Romance Where You’d Least Expect It

Valentine's Day Growing Up

Me, my brother, and my sister at a family Valentine’s Day celebration. (Note the heart-shaped cake.)

Hi, SEers. Staci here.

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and many of you who know I write romance might think it’s only fitting that my scheduled post falls nearest this holiday.

Let me stop you right there. I don’t consider this a holiday.

When I was little, my parents celebrated love of family more so than romantic love for each other. We always had a heart-shaped cake, and we all got gifts. Little things, not elaborate ones. As the baby of the family, I was beholden to my mother’s whims, and as such, I was often required to wear red (rolling my eyes and groaning at this, but sharing the photo anyway).

Our First Valentine's Day

Hubby (then boyfriend) on our first Valentine’s Day. I made dinner and dessert (see the pie?) and he bought me roses and a teddy bear. Awww.

When I first started dating my now-husband, we made a big deal of the holiday. Of course, we made big deals out of everything, young love being what it is. Multiple decades have toned down that exuberance. Our love is much deeper now, but also much less frivolous.

He and I are of the same opinion here. We’re Catholic, so we’re all for commemorating St. Valentine’s martyrdom on February 14 (insofar as we acknowledge any lesser-renowned saint, which isn’t that much), but as for the commercial aspect of the holiday? No. It’s just an occasion for greeting card, flower, and candy companies to make a fast buck. If you happen to love the holiday, more power to you. But hubby and I want to show our love for each other when and how we want, not when and how society tells us to.

That said, I am a romance writer. The romance genre is always hot, but at this time of year, it’s sizzling. People grab up all the free and discounted romance novels being promoted and devour happily-ever-afters like they’re near extinction.

So today, I want Valentine’s Day haters and romance novel lovers to meet in the middle. I’m going to address the love story in non-romance novels and why writers should consider writing one in, regardless of their genre.

Character Development

romanceI’m not just a romance writer. I’m a multi-genre writer. And I read even more genres than I write. The thing I focus on when I write, as well as the most important thing I look for when I read, is a strong character.

Thoughts and feelings define characters as much as their actions and reactions. Internalization is a key component to development. (click to tweet this)

In order to craft a strong, believable, well-developed character, a writer should have the character reflect on attractions, pursue love interests. Having a character considering a romance is as common as the character sleeping, eating, or breathing.

Just make sure to focus on the romance at the right time. In the middle of a gun fight, a guy isn’t going to think about how pretty his crush looked at work that morning. However, if they are both being held at gun point, his feelings for her may cause him extra anxiety for her safety or bring out a courage in him that he didn’t know he had. It’s all about timing.

Emotional Resonance

romanceIf you consider any ordinary day in your own life, I bet you’ll discover you spend a lot of time thinking of the important people in your life. Of family and friends. Of your significant other, or of the person you wish was your partner.

We thrive on relationships. Doesn’t it stand to reason, then, that our characters do as well? (click to tweet this)

Readers are more likely to empathize with your characters if they can relate to them on multiple levels. People actively seek out companionship. Characters should, too.

Plot Enrichment and Advancement

romanceNot every plot demands a romance. In fact, not every plot can sustain one. I’m the first to admit it, even though I love a good love story.

But some stories benefit from them. Some stories thrive on them.

If you’re working on a non-romance novel and you have a couple with chemistry (designed or happy accident), exploit it. The tug-and-pull, give-and-take, will-they-or-won’t-they aspects of the potential relationship can give you compelling plot threads that can weave details tighter or help unravel too-convenient outcomes.

A moderator of a writing group I used to belong to always said if the action grew stagnant, the writer should throw a (metaphorical or literal) dead body into the room. It gives fresh breath to stale air and can take the story in new directions. I think the nuances of a potential relationship can have a similar effect.

Familiar Non-Romances That Incorporated Relationships

Love interests and blooming romances happen in all genres. This doesn’t mean explicit sex scenes, or even implied behind-closed-door sex. And the outcome of the story certainly doesn’t depend on a couple getting together (the way romance novels do). But including a love interest can develop character, increase reader empathy, and advance plot. Some of my favorite examples of this are listed below.

Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back/Return of the Jedi. Han and Leia getting together didn’t impact the war between the Empire and the Resistance, but it sure made us root harder for the two of them.

Gone with the Wind. Yes, I know many of you are arguing that this is the quintessential romance with one of the most famous couples of all time. But it’s not a romance. Not in the truest definition of the genre. Yes, she and Rhett had an epic love, but they didn’t have a happily-ever-after ending. And more to the point, even without Rhett, Scarlett has her character arc of rising above the horrors of war and learning to thrive. Did Rhett make for some compelling scenes and help advance the plot in ways a non-love-interest never could? Of course. But this isn’t a romance.

The Stand. Stephen King writes a lot of relationships into his work. We might forget, because a ton of people die, but those relationships are there. And they make us know the characters better as well as help to advance the plot. Besides, who wasn’t rooting for Stu and Fran to become the Adam and Eve of the post-apocalyptic story?

11-22-63. Have to give this one up to Mr. King, too. This is a time travel/historical piece that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Will Jake save President Kennedy from assassination, and what will the ramifications of his actions be? Because the stakes of that decision aren’t high enough, King adds in a love interest, Sadie, and it’s not likely Jake can save both her and Kennedy. Each page gets us deeper into Jake’s head and heart, and the ending really tugs the readers’ heartstrings.

