’s more interesting, trust me. Put yourself in the mind of the character. What would make you trust, appreciate, and finally desire, a love interest. The most realistic stories have heroes and heroines who build a relationship the old-fashioned way through hard work and understanding, with a hefty dose of that undeniable chemistry we all crave.

Rhonda Frankhouser is an award-winning novelist, now living in the beautiful state of Georgia.  Follow her at


Julie Lence said...

Hi Rhonda: Love the character sheets you do to describe your characters and who they are. I do the same, though i don't go as in-depth. That comes as I get to know them in writing the story. May have to give your digging deeper a try. Thank you and Hugs!

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Hi, Rhonda! I had a similar revelation about the genre of romance. I had a different vision of what kind of writer I was, but when I had a friend read the first draft of my first book, she said, "Is this a romance?" and I thought, "noooo." But then realized it was a romance! I further realized I'm always searching for the romance even in books where the genre isn't romance!
I love the way you describe your process in fleshing out your characters. It does get to be challenging to come up with new heroes and heroines. When I read other writers books, I'm always tuned into what they did to make me fall in love with the characters. And I agree, the flaws are sometimes what makes them all the more attractive. Happy writing!

Renaissance Women said...

Nicely said and so true. Characters that are real and natural connections make for great stores. Doris

Elizabeth Clements said...

I read The Horse Whisper two days before I went to see the movie simply because I wanted to know the story. I was hooked on the book and eagerly anticipated how the movie would treat the opening scene in the book. I got ticked off when the plot focus changed 3/4 through the story. Oh well. I still loved the movie and the awesome Montana scenery. I try to use the five senses in my writing and sometimes more comes through on the edits. I would love to test myself to do a better in-depth familiarization with my characters like you do with yours. Great post.