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Old 12-04-2012, 09:56 AM   #1
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Writing chemistry in relationships

Yo.

So I got some notes back on a WIP and I seem to have written a budding relationship with lots of physical chemistry/sexual tension, but not much beyond that.

The MS is paranormal, and there is touching involved in the spec element, so I think that's why.

Anyway, I've scaled back the touching and put in more conversation, etc. But I'm wondering now how you define or identify "chemistry"? What about a great relationship (beyond the physical) makes you think people are a great fit?

My MC isn't very social or friendly and the LI is extremely shy and self-conscious (he's "hot", but he isn't a typical witty LI. He almost never knows what to say.), so getting beyond their own hang ups is hard enough. They have only known each other for a couple of months, but spend a lot of time together, so they're in that "in between phase." Their conversations tend to be a bit awkward and he doesn't talk that much, so I'm having trouble figuring out what, if not amazing conversations and lots of touching, I can use to indicate they have really strong feelings for each other.

I'm not terribly romantic myself, but I'm thinking it's something that is hard to identify unless you're reading it? They just click? And I know it's often "opposites attract" but they are't really opposites.


Okay, I'm rambling. What is chemistry? How do you write it? When is it good? How does it differ from super lusty feelings of lust?
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Old 12-04-2012, 10:32 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by missesdash View Post
Yo.

So I got some notes back on a WIP and I seem to have written a budding relationship with lots of physical chemistry/sexual tension, but not much beyond that.

The MS is paranormal, and there is touching involved in the spec element, so I think that's why.

Anyway, I've scaled back the touching and put in more conversation, etc. But I'm wondering now how you define or identify "chemistry"? What about a great relationship (beyond the physical) makes you think people are a great fit?

My MC isn't very social or friendly and the LI is extremely shy and self-conscious (he's "hot", but he isn't a typical witty LI. He almost never knows what to say.), so getting beyond their own hang ups is hard enough. They have only known each other for a couple of months, but spend a lot of time together, so they're in that "in between phase." Their conversations tend to be a bit awkward and he doesn't talk that much, so I'm having trouble figuring out what, if not amazing conversations and lots of touching, I can use to indicate they have really strong feelings for each other.

I'm not terribly romantic myself, but I'm thinking it's something that is hard to identify unless you're reading it? They just click? And I know it's often "opposites attract" but they are't really opposites.


Okay, I'm rambling. What is chemistry? How do you write it? When is it good? How does it differ from super lusty feelings of lust?
Usually when I hit this wall I incorporate some story-driven camaraderie scenes - her bringing him his favorite food when he's sick, the both of them breaking into someone house they hate and spray-painting their underwear, one of them cleaning up the other's wound, the mom of the boy mistaking the girl for his 'girlfriend' when it's too early, a night on the town at a stuffy place they get kicked out of for rude behavior, him hanging up her art in a gallery that didn't accept it, etc etc.

I dunno if that can be classified as 'chemistry', but 'getting along while doing hilarious/fun shit' might come close?
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Old 12-04-2012, 12:53 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by missesdash View Post
Yo.

So I got some notes back on a WIP and I seem to have written a budding relationship with lots of physical chemistry/sexual tension, but not much beyond that.

The MS is paranormal, and there is touching involved in the spec element, so I think that's why.

Anyway, I've scaled back the touching and put in more conversation, etc. But I'm wondering now how you define or identify "chemistry"? What about a great relationship (beyond the physical) makes you think people are a great fit?

My MC isn't very social or friendly and the LI is extremely shy and self-conscious (he's "hot", but he isn't a typical witty LI. He almost never knows what to say.), so getting beyond their own hang ups is hard enough. They have only known each other for a couple of months, but spend a lot of time together, so they're in that "in between phase." Their conversations tend to be a bit awkward and he doesn't talk that much, so I'm having trouble figuring out what, if not amazing conversations and lots of touching, I can use to indicate they have really strong feelings for each other.

I'm not terribly romantic myself, but I'm thinking it's something that is hard to identify unless you're reading it? They just click? And I know it's often "opposites attract" but they are't really opposites.


