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Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make Writing Relationships

All about Relationships

Relationships are the best, aren’t they? Not always – fortunately – otherwise they’d be dull to write about. Creating modern relationships for modern audiences does require staying fresh and relevant, however. Here’s what to avoid to make sure your fictional relationships don’t crash and burn (unless you want them to…).

1) Love is only for the Young 

Falling in love can happen to anyone, at any time. We’ve seen the ‘two star-crossed lovers’ storyline play out for eons, so if you want a fresher way to approach this trope, you might have to look a little higher up the age bracket. As we get older, our priorities change – there are perhaps more people in the relationship matrix (ex-spouses, stepchildren) but one misnomer is that older people don’t ever have sex. Health might be an issue, though – such as in the film ‘Away from Her’, which explores the effects of Alzheimer’s in a loving, long-term marriage. 

Top Tip: Audiences are getting older and they want stories that reflect their experience too. Would your story have more layers if the characters were in their late fifties instead of their early twenties? 

2) Relationships are all the same 

Not every romance ends happily ever after. Not everyone wants love. Acknowledging that relationships can be short but still be successful, that some companionate marriage are perfectly fine and there are happy long-term polyamorous relationships out there, is important. They are also situations ripe for creative exploration. 

Top Tip:  As soon as you defy convention, interesting stories unfold.

3)  Stalking = Love

If your character is romantically ‘obsessed’ with someone, you need to be mindful of any power differential. It’s not okay for a male protagonist to show up at a woman’s house unannounced (if you’re writing rom-com, say) because that may be inappropriate and potentially unsettling. Make sure your love-sick hero (or heroine) does not become a creep.

Top Tip: If in doubt, ask for advice – is my romantic lead a pest? What looks cute to some may be a red flag to others. 

4) Relationships are only for Straight & Cis-Gendered people

Relationships are for everyone (even aromantic, asexual people can have relationships), so better representation and diversity reflects real life – and is especially pertinent to younger audiences, who have grown up with less conventional attitudes around gender and sexuality especially. In 2015, a YouGov survey revealed that 49 per cent of people aged between 18 and 24 in the UK identified as something other than 100 per cent heterosexual. 

Top Tip: There’s often a feeling of “I don’t want to get this wrong” when it comes to writing atypical or non-heteronormative relationships, but there are plenty of guides out there for writers looking to make their queer, non-binary and/or trans characters authentic (such as this one here).

5) Relationships are only interesting at the beginning… or the end 

It’s natural we want to write about coupling at the most dramatic moments, but plenty of mileage can be found in the ‘middle’ or relationships too. Remember, most people are in the middle of a relationship themselves, so it’s relatable. Take the novel ‘The Course of Love’ by Alain de Botton that charts an entire marriage, or my new book ‘With or Without You’ that centres on a wife contemplating her relationship with her husband when he goes into a coma – were they really happy? What will her life be like if she continues to care for him? Whether it’s illness, a new job, or a betrayal, there is plenty of dramatic grist to make relationships compelling at every stage. 

Top Tip: A helpful exercise is to chart the length of your characters’ entire relationship –even if you’re only going to write about the beginning or end – to understand them better. How do they deal with life’s major milestones?

BIO: Drew Davies is the author of three novels, ‘The Shape of Us’, ‘Dear Lily’ and his most recent, ‘With or Without You’. Find out more about his journey to publication at Buy his books, HERE

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2 thoughts on “Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make Writing Relationships”

  1. I do particularly love stories that present relationships as a given fact within the plot – not at the moment of birth or on the verge of breakup, but just a relationship getting on with its thing (as relationships most of their time do) while the action drives on around it (and because of it). Thank you for raising this point!

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