February is the month of love! Because of that, I wanted this month’s collaboration to be with an author who nails romance, whether is be in subplots or as the main plot. Everyone give a warm welcome to Alex Ashley!
ALEX ASHLEY (also writing as Nicole Bea) is a short story author and novelist who primarily focuses on contemporary teen fiction. An avid storyteller since childhood, she has honed her skills through a variety of educational programs including management, sociology, legal studies, and cultural diversity in the workplace, most recently engaging in coursework about communication for technologists. In addition to writing for young adults, Alex is also a technic al writer for a global manufacturer of CPAP masks, machines, and other products that manage sleep-disordered breathing.
When she isn’t busy updating her manuscript portfolio or catching up on her To Be Read pile, Alex can usually be found gardening, horseback riding, or pursuing her new hobby of learning to cook. She and her husband share their home in Eastern Canada with a collection of multi-colored cats and a lifetime’s worth of books.
Riya: So Alex , I’ve read a bit of your work, and your ability to write romance and steamy scenes is remarkable. Since it’s almost Valentine’s Day, I thought it’d be great for our readers to understand the nooks and crooks of writing a great romance.
What is the number one thing that’s helped you write such amazing love stories?
Alex: Oh, that’s a great question and thank you so much for the compliment! I really enjoy writing romance, be it as a main plot point or a sub plot. I’ve always been drawn to stories with romantic elements to them, even just as a teenage reader. I wanted to write books with love stories that reflected the ones I experienced in my life and through the stories of people I know, and I think that makes the books that much more realistic. I sometimes follow that age old saying of write what you know, because what I know is about experiences and challenges that I’ve had in my own life and through secondhand stories. I guess to give a long answer, it’s hard to pick just one thing. Reading has helped, life experiences have helped, and of course practicing and getting feedback are also so important!
Riya: True! I agree that experience and research is important in writing. As a young writer who hasn’t had a boyfriend, it’s hard for me to connect with the romance aspect because I don’t know what that spark has felt like. So you have any tips for writers like me who don’t have that experience/feel a disconnect?
Alex: That’s when having beta readers or critique partners can come in handy! You can bounce ideas off them or try your hand at writing a scene and they’ll be able to tell you if they think it’s working or not. You can also try reading books with similar elements and see how other authors approached those kinds of topics to get some general guidance on what characters might realistically or authentically feel or do in particular situations.
Riya: I agree. Writing on platforms like Wattpad and joining book clubs really helped me hone in on topics that I didn’t really understand, and it really helped. While we’re talking about Wattpad, there are a lot of books on there—a lot of books that don’t portray healthy romances. Either the guy is a cold a-hole or the girl is a home wrecker and the relationship is based in abuse/cheating.
Do you think books should promote healthy relationships (when the purpose of the relationship is for readers to support it)? What do you think the most important things are when creating a healthy relationship?
Alex: There are a lot of books on and off the platform that don’t necessarily portray healthy relationships, and that have gone rather far in media. I think books can include these types of behaviours as not every relationship is perfect. However, in young adult fiction and otherwise, I prefer to see those actions ultimately be addressed for what they are by the end of the narrative. Positive relationships should have respect and honesty.
Riya: I agree. When creating my relationships, if they’re meant to be an “OTP”, I keep it respectful and supportive. Obviously, every relationship has flaws, that’s part of creating a realistic novel. In my WIP, there is a husband and a wife. They butt heads a lot…they’re paranoid parents, but it never goes too far. The characters love and respect each other while having disagreements, and are always there for one another. They aren’t always supportive of their adventures out of fear that they’ll get hurt, but I think they have a pretty healthy relationship. It really irks me when I authors romanticize relationships where the partner is creepy, obsessive, and arrogant. It’s not healthy, especially in YA.
An interesting topic that I wanted to ask about is love triangles. What’s your opinion on them?
Alex: I actually really enjoy writing and reading love triangles! One of my upcoming WIPs has a love triangle, and one of my more recently completed works has one included as well.
Riya: That’s interesting! I hear from a lot of bloggers that love triangles are the bane of existence. While I’m not the biggest fan of them, when they’re done right, they’re interesting.