Okay, I'm rambling. What is chemistry? How do you write it? When is it good? How does it differ from super lusty feelings of lust?
This is something that I really struggle with, mostly because I'm not very romantic myself, and I am quite a dark/cynical reader, so I struggle to be won over with Grand Romantic Gestures (and I'm one of the extreme cynics who thinks that love is often lust in a fancy dress). To me, because love is so subjective in your own brain, I tend to go with touching and FEELINGS! rather than actions, so this thread might be helpful for me too.

If you're struggling to write Deep and Meaningful Conversation between your two characters (I sympathise), I like ex_machina's idea: I would probably introduce a minor antagonist, like an authority figure who kicks them out of somewhere, a kid who teases her, a sadist teacher etc., and give them someone to join up against. Also: could it be that you're struggling to write Deep and Meaningful Conversation because they don't have much to talk about? I'm only asking bc I find this problem, esp. in my characters' "first meetings"...I'm always like, what do they talk about when they don't have anything in common at this moment?

Also, if he's very quiet and you build it up, the first time he "opens up" to her or they have a good conversation could be quite swoony.
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Old 12-04-2012, 03:40 PM   #4
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Another thought - the awkwardness of their conversations could work for you. Character A could try to say something personally meaningful and do a crappy job of expressing it, and Character B could pick it up anyway. Then A is stunned and amazed that B gets him/her so well. They'd have a moment of deeper understanding even without pages of articulate dialogue.
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Old 12-04-2012, 04:14 PM   #5
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I guess it depends on what you're going for in their relationship. Is it one based on physical chemistry that isn't meant to last for any amount of time, or is it something more serious?

It sounds like you've got two rather high strung characters that aren't the greatest verbal communicators. That's ok. That's actually kind of great, since you can use their awkwardness to your advantage.

On the one hand, you could give them this incredible feeling of ease with each other that they don't have around other people - like the fact that they're not talking doesn't bother them. In fact, they probably find it a relief. On the other, you could build and build the tension. Make the MC hesitant. Only this time, they're hesitating not because they don't want the contact, but because they're terrified of screwing it up. Or annoyed with herself that she's feeling so unlike her surly self that it makes her surly all over again. (Yay neurotic introverts!) You could probably even pair the two, using one or the other depending on context within the story. Like the characters realize how easy it is to just exist beside one another, then as the feelings get deeper slam them with their awkwardness from a different angle.

Anyway, in less specific terms, I like to think of chemistry as compliments. Character A's faults mesh so well with Character B's virtues and vice versa that they bring to the table what they each need to learn (but probably didn't know). Not necessarily opposites attract - just that they can see enough of themselves reflected in the other in a way that makes them better in the end.

IDK, I'm not romantic either (I didn't even plan my own wedding - I bought a dress and showed up), but I always get readers begging me for more romance and/or smut. -__- I really have no idea how/why and am rambling too.
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Old 12-04-2012, 05:41 PM   #6
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A couple of ideas:
* having insight into each other, and realizing that the other "gets" them (maybe in a way no one else ever has)
* opportunities to establish or demonstrate trust
* recurring private jokes or gestures
* selfless acts ... and sometimes this includes sweet touching, like kisses on the forehead or hair, tucking into bed if exhausted or sick, holding hands when scared - the touching isn't a demonstration of lust (even if there are sparks), because the goal is comfort instead of pleasure
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Old 12-04-2012, 06:32 PM   #7
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It's hard to put into words how to create chemistry, but overall, I see it as people connecting on a deeper level that is inexplicable and beyond the physical. Sure, it can be sexual primarily, but it's usually connecting on multiple levels and not even knowing why. It's just there, where two people click.

Think of ways you can show a combination of physical responses based on attraction, unspoken language that transfers in just a glance, a sudden rush of elation whenever the LI comes around, some moments of expressed common ground, an automatic, instantaneous understanding of one another without even needing backstory, and have actions that show caring and appreciation.
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Old 12-04-2012, 07:04 PM   #8
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These are great. I have a couple already (she hurts herself and he cleans her knee.) I really like the "we don't talk a lot but it is totally cool" approach. I'm a talker, so chemistry.