You might disagree with my favorites list. You might not even know some of these works. I could go on and on, listing examples of genres and how romances enriched them, but I think you get the point. And you probably have several other stories in mind, as well.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, let’s talk about your favorite books and how the love stories in them made them better. Or how the inclusion of a romance would have improved on a story that doesn’t have one. This can be your own work or a book on your shelf. Let’s get a bunch of titles listed.

And, I suppose I should end with this… Happy Valentine’s Day!

Staci Troilo


24 thoughts on “Romance Where You’d Least Expect It

  1. Great post, Staci! You’ve made some good points to remember about relationships between characters. I think because in real life we have relationships of various kinds, characters become more 3-dimensional when they also have relationships. Not necessarily romantic, but there’s often a best friend of the kind who will help bury a body, or worst enemy of the kind who pulled pranks in school.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Julie.

      Regardless of what genre I’m writing in, I write character-driven stories. Characters, to me, can only thrive when there are strong relationships. Family, friends, coworkers, lovers. I agree with you one hundred percent—a relationship doesn’t have to be romantic to matter or to help develop a character. And negative relationships can help flesh out a character like nothing else. (That’s why we have antagonists and conflict driving our plots.) But because of Valentine’s Day, I chose to explore romantic love today. (I do, however, love the idea of the bury-a-body best friend. LOL)

      Thanks for dropping by!


  2. I have to jump in here as being the fan of yesteryear pics. (My mother used to dress me in red, so you’re not alone. In fact, I often wear red to this day.) I love having a bit of romance in non-romantic genres. My first thoughts don’t involve books, but I found myself rooting for Hawkeye and Margaret in the old MASH TV series. Even though the idea of them having a lasting romance was next to impossible, they did have a certain “friendship” and a chemistry. You know I’ve recently been watching reruns of the old JAG tv series. I desperately want to see Harm and Mac get together. (And I must have a thing for military type shows!) Good post, Staci and Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re even wearing red in your gravatar!

      I always thought Hawkeye and Margaret made such great friends, even through the bickering, that I never expected a romance from them. I took the flirting as more of a tension reliever than anything serious. But I agree with you about one thing—military stories do seem richer with romantic elements in them. I think it’s because those folks are already heroes on pedestals, so we want to see them happy.

      There’s a sci-fi franchise called Stargate. There was SG1, Atlantis, and Universe. Every show had at least one couple, if not more, that you rooted for but knew couldn’t be together because of military rules. Yet the tension, the will-they/won’t-they, the longing, and the deep feelings for each other (even if not acted upon) were always just under the surface. It almost never drove the plot (there were one or two episodes where those feelings were crucial, but overall, it was a non-issue), but it did make the characters more relatable, more likable, more human, and more sympathetic.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Guess you couldn’t call Hawkeye and Margaret’s “one night stand” a romance, but it did change their relationship. (And of course their farewell scene at the end of the show…) And I agree about the character on military shows – a little underlying romance gives them more depth.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh! The farewell episode! That entire thing just kicks you in the gut. The kiss goodbye. Hawkeye and BJ’s goodbye. Charles and the music. The one that really sticks with me, though… I often find myself thinking about the “clucking chicken” on the bus and what Hawkeye did to silence/save them. I don’t know if I can ever watch that episode again. The whole thing sticks with you. I have a lump in my throat just thinking about it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The stones. That was poignant. The whole episode was.

        The messsage in the stones reminds me (now, because I didn’t know then) of Hawaii. We went to a couple of the islands for our honeymoon, and as we flew over a black lava beach, we saw stones arranged to make messages for air travelers to see. A much happier set of messages than the one from MASH.

        And you’re right; that episode (the whole series, really) was pretty amazing. Even the hard parts. It takes a special set of writers and actors to find bright spots during the horrors of war. And when they did focus on the bad parts, it was absolutely chilling. Bravo to them.


  3. I agree with Mae: love the yesteryear pics! 🙂 And I second all you’ve said about Stephen King; he does go big on relationships. Another fun and informative post. Thanks for sharing, Staci! Happy Valentine’s Day! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Harmony. Even across the miles, we’re a pretty close bunch.

      Stephen King comes to mind whenever I think about anything done well in fiction. But I thought his work was exceptionally appropriate to illustrate my point here. Gosh, I just love his work. What a master.


  4. First of all, I’ve got say I loved the yesteryear photos 🙂 and the way your family celebrated and celebrates Valentine’s Day. This was a great post in that it addresses how invested we become in characters. When I think of love stories in non-romance fiction, I’m reminded of the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett. A set of six historical novels, set in the sixteenth century, they follow the life of Sir Francis Crawford of Lymond. He’s a nobleman, scholar, musician, outlaw, spy, thespian, strategist—you name it and Lymond probably fits the bill. The books are about his life, but there is also a young girl, Philippa Somerville, who is introduced in book one. She is 10 years old and Lymond is 20. Over the course of the novels, their lives intersect over and over again, and their relationship gradually changes. By
    the final novel, ten years later, the reader is rooting for them to get together. Their story is not the center of the series, but it greatly enhances Lymond’s journey and the ending.
    Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Mae. You know Italian families; we celebrate pretty much everything if we can. I’ll be making a cake for my kids tomorrow, in the very same pans my mom made them for us.

      Lymond and Philippa sound like exactly the relationship I was talking about. It sounds like a good series, too. I’ll have to look for those books.

      Liked by 1 person

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