How do you write your love triangles?
Alex: I try to write all the characters as people the readers will enjoy and root for so it makes it more challenging to sort out who the main character is going to pick in the end, if anyone! I find that way I’m able to keep things interesting.
Riya: What about the argument that if the protagonist is in love with both people at once, they’re not a good person? I’ve heard this from a lot of bloggers and youtubers when they talk about it.
Alex: I’ve never really heard that argument before but I don’t follow YouTube. I think it’s entirely plausible for someone to have feelings for two people at the same time. “Goodness” can be seen as subjective anyway – what one person might consider okay, someone else might not.
Riya: That’s true. Love triangles really keep readers on their feet, but for me, it gets me frustrated because the protagonist just can’t make a decision and let the other person move on. Then again, I love love triangles that have one formal component and one forbidden component. For example, Sarah J. Mass does love triangles well. She either makes it that both guys just weren’t for her because she couldn’t really choose and then her protagonist finds her true love. In her other series, it was so obvious who the MC wanted, but something kept him from her, so it was like a forbidden love. Then, when she could, she ran to the man she loved. I hated the love triangle in Shatter Me and Red Queen cause both love interests are scumbags, or ones like in the Selection trilogy, where one love interest is just so much better.
Alex: Yes, just like anything else I don’t think they’re for everyone! You know what you like to read and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Riya: Exactly! Talking about niches in writing, let’s talk about something that everyone can agree on. If there’s a love story…the love interest has to be lovable! This doesn’t mean soft and sweet, but there has to be a reason readers like him. A lot of times, writers like Sarah J. Maas paint the love interests and near perfect, and their flaws are either not realistic or “flawy” enough.
What’s your key to making a balanced love interest so they’re realistic but swoon worthy?
Alex: I think about it like I’m creating another main character to tell the story from – they need to have goals and dreams and setbacks just like the main character does. I like creating notes for my characters with even simple things to remember about them so they don’t come off as Mary Sues or Gary Stus. Even something as small as not liking the same flavour of soda as the love interest can be seen as a flaw by some readers. I think I mentioned earlier that I like to base things on real life, and sometimes that includes people’s attributes as well!
Riya: I agree! In my writing, the love interest is not allowed to be a 1 dimensional character. They have to evolve, have to play a big role in the story. I keep my characters all flawed, it’s one of my specialities *tehehe*. I love giving people reasons to love them, but also reasons to hate them! In the end though, their goods have to overpower their negatives because why would someone want to date someone they can’t stand?
While we’re on the topic of things we can’t stand, what are some romance tropes that you just can’t stand?
Alex: I generally can’t do the whole hot billionaire type stories – I’m not sure if it’s just because of the ones I’ve been exposed to or not but they don’t really do anything for me. However, you typically see that one more in adult romance!
Riya: Oh yea, billionaire romances aren’t my taste either. What’s your favorite romance trope?
Alex: Probably first love or love triangle!
Riya: Aww first loves are cute. Talking about firsts, what do you do to create that spark between the two characters?
Alex: Usually combine a lot of cute banter, some awkward moments, and a fun nickname or two, then mix it all together!
Riya: For me, I’m having my characters joke around with each other. How they meet is kinda…crazy to say the least, but how they grow as a couple is sweet and comfortable. With every story, there’s a different progression of the story. Sometimes it’s hot and steamy, other times it’s calm and comfortable, under intense pressure and forced, forbidden and mysterious…the list goes on! Now, to the sad stuff.
What makes breakups the saddest for you? For me, it’s when they don’t want to, but they’re trying to protect each other.
Alex: I agree! That’s always really sad. There are lots of reasons for it too, and it always hurts more when you’re emotionally invested in the characters.
Riya: Well, I think that’s it for now. Thank you for joining us on Imperfect Ways To Write, Alex! Just so everyone knows, Alex has two books that came out late 2019, books that you should check out, and a handeful of books coming out this year! They’re fabulous and she is an amazing writer. Check out her website, where she has a blog, her books, and so much more! https://www.nicolebea.com/
Write A Love Story that Readers Love
There are parts to making a love story. Every reader has their preference, their loves, their hates, their “eh, okay’s”, but the key isn’t that hard to find.
