three methods to create romantic pressure in your love tales

Romance is difficult.

Romance is a difficult yet extremely enticing topic in life and in writing. Even in books outside of the hugely popular romance genre, romantic subplots are extremely popular. But romance isn't easy to write because readers want more than just a direct kiss and marriage.

A romance down a winding, nuanced road where your characters struggle to find happiness makes for a much better story. The best way to accomplish this is through romantic tension.

3 ways to create romantic tension in your love story

Tension arises when your characters have an object of desire, but there are obstacles preventing them from reaching it. The obstacles cause frustration, anger, and fear. And from there a story is born.

In the case of romance, “happy to the end” is almost always the object of desire, and there are endless ways to keep your characters from achieving that goal. Let's look at three ways to create romantic tension.

1. The rival

A rival can mean many things.

This is something that many writers find difficult to understand. The most obvious rival is another lover, a third person who threatens to share and steal person B's affection from person A.

A love story generally includes a triangle, another rival lover. However, this is not the only form of rivalry. Other rivals are anyone and anything who shares the affection or resources of one or both of them. For example:

  • Person B's child from a previous relationship who doesn't get along with person A.
  • Person A's alcohol or drug problem that they often turn to for comfort to Person B.
  • Person B's hobby, such as a sport or an expensive car, that they spend more time and energy on than person A.
  • Person A's lifelong quest to achieve a very ambitious professional or personal goal that they think more about, forgetting about all birthdays and anniversaries in the process
  • One particularly tricky business – a new baby, or a dire financial situation, or an emerging business that saps the love and energy of both partners and leads them to find time and affection for each other

Editor's Note: We looked at more than a dozen love stories to see how rivals, both rival lovers and forces, add tension, and we've found that each contains a rival lover. The rival forces listed above can create conflict in addition to the rival lover. Use both of them in your story for greatest impact!

2. The situation

The situation your lovers find themselves in plays a huge role in their romance. Think of it as "when the stars align". Well, if they don't align, your lovers can't be together and these stars may or may not be moved by them.

The stars of Romeo and Juliet did not match the family. The stars of Elizabeth and Darcy disagreed with social class. Obviously, these two couples had very different outcomes, but the outcome isn't what matters most – it's their obstacles. Situational obstacles are usually further out of the characters' control than the rival obstacle.

Here are some ways your characters' stars might not be aligned:

  • Person A and Person B compete against each other in a tense life-and-death situation in which only one can win (Peeta and Katniss)
  • Person A and Person B are in love in a way that does not meet society's approval (Brokeback Mountain)
  • Person A and Person B are professional rivals who would complicate a relationship between them (Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler).
  • Person A and Person B need to focus on a bigger goal or quest that is outside the realm of their love
  • Person A and Person B fight / compete for opposing sides
  • Person A and Person B are very different in age, social class, appearance, popularity, etc.

3. The misunderstanding

Misunderstanding is a very effective, but often overlooked, way of creating tension between two lovers. This is the moment in romantic comedies when the viewer yells at the screen, "Just talk to each other !!" But if your couple has just opened up and communicated, what's the fun in it?

In essence, a rival is an external factor that your couple has some control over, a situation is an external factor that your couple has no control over, and a misunderstanding is totally internal that the couple has control over it but not controlled. It's easiest to think of a misunderstanding like this:

Person A says something A.

Person B hears something B.

Person A does not explain.

Person B doesn't ask questions.

It's important to note that it doesn't matter who is right or wrong, or whether there is any right or wrong at all. It can be anything and anyone – all that is required is for one person to hear something different from what the other person is saying. Consider Elizabeth and Darcy again:

Darcy: I love you despite your poor family and social class.

Elizabeth: You are insulting my family and your social class doesn't make you any better than me.

What happened here? Darcy wanted to focus on the fact that he loved Elizabeth, but what she hears is the other part – that he believes that she and all her family are under him. You are dealing with the same subject and still talking about two different things.

Sometimes focusing on different aspects of the same conversation is enough to create that romantic tension.

Higher tension, greater reward

Romantic tension makes your love story much more exciting, inviting, and eventful. It wants readers to take root for your couple and follow them through to the end. So don't hesitate to throw these obstacles in your way and let your character work for their love.

Are there examples of romantic tension in your favorite books that really got you excited? Share in the comments!


Write a short dialogue scene that shows a couple having a misunderstanding between them. Remember that a misunderstanding can also involve a rival or situational factor. Some examples are:

  • Person A had a completely harmless lunch with an ex, but Person B takes it out of context
  • Person A has to spend a lot of time exercising and winning a great competition, but Person B thinks it's an excuse not to spend more time as a couple
  • Person A can't commit to the relationship for a reason, but it's a completely different reason than Person B thinks

Take fifteen minutes to write and share your scene in the comments.

J. D. Edwin

J. D. Edwin