He is definitely only comfortable around her; he has pretty intense social anxiety. I have these very little moments where he takes control and she allows him to. It's out of character for them both and I hope it conveys trust and a level of comfort.

The plot gives them plenty of opportunities to team up and do things. My concern is mostly limited to set up. I guess I'm going to go with "we really care about each other." I also wrote in a scene where he asks if she wants to meet his dad.

Also wondering how much she should talk about it. It's first person but she only really acknowledges her feelings by her reactions (blushing, feeling flustered) and is usually embarrassed. It's all show and very little tell.

I guess ultimately I'm just going to need a few betas.
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Old 12-04-2012, 07:12 PM   #9
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Also wondering how much she should talk about it. It's first person but she only really acknowledges her feelings by her reactions (blushing, feeling flustered) and is usually embarrassed. It's all show and very little tell.
I don't think you have to have her say/think about it directly - especially if she's the kind of character that wouldn't want to acknowledge those emotions in the first place. But he should definitely cross her minds in ways where other people wouldn't - especially when he's not present. Or reconsider how some of her decisions might affect him where she wouldn't have previously.

That said, if you have one moment where she admits it to herself, it could be quite powerful since it's so out of character for her. It's be a good turning point in their relationship subplot.
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Old 12-04-2012, 08:33 PM   #10
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If there's one thing I'm actually good at writing, it's chemistry. Never had a complaint from betas in that department.

My suggestions to you --

1) Read two or three books that feature a romance which does not go anywhere. A book where you're practically screaming for the characters to end up together, but they do not.

2) Check out fan pairings. Yes, pairings that the fans wanted in books and movies and television series that didn't ever come into play. Compare them to the actually canon relationships. Why didn't they like the canon? What did they see between their favored pairing?

FYI, with certain character types, it's easier to write chemistry and romance. The really funny, obnoxious guy and the shy, reclusive girl aren't exactly budding with chemistry. Sorry to any NaruHina fans out there, but I've never read a good fanfic about the two of them.

Chemistry vs lust: With lust, it's just a physical attraction. After a while, it gets boring. Using a general example everyone should understand -- Yes, there's lots of lust between Edward and Bella, but they have no chemistry. Yes, there's also lots of lust between Bella and Jacob, but they have chemistry. Every conversation they have is not about their relationship and how much they love each other (boring) and how Eddie could kill her with his butt hair and just ridiculously epic douchey topics. They relate to each other on a basic human level and they seem like an average couple -- before Jacob's transformation, anyway. Can't stand him after that. Before Jacob goes pedowolf, he and Bella can have normal conversations with jokes, they seem to care about one another, and he makes Bella, our narrator, happy. Whenever she's with Edward, she's just kind of listless. Plus, none of her moments with Edward are exactly titillating.

Moving on to desired Twilight pairing #2: Jacob/Leah. Admittedly, I read/wrote fanfics for the pairing ages ago. What is the appeal? Leah is the exact opposite of Bella. She and Jacob are pretty much carbon copies of each other, though she's tougher. They're both full of raw pain (apparently). And they don't get along because they find each other's problems pathetic. It's the conflict that gives them chemistry. Every moment you find them coming together, only for them to remember that they don't like each other, builds that. Plus the fact that they're still in love with other people gives that angle of will they won't they. Both of them being hot is just a side fact.

Hotness, douchebagness, and being rich are popular traits in PNR -- though I have no idea why. There's got to be more than that. I have no problem with hot, douchey, rich characters. But there's got to be more. Which is why I introduce you to two more Twilight pairings that work:

Rosalie/Jacob: Opposites who find themselves to be not so opposite after all. Almost the same appeal as Jacob/Leah, but they aren't the same personality wise, they both just share pain. Jacob, over losing his mother and Bella and every semblance of a normal life. Rosalie -- well, where do I start?

Edward/Rosalie: Granted, Edward has to be given a personality for this to work, but when it's good, it's good. They bond over piano and cars. Edward is kind of douchey, but we see him shed the douchey exterior as he falls in love with Rosalie's personality.

