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I'm in high school, and have had few romantic relationships. The few that I have had were very unhealthy. I have pretty much no good experience with romance.

How can I write romance when I don't really know what it's like in real life? How can I keep clichés out of my romance writing when clichés and media portrayal of relationships are literally the only "normal" romantic relationships that I've been exposed to?

EDIT: This question is specifically about how to write accurate and healthy romance when I haven't had healthy or real-world romantic relationships. Technically I have in fact experienced romance and romantic feelings, I just don't know how to communicate something in my writing for which I have little knowledge of.

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    If you think your unhealthy relationships were unlike most fictional ones, maybe they could be the basis for unconventional stories that are all the more valuable for it. – J.G. Jan 31 at 22:44
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    @Cyn I don't think this is a duplicate. Related yes, but romance is a specific topic that will have different answers than the linked question. – linksassin Jan 31 at 22:46
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    @weakdna, I figured I'd mention, since you're still relatively new: if you feel your question is not a duplicate, even if it gets closed before you have a chance to respond, stand your ground. If you edit your question, it automatically gets into the "reopen" queue. And if you edit to explain why your question is different from the proposed duplicate, there's a fair chance your claim will be accepted. Or, it might be that the suggested duplicate does answer your question. That's perfectly fine too. "Duplicate" isn't meant as criticism - nobody expects you to know all questions out there. – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jan 31 at 23:40
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You wil have to research.

I suggest dividing it into parts:

1) Understand the cliches and where they come from.

As the saying goes, where there's smoke, there's fire. Where there's a cliche, there's something true. It simply isn't as universal and normalised as the cliche makes you think.

One of the cliches I most hate is the one where the couple who like one another are constantly fighting and claim to hate each other. Everyone knows, however, that deep down they love each other and will get togeter.

From my experience, this cliche is somewhat true in children. Say Sam likes Julie, but he's too young to understand his feelings or to express them, so he picks on her to the point she hates him.

Younger teenagers who don't know how to express their feelings may also resort to teasing, which can slide into word fights.

When a couple simply enjoys teasing each other, that is usually done in good spirit and they don't intend to hurt the other's feelings.

Now that you understand the origin of the cliche, you can avoid it while still using the the little spark of truth hidden inside it.

2) Look for romantic advice

There is a lot online about how to manage one's romantic relationship. Some of it are clichés. I would advise you to focus on things like 'conflicts within relationships and how to deal with them', but do try to read different sites, as some offer complementary advice.

Another important point to research is 'toxic relatinships', including red flags and how to get away from such people. This is particularly important because some of the clichés in romance are nothing more than a lot of toxic behaviour, some of which are particularly destructive for a person's mental health, identity and ability to control one's own life.

There are more things you can research - different ways of feeling and expressing love, how one's personality impacts the way you act with your partner, how opposites attract (and also how it can make a couple drift apart), and so on.

Keep in mind that you should never limit your research to simply one site. Go for at least three as the absolute minimum.

3) Keep it real

Most advice is given in terms of generalisations and ideals, but people are individuals, and they are not perfect. Even the best matched couples sometimes do nasty things, and that does not mean they have a toxic relationship. Sometimes a couple spends years (or decades) slowly working through bad relationship habits. Sometimes those habits are uprooted (rarely all of them), sometimes they aren't, and sometimes they worsen. Sometimes those bad habits start as nuisances that will grow into toxic behaviour, and sometimes a couple will break up before it gets that far.

Again, each case is a case. Read through forums and learn about the hurdles real couples faced. See how they reacted, if they fell or if they overcame it. Notice how people felt when they were the targets of emotional and psychological violence.

Though I'm sure everyone knows it, I'll still say it: do not use the real life examples for your own stories, but use them simply as guidelines and inspiration.

  • None of this matters in the slightest. Did Shakespeare really explain the romance between Romeo and Juliet? No. All he did was invent the catchy phrase "Star-crossed lovers", to establish the romance. ... he never attempted to pretend to explain the infatuation. And do the readers care? No. Not even a little bit! He wrote with conviction. And the whole world accepted it. btw. I am not down voting your answer.. I am just pointing out that from a romantic literature perspective, none of what you said (useful as it is) mattes. – ashleylee Jan 31 at 21:12
  • @ashleylee: Thanks for the comment. True, writing with conviction is all that is required to produce w best seller. Unfortunately, that's what EL James did. And it did make me retch. Of course, it was worse for me because I already run away from romantic fiction (novel or film) since most are neck-deep in cliches I abhor with a burning passion, and since the OP wishes to avoid said cliches... Perhaps they'll be able to create something I'll enjoy reading. Here's to wishing! :) – SC for reinstatement of Monica Jan 31 at 23:44
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    @ashleylee In the context of stack exchange this is actually a much more useful answer. It proposes techniques and methods to achieve the OPs goal. Merely stating "do what your do with conviction" doesn't help the OP if they don't know what to do in the first place. – linksassin Feb 1 at 1:40
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A story romance should have:

  1. a call to action, or an inciting incident
  2. a try/fail cycle, or a mid-point conflict that makes the goal seem unobtainable
  3. the MC should have a personal realization, or make a personal sacrifice before it can be resolved

in other words, treat the romantic arc like any other plot element. Give it a structure and narrative beats so it can grow and evolve. Create a built-in flaw from the start, then raise the stakes.

Once you have some of the "romantic arc" plotted, work to fit it into your main plot. It should influence, and be influenced by, other story elements so the romance doesn't feel tagged on or inconsequential, rather it is woven in with the rest of the timeline.

At the end of the story, regardless of how the rest of the plot goes, the romantic plot will have its own resolution which might compliment or contrast the main plot. It should have its own journey, with conflicts and villains and failures, but most of all it should have a conclusion. Doesn't have to be "happily ever after", but like every story it needs a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Readers will care because the romantic plot is just as interesting as the main adventure. No amount of waxing poetic will make people feel involved in someone else's romance, so use the same tricks that get people to care about the rest of the story: motivation, conflict, and resolution.

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Just keep it cliche by pretending that it is unique.

Romance is THE most done to death theme in writing.

And just like the real life counterpart, fictional romances are all uniquely the same.

You don't need to keep it real.

You just have to WRITE with CONVICTION and the readers will buy absolutely whatever..

Even the BARD himself did precisely NOTHING to establish/explain the romance between Romeo and Juliet! Shakespeare coined the catchy phrase "Star-crossed lovers", and the whole world bought it. Hook, line and sinker. He never bothered to explain the infatuation. And do the readers care? No. Not even a little bit.

If it works for the Bard, it should work for you too

And btw... given the fact that Shakespeare didn't die in a double suicide, it is pretty clear he didn't experience the Romeo Juliet romance either.

So don't research. Just write.. And write with conviction. That's all people (readers/audience/viewers) ever wanted anyway. It is escapism...

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    What should they write though? Sure Shakespeare could get away with just stating that they were in love, no motivation required. But the romantic buildup isn't the central tension of Romeo and Juliet. You can't apply the same technique to a story that centres on falling in love. – linksassin Feb 1 at 1:43

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