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Today I’ll be discussing the qualities that make a happily ever after romantic relationship believable to readers.  Sometimes the romantic relationships in stories are all physical attraction without any real substance behind them.  These are fun sometimes, but it’s better if, in addition to the infatuation, you can help your characters find true love.

The difference between true love and mere infatuation is like the difference between the twilight fan teams Edward and Jacob.  I started out closer to team Jacob than Edward myself, and while I found myself to be in the minority at first, over the past few years there’s been a sort of mass migration from Team Edward to Team Jacob, because Jacob’s love for Bella rings truer to more experienced readers.  It’s easier to believe that it will last.

Like Bella, the heroine Giselle of Disney’s Enchanted also faces a choice between a standard fairy tale romance, based purely on initial infatuation, and her slightly more realistic relationship with Robert, a real world lawyer.  At the end, she ditches her shallow relationship with her fiance, who, incidentally, was also named Edward, and goes for the real world guy instead.  And despite Edward’s being a prince, I think she’s better off that way, because her solid relationship with Robert has a greater chance of holding up in the long run.

So the topic of the day is this: How do you make a story romance realistic enough to convince your readers, and yourself, that it’ll last even after the story is over?  Based on these two story examples, here are some suggestions:

1. Make sure your characters have spent a significant amount of time together by the end of the story.  In one scene of Enchanted, Giselle sings about some of the signs a girl can use to pick up on whether a guy really loves her, but ironically, we can guess that Edward hasn’t performed some of her suggested activities with her, because she’s only known him for one day.  A true relationship takes time to build, and the more time the characters have invested in the relationship to get to the romantic high they’re now at, the easier it is to believe they’ll stick by each other later.

2. Your characters should be building a strong friendship along with their attraction for each other.  Whether or not they can do this is strong evidence for how long their relationship will hold up, because in real life, the feeling of being in love wears off after a couple of years, and we need to know that their friendship will take over when the obsessive hormonal attraction stops.  In twilight, Jacob Black was able to actually have fun with Bella.  Edward couldn’t really.  In fact, when he tried to have a normal conversation with Bella once during the first book, it was pretty awkward.  He was much better at talking about how to be a vampire.

“Enchanted” Edward had the same problem.  When Giselle, inspired by our real world customs, asked him to take her out and spend time with her, he clearly wasn’t very comfortable doing so.  He knew how to declare his undying love for her and how to kiss, but that was about it.  Their lives would have gotten boring very fast.

3. Make sure both characters bring something to the table.  In Twilight, Bella didn’t really get this part right in either one of her relationships, but in Enchanted, Giselle and Robert are a pretty good example of a relationship of equals.  At least, as good as you can get in a Disney movie.  Giselle needs Robert’s help at first in order to survive New York City, but she enriches Robert’s life by helping him believe in romance again, and in magic. By contrast, back in Andalasia, her love was all about Edward saving her and sweeping her off to his palace.  He was contributing much more to their relationship than she was, and he knew it too, which made him just a little bit conceited.

One sided relationships may work out alright in the short term, but unless you show how your characters are going to balance things out, readers will sense that a bad end is coming.  Whoever does the most work is going to get frustrated eventually.  Not that true love can’t last through frustration (we see people care for their injured spouses all the time), but that’s not the kind of thing readers are looking for when they read romantic fiction.

4. Last but not least, don’t name your hero Edward.

And finally, if anybody saw my first edit of this post, I am so sorry.  That was a complete accident, and I had to salvage the text from leftover html coding, so it took a while to fix.  Pictures don’t always work out the way I want them to.  Thus, no more pictures in this edit.  Sorry.

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