Every year romance tops the list of the most widely read genres. From Edward and Bella to Harry and Sally to Romeo and Juliette, most of the greatest stories ever told have at their center two people discovering their feelings for one another.
We love tales of characters fighting to find a connection, but before we can flush out a fiery story filled with heat and tension, we need to understand what kind of spark our characters are experiencing.
3 Types of Romantic Feelings
I’ve experienced three different forms of romantic feeling: infatuation, lust, and love. Each is its own unique kind of fire. When we write romantic relationships between characters, it’s important we know which of these three types of burn they are experiencing.
1. Infatuation Sparks like a Match
I remember in high school being infatuated with a girl that sat near me in chemistry. When I saw her, my mouth filled with cotton, my heart raced, and butterflies flew fast circles in my stomach. I saw her everywhere. I noticed her in the hallway walking to class, in the cafeteria chatting with her friends, and outside of school at places I least expected, like the grocery store.
For three weeks, I couldn’t get her out of my mind; but as quickly as it had come, the infatuation faded.
This form of romance is like a match. When struck, it ignites and burns bright, but it is exhausted just as fast.
2. Lust is a Wildfire
The most popular poster in my all-male college dorm was a provocative picture of Jennifer Aniston. None of us knew Jennifer Aniston, nor did we care to have a conversation with her. The image represented something we longed for. The talented actress was just an object we thought would fulfill our desire.
Lust is not about the object of our desire; it is about fulfilling our desire. The object is simply a vehicle.
While it is most often associated with sex, we can lust after anything: fame, money, glory, power. Anything we can want can be made into an object of lust.
Unfortunately, lust rarely pays off like we hope. If we obtain the object of our desire, we are left still unsatisfied because the reality of the experience will never match our fantasy. In this way, lust is like a wildfire. It burns with reckless abandon until everything is consumed and the ground is left scared.
3. Love Burns Hot and Long
I worked as a pastor for fifteen years. During that time, I performed a lot of weddings and almost all of them contained a reading of 1 Corinthians 13—the love passage. If you’ve attended a wedding, you’ve probably heard it:
Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude or self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
What I love about the passage's description of love is that in it, love is all about how you should treat another person.
While lust is about getting what we want, love is about seeing another person become the best they can be. While lust is about finding satisfaction, love is about bringing satisfaction to another.
If infatuation is a match and lust is a wildfire, then love is the steady burn of an oil lamp. It has the same spark, heat, and light of the other two, but it is not quick. It endures.
Our Opportunity as Writers
The great news is that as writers we have the opportunity to play with all three forms of romantic feeling—sometimes in the same scene. Think of the three types as different flavors: one is sweet, one brings heat, and one is savory. When mixed together, the ending dish can be a work of art that is not only delicious but also surprising.
You might try blending them together like this:
Maybe . . . your heroine is experiencing infatuation that will mature into a deep love, while the object of her desire is filled with lust.
Maybe . . . your hero is infatuated with the woman in front of him, unaware of the woman standing in his shadow, harboring a deep love for him.
Maybe . . . the relationship between your characters begins with infatuation. For one it matures into love, while for the other it fades.
There is no end to the possible combinations and the emotional plot twists these three romantic feelings can create. They are waiting for us to put words to the page and give their fire life.
Have I missed a romantic feeling? What other types of attraction can characters feel for one another? Let me know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes to write a scene where two characters experience some combination of the three romantic feelings—infatuation, lust, and love. As this is a site for writers of all ages, please keep your scenes rated PG.
When you're done, share your practice in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers.