How to Write Your Hero's Love Interest
In fiction, love shows up across all genres, complicating plots and transforming the protagonist. Even if you aren’t writing a romance novel, love might still be in the cards.
If you’re writing a love interest into your novel, you want to do so in a way that strengthens your story. Your hero's love interest should contribute to their character arc and should help move the story forward— just as any supporting character would do.
So how can you write your protagonist's love story in a way that enhances your book? Keep reading to learn five tips on how to do just that!
The love interest must be a fully fleshed-out character
The love interest must be a fully fleshed-out character with their own goals, dreams, and interests. If a character is worthy of being your hero’s love interest, they’re worthy of being a three-dimensional character in their own right.
Ask yourself: If you removed their role as a love interest, would they still matter to the story?
In the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, both Peeta and Gale are love interests to Katniss. However, if you took away the romantic aspect, each one still matters greatly to the story: Peeta is both an ally and an antagonist to Katniss at different points in the series, and Gale is important not only to Katniss's growth as a character but to the rebellion against the Capitol itself.
Give your hero's love interest a role in the story beyond romance— are they a friend? An enemy? How do they grow and change from the beginning to the end? How does their character arc intersect with the hero's journey? This will help you craft a love interest who feels as real on the page as your protagonist.
The love interest must be flawed
The last thing any reader wants is a character who is too good to be true. Readers can't relate to a character who has no flaws.
By giving your hero’s love interest flaws, you’re creating a more likable, relatable character while also adding tension and drama to the story. Even better, write the love interest's flaws in contrast to your hero's flaws. For example, they might have a cynical outlook on life in contrast to the hero's naive optimism.
In Emily Henry’s romantic comedy Beach Read, the protagonist, January Andrews, is a disillusioned romance writer who considers herself well-versed in fatal flaws:
Or maybe, like me, you're a hopeless romantic. You just can't stop telling yourself the story. The one about your own life, complete with melodramatic soundtrack and golden light lancing through car windows.
January's love interest in the novel— college rival and fellow writer, Gus— is her polar opposite. In contrast to January's vulnerability and desire for a relationship, Gus is a commitment-phobe with deep trust issues. These differing internal wounds naturally put the two characters at odds over the course of the story, adding more conflict to the plot.
There must be chemistry!
Have you ever felt like a book or movie paired up two characters who just didn't seem to go well together? Chemistry can be a tricky thing to get right in fiction, but creating characters that have chemistry is vital to writing a relationship that readers will adore. Chemistry may be evident in witty dialogue between the two characters or the physical attraction that they share, but real chemistry is brought to life on the page when the hero and the love interest are the catalyst for each other's transformation and growth.
In Beach Read, January and Gus challenge each other to a writing competition designed to stoke their creativity. Their sarcastic banter with one another throughout the story indicates romantic tension, but their true chemistry arises from the way they help each grow— first professionally, as they help each other write, and emotionally, as they overcome their past heartbreaks together. By the end of the story, the reader has no trouble rooting for the two characters to be together.
If you can get the chemistry right on the page, not only will the reader be invested, but the relationship will feel inevitable.
There must be challenges, too
Just as we don't want to read about a perfect character, we'll also quickly lose interest in a love story with no conflict. Whether these challenges are due to their flaws or external sources, the path to Happy Ever After (if there is one!) shouldn't be smooth.
In Beach Read, even when January and Gus realize that they want to be together, there are still obstacles standing in their way. The reappearance of Gus's ex-wife is one such obstacle— one that signifies his need to overcome his divorce, resolve his trust issues, and be open to new love again.
In The Hunger Games and its sequels, Katniss and Peeta's relationship is put to the test more than once. As the two grow from near-strangers to rivals to allies, they suffer heartbreaks, betrayals, and mortal danger in their fight against the Capitol.
Giving your hero and their love interest obstacles to overcome, whether within their relationship or outside of it, will strengthen your reader's investment in the outcome.
Ready to write your hero’s perfect love interest?
Remember, the love interest must be a flawed, fully fleshed-out character with their own goals, dreams, and interests. The love interest needs to have a role in the plot beyond romance. Make sure your audience feels the connection and chemistry between your hero and the love interest, and don’t forget to throw in a challenge for the couple: the reader needs to be invested in the outcome of the relationship!
With these tips in mind, you’ll have no trouble writing your hero’s love interest. For more information on writing secondary characters, check out 5 Tips for Creating Unique Characters.