Basically, it just comes down to having interesting characters interact. And you can bet your next four novels that readers will ship almost anything together so your desired pairing better contain the most interesting characters in the book and they better have lots and lots of chemistry, ie, moments, short interesting conversations, etc... A talented writer can give any two characters chemistry. It's just a matter of manipulating the situation.

If your guy doesn't talk, there's not much to work with there. Perhaps you should make everything he does say meaningful in some way.

Books with unorthodox relationships:

How to Say Goodbye in Robot (Two awkward quiet characters who only talk to each other)
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (nerd and goth)
Rules (boy who can't talk. literally. "normal" girl with special needs brother.)
Love, Stargirl (weird girl and poor bad boy with harem)

Cheating Tip: It is easier to make the characters friends or enemies before the story starts. Them not knowing each other makes it much harder for them to build backstory and chemistry.

Unless you're doing flashbacks, (500) Days style. Writing a romance that already happened and fell apart, and then giving flashbacks to the beginning is an interesting way to give your story quickly needed chemistry if the two mains don't interact in present time.

Stupid bonding moments also work, as someone suggested above.

Imagine that you're a fanfic writer. What would make you want to write about those characters in a fic?
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Old 12-04-2012, 10:25 PM   #11
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Everyone has really given excellent advice, but I'll add my two cents.

In real life couples that just seem perfect for each other (IMO), there is a combination of being very similar and yet stark opposites in ways that they completely compliment each other. Like me and my husband, I'm a miser and he's a spender, and I've shown him the importance of saving money and he's shown me that it is okay to splurge every once and a while. So we compliment each other in that aspect.

I really think that those epic made for each other characters in stories have a bit of this. They are similar in some was but different in others that makes them seem perfect for each other.

I completely agree with what others have said, and it seems you've done a lot of this. Giving them opportunities to rely and learn to trust each other really helps them bond. Having them confide in each other, feel safe enough to share secrets that they've never told anyone. And also challenging each other in ways that no one has ever challenged them before. So they really feel like equals.

But in stories, I think at least some of the chemistry really comes when there is something that is keeping them apart. The reader sees that they are perfect for each other, and yet something is standing in the way. And that to me is what really gives that romantic tension and chemistry. They want to be together, the reader wants them to be together, but they can't or at least they think they can't for whatever reason.
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Old 12-04-2012, 10:36 PM   #12
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FTR, I find fated, perfect couples boring. There are no two people made for each other. Writers who spend time trying to convince me that their couple is the truest true special luv since love was invented need to stop with that thankless campaign.

A simple, convincing couple is all I need. Not love that makes the world stop.
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Old 12-04-2012, 10:44 PM   #13
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FTR, I find fated, perfect couples boring. There are no two people made for each other. Writers who spend time trying to convince me that their couple is the truest true special luv since love was invented need to stop with that thankless campaign.

A simple, convincing couple is all I need. Not love that makes the world stop.
I'm not talking about fated love. Maybe your definition of perfect couples differs than mine, but I believe some people are more compatable with certain people than others. Perfect couples does not equal no conflict, just two people who are willing to compromise and who respect each other and treat each other as equals and are willing to fight for each other and who share interests but also compliment each other. I'm talking about when there are real reasons for two people to want to be together, not fate.

And this happens in real life, not just in books and movies, so I'm not talking about some special unattainable love, but real love.
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Old 12-04-2012, 10:46 PM   #14
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I find this interesting because I really liked the relationship between the two of them. One thing might be to have her thinking about him a little more when he's not around. She's mostly wrapped up in her own adventures, and rightfully so, but I guess if you need more of a sense of love, she'd still be thinking about him here and there. Maybe have them do the same thing at the same time, like something unexpected that shows how they've grown together, and then let them have a moment with that. I guess more quiet moments is what I'm saying.
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Old 12-04-2012, 11:26 PM   #15
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Wow, I had never considered fan fiction as a case study for this, but it's a really good suggestion. People ship when they feel chemistry, even unintentionally...or if they just want everyone gay.

But that's a great idea.