- PINPOINT YOUR AUDIENCE.
2. WRITE REALISTIC CHARACTERS
3. WRITE A REALISTIC RELATIONSHIP.
4. WRITE TROPES YOU YOUR ADVANTAGE
5. BUILD THE ANTICIPATION
- PINPOINT YOUR AUDIENCE.
Your audience is who you want to read your book. Which shiny age group with pick up your book from the bookshelves? What genres do your book fall into? YA fantasy? Adult adventure? MG romance?
Every audience has a different preference. As someone who’s pretty well versed in the fantasy-paranormal genre, I know that a bunch of YA fantasy readers are sick and tired of lame love triangle sub plots, but readers of YA and MG contemporary eat that stuff UP. There’s no common “worst tropes in romance”. Because every person is different. You need to research your target audience, and it’s not as hard as it seems.
- Follow tags with on social media specific to your audience. Social Media is a wonderful thing if used well. Join chat rooms and chains where readers talk about their favorite tropes.
- Read books in that genre, see what other authors are doing and what’s working, but DON’T copy them. Make a love triangle that has a twist, make your characters different. Readers love new things.
- Spin a trope on its head. Let’s say your audience HATES the billionaire trope. How about you make the girl the billionaire? That’s new and enticing, and something I don’t see very often.
2. WRITE REALISTIC CHARACTERS
You might not realize it, but readers die for character flaws. They want to see them
struggle, grow, and become better. Often, writers make their characters flawless, but they live for the backstory, knowing more about them, understanding them on a deeper level. That connection with the MC and also the reader is what makes the reader squeal “OTP!!”
I love writing flawed characters because they’re so real. Treat your MC like a real person, a round character that has more purpose in your book than being the person that breaks or makes your MC’s heart. If that is their sole purpose in the book, milk the hell out of it. Give them issues and parts of them that the MC has to deal with along with their other problems.
- What is their struggle? The best way to answer this is to people watch. What are some common struggles with people around you? Are they insecure? Are they hard to connect to? Do they have a mental illness? Do they have trust issues? Commitment issues? Do their problems extend further, such as substance abuse? Ask yourself how they overcome it, or how they don’t. Then decide whether your MC should stay or not.
- What’s their backstory? What’s their reason to be who they are? Some people have loving families, others have hard. Remember, you can have a loving family but still have issues. Maybe they have a lot of siblings and never get attention, so they need someone who is always there for them. Maybe their parents loved them too much, so they’re not used to not used to how your MC treats them. Maybe their family is completely normal, but the character has a hard school life? Maybe they had a really hard home and they distrust everyone. Backstories come in different shades, and each one can lead into a flaw. No person is perfect.
- What makes them lovable?
We’ve talked about what makes a character flawed, but to make a relatable character that everyone loves. While everyone has flaws, everyone has redeeming qualities. If this is your ultimate OTP, then you want his qualities to override his flaws, cause why would you want to date someone that has more negatives than positives? That’s just a bad relationship. There are plenty of things that make a character lovable. Decide what that is and go from there.
3. WRITE A REALISTIC RELATIONSHIP.
An always joyful relationship is not only unengaging, but unrealistic. There are ups and downs to love. As many people say, it takes sadness to know happiness, silence to know sound, and hate to know love. I want to experience the highs and crash into the lows when I’m reading, get into the character’s skin and want then to be together. I want the wait, the anticipation, the heartbreak, the sweetness.
Also, please write stories that I can actually root for. I’m sorry, I won’t root for abuse “that means he loves her” or cheating because “they’re meant to be.” If you want an OTP, please make it normal, healthy and respectful. If a man hits you because he “loves you”, there’s something wrong and you need to tell someone about it.
- Abusive relationships.
These exist…everywhere. It’s not bad to have it in your book–in fact, it only raises awareness! That being said, please don’t romanticize obsessive, controlling, cheating, violent, and degrading love interests. They’re not cute and it’s a dangerous narrative to put out the kids. Leaving an abusive relationship isn’t easy. It’s very difficult and often times, people don’t realize their being abused. Sometimes they’ll never get out. It’s not always sad. Often, it’s happy, but those bad parts ruin it. Raise awareness about domestic abuse, but please don’t make it look okay.