@MAP There is some hesitance about them actually getting together, and for a good reason. So although it's not "we absolutely must not!" there's a bit of what you suggested


@Niiicola when I was reading my agent's notes I kept thinking back to your crit haha. I think, ultimately, I may have her too determined to avoid the topic and it seems like she doesn't really care.
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Old 12-05-2012, 03:15 AM   #16
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I'm not talking about fated love. Maybe your definition of perfect couples differs than mine, but I believe some people are more compatable with certain people than others. Perfect couples does not equal no conflict, just two people who are willing to compromise and who respect each other and treat each other as equals and are willing to fight for each other and who share interests but also compliment each other. I'm talking about when there are real reasons for two people to want to be together, not fate.

And this happens in real life, not just in books and movies, so I'm not talking about some special unattainable love, but real love.
From your usage of "perfect, made for each other" couples, I assumed you were talking about fated couples. It's easy to interchange the two terms. I do.


Though, I do agree. Some characters have more chemistry than others, though it's not impossible to write a romance between any two characters. I've read some weird fanfic pairings that I never thought would've worked.

But I have my favored OTP's.
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Old 12-05-2012, 03:23 AM   #17
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So, AW, do you ship Pine x Napple or Napple x Pine?
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Old 12-05-2012, 10:56 PM   #18
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Adding my one and a half bits a little late in the party. Everyone has great suggestions. I like the fanfic one. The most shipped pairings for Harry Potter are Harry/Draco, Snape/Harry, Hermione/Draco, and Snape/Hermione. I think that's because of all the tension, so it works.

BUT... tension is all well and good but you want to go beyond that. Never underestimate the power of a smile. I know it sounds cheesy but if your guy is really socially awkward, smiling wouldn't be a normal reaction. Maybe he can smile when she's there. Then there the little things, a simple blush, an understanding nod, a tilt of the head in sympathy. All of those can show that they get each other without having to have a full out conversation.

For example, he's talking about robots (because I have no idea what all is in your plot). He gets really excited about the subject and then botches the name of a part with...lets say, something that could be misconstrued as a sexual inuendo. He's embarassed. She, rather than laugh at him, decides to smile and shake her head and tell him to go on. It shows that she cares enough to consider his feelings. And she gets him...which is chemistry.

I dunno. I love love but I'm kind of crap at writing it.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:11 AM   #19
Windcutter
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I don't know how to write it on purpose, but I wanted to add: I think chemistry often creates a sense of potential focus and importance of a relationship. Or maybe it's the other way around. When you see two characters and you can easily imagine them being obsessed with each other (in a good way), chemistry is born. That's why enemies or archrivals often seem to have it, they are extremely special to each other, they interact in a dynamic, focused-on-each-other way. That's why too much comfort in a relationship can be dangerous to chemistry, unless the outer world is full of danger and hate--a couple starts giving off an impression of easy, convenient dating. But in a world full of thorns, the unbearable lightness of being together can also create chemistry of a different sort.

P.S. That's what reading Laini Taylor does to me, I'm even more flowery than usual. xd
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Old 12-17-2012, 07:49 AM   #20
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This whole thread was delicious. I find myself having that problem too, and so I usually just have the two characters poke fun at one another and they may or may not have invaded each others' personal space a few times, but there is a lot more to chemistry than just touching or blushing or fiddling, that can be subtle and still meaningful.
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Old 12-17-2012, 09:12 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by missesdash View Post
My MC isn't very social or friendly and the LI is extremely shy and self-conscious (he's "hot", but he isn't a typical witty LI. He almost never knows what to say.), so getting beyond their own hang ups is hard enough. They have only known each other for a couple of months, but spend a lot of time together, so they're in that "in between phase." Their conversations tend to be a bit awkward and he doesn't talk that much, so I'm having trouble figuring out what, if not amazing conversations and lots of touching, I can use to indicate they have really strong feelings for each other.
I really recommend reading THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY by Katja Millay. She did a wonderful job portraying the growing connection between two characters who each have deep issues and barely speak at first.

I also second the learning-from-fanfic/shipping tips. Some fans of Zutara (from Avatar) have written great explanations of the chemistry they see between those two.
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