- Arguments and fights.
Couples fight about all sorts of things, bills, work, just venting about a day, but in the end of the day, if they’re in a healthy relationship or are trying to move towards one, they need to sit and have a conversation about what’s bothering them. They need to understand each other to help each other. At the end of the day, some good advice I’ve heard is to never to sleep angry. Obviously, this always isn’t the case, and in high stress novels that you all are often creating, stressful situations will create blowouts. Learn how to manage this by looking into how you want the relationship to go. Healthy, dysfunctional, abusive, or somewhere in between. Then, choose your tactics. If you have any specific questions, comment them below!
Everyone loves cute banter, nicknames, and just love…well, most people. Happiness is realistic and you need it in your book. Even if they’re in a high stress situation, they are allowed to be happy, you know? They can giggle and tell stories after a battle and confide in one another… that’s what makes these relationships good. What ultimately defines a good relationship that people love and write fanfics about are these parts of the book, so don’t forget them, no matter how crazy it gets.
4. WRITE TROPES TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
As Alex said, everyone has their preferences, and you need to pinpoint your audience. Now, let’s be honest, no story is fully original. Tropes aren’t inherently bad…its the way they’re used and written.
Let’s take the love triangle trope. Love it or hate it, it must be done well. Readers appreciate good work, so even if it’s something that they’ve never liked, they’ll appreciate that you put work into making it different. If it’s small in your book anyway, you can use other things to compensate. If it’s the main plot…well they shouldn’t read it anyway…cause it’s not their preference.
You can write tropes to your advantage in two simple steps.
- Learn more about the trope your using.
What’s its history? What books have used it? What did readers like about it? What did readers not like about it. What are some interesting twists you can use?
- Don’t be afraid to use it
Readers like tropes. Tropes are things that have worked for decades, and while some need some revamping, a lot of readers like to see their favorite tropes come back and make a cameo and love story. Have your characters react differently, distinguishing them from other books. Often, it’s not a plot that’s unique, but your take on it. So, don’t be afraid to use tropes to build the relationship.
I love the trope of first love, where the characters are each other’s firsts. Or I love the power couple that’s just amazing and strong.
I don’t really like the obsessive, creepy boyfriend or the side-chick turned main-chick trope. (Please no love at first sight, pleaseeee.)
5. BUILD THE ANTICIPATION.
THIS IS IMPORTANT! Build. The. Anticipation. Make the reader WANT it. Make the reader frustrated but desperate. Heighten the tension and make it so that the reader can’t take it anymore than them BAM. The kiss, the scene, the I love you. I think an author who demonstrates this PERFECTLY is Rhysand and Feyre in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. Oh God, I was rolling over waiting for them to just admit it and they became my absolute favorite because it’s just perfect.
Build the anticipation through a couple of things.
- Friends Who Want More Tension
There’s something there. You know it, your readers know it, but your characters just keep trying to resist it. That stuff…i eat up like a mountain lion after a famine. It’s just so…frustrating. I’m so pissed but anticipating, on the edge of the seat, flipping the pages, eager to see when they finally admit it. Then, the do, and goodness, you feel a bubble of happiness from everyone else.
- Love Triangle.
The love triangle brings so much anticipation. Though it’s not for me, writers and readers like Alex prove that keep the reader at the edge till the end or until the MC makes a decision. The anticipation kills the reader and makes the end result so much better.
- Forbidden Love
Forbidden love is just so good. I can’t emphasis how much I love reading this stuff. It’s the pinnacle of tension because it’s not between the love interests, but the rest of their society and environment. You want them to get together, but it doesn’t seem like it’s happening.
- More and more and more.
There are a lot of tropes that can do this, so do it! Just build the anticipation and be that evil writer that makes the readers wait. Patience yields great rewards.
So those are some basics on how to create a love story that people will love. Thank you for reading and a special thanks to Give her a follow on instagram and twitter @alexashleybooks! She’s also on wattpad as @tidalbay. Keep a lookout for her book releases this year: Forget Me Not, Skin, and Pillow Talk.