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I'm writing a story, it's not focused on romance, but that's an important part as well. The point is that I have two characters and I ended up ("accidentally") seeing chemistry between them, they have a good dynamic. With that, I really want to know how to develop a romance between them without being obvious.

How can I make the chemistry be perceived without giving evidence that they will be a couple in the future? I want to do it in a way that the reader can see the chemistry and the romantic potential that they have, so that they come and ship the couple without having any certainty that they will be canon someday.

I want the reader to have the impression that it will probably never happen, but that he still has a tiny spark of hope. As if thinking, "I know it will probably never happen, but I ship it anyway.", Anyway, what I meant by that, is that the idea is to make the reader think that he is deluding himself, and at the same time not (I think it's kind of confusing, sorry). Exemplifying would be like Romanogers (Marvel), Finrey (Star Wars), Stydia (Teen Wolf), or even Scalia in 6A of Teen Wolf.

So I ask again, how to develop a romance that is not obvious? How can chemistry be perceived without giving evidence that they will be a couple in the future? The funniest thing is that, unintentionally, I ended up shipping them, so I'm hoping they'll be together!

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    Welcome to Writing.SE Ana, glad you could join us. Please check out our tour and help center. I did a light edit on your question to divide the wall of text into paragraphs and make sure there was space between the text and the picture. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jul 13 at 17:46
  • I love Finrey, it's one of my favorite m/f ships! Also welcome, fellow Marvel and Star Wars fan :) – weakdna says reinstate monica Jul 13 at 19:13
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How can chemistry be perceived without giving evidence that they will be a couple in the future?

You can make the chemistry perceptible without going over the top, but then you need a barrier between them, something the characters feel will not change and will not allow them to be together.

One of them is happily married with no intent of cheating; perhaps both of them are. But later you (the author) kill the spouse in the way, through no intent of either character.

Or one of them is homosexual, and believes they are homosexual, but eventually because they realize they are in love and fantasizing about the other, discovers they are bisexual.

Or vice versa, if you have a homosexual relationship. I know a woman (a platonic friend of mine for 20 years) that thought she was heterosexual, due to an upbringing in a religious church-going household. She did not realize she was homosexual until she was in her mid-twenties. (This was in the early 1980's before the Internet was common.)

You can make the barrier legal: It is common in military outfits that an officer cannot have intimate relationships with subordinates, this can be a court-martial offense, and sexual harassment even if the subordinate consents: but free consent cannot be a certainty when the superior officer has influence over the career of the subordinate. And that is real life, in fiction you can make the requirements that much harder, e.g. make it a prison offense with a mandatory five year minimum.

Other legal barriers can exist (and have) over race, religion, citizenship, and sexual orientation (until recently homosexual sex was illegal in many jurisdictions within the USA, and still is in many jurisdictions throughout the world, even if anal or oral sex IS legal between a man and a woman).

IN ANY CASE, what you need is to add in a huge barrier, a stumbling block. It can be psychological, or marital, or incompatible sexual orientation, or a legal prohibition, or perhaps just a physical barrier of vast distance: they have obvious chemistry, but are separated by a distance it is very unlikely they will overcome.

Make the barrier as obvious and compelling as the chemistry; perhaps even more compelling. Perhaps there are multiple barriers. Then someday, all barriers evaporate, and when they realize this, they pursue their chemistry and consummate their romantic relationship.

  • "It is common in military outfits that an officer cannot have intimate relationships with subordinates" — an example of such relationship is Sousuke×Tessa in Full Metal Panic! – andrybak Jul 15 at 10:51
  • The military one also happens with Roy and Riza in Fullmetal Alchemist, although I think everyone knew they would get together in the end. – tryin Jul 18 at 7:41
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No, you can't fool the reader. But there are certain ways to make matchmaking less obvious during the course of your story.

  1. Provide a lot of action. This is a frequently used approach, which can be combined with the other ways. Readers' attention won't be focused on the brewing romance, and when your characters are finally ending up together, it would be both logical and satisfying. Finrey may be a good example here;

  2. Provide a convincing reason why your two characters can't be together. The difficulty here is make this reason truly convincing rather than expected to be overthrown. Previous engagements, celibate, rules of professional conduct, marriage laws are examples of NON-convincing reasons that readers would be looking to be vanquished. There is no clear formula to making such a convincing reason (to be broken later). I can point to an example in "Shrek".

    • Variant: Do a "lampshading". Early on, when it is only becoming evident that two characters can be a match, address this possibility directly and sincerely. The idea of the romance should be explored and thoroughly dismissed. This approach is better done with character's own inner thoughts, and those thoughts should appear like a justified reasoning rather than self-deception.
  3. Turn this story into "winning the girl (the guy)" scenario. This way, while the romantic intentions would be obvious to the reader, you can postpone the actual romance till the very end;

  4. Provide a romantic distraction. Create am impression that your characters have different destiny for them. For example, in Star Wars, Luke looked like a match for Leia until a later twist, so the audience might have completely overlook that Han Solo has also had a chemistry with Leia;

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I think it, sadly, depends on the genders of your characters. If it's a m/f couple people are much more likely to notice the chemistry and start shipping them faster and have more hope that they'll actually get together. With a m/m or m/f ship you're much more likely to pass under the radar and have the chemistry chalked up to just being good friends or seeing each other like siblings, so you may have to be more aggressive to get a lot of readers to go 'oh this is romantic!' But on the other hand it will be a lot easier to pass unnoticed if you decide you want it to hit readers unexpectedly.

That being said, the easiest way to get people to think about characters being romantically involved is to showcase that chemistry. Have them spend time together, banter, bounce ideas off each other and joke around. If there's an obvious or major barrier for why they can't/won't be together that will provide the 'oh they'll never be together' since this isn't a romance-focused story (I found a list of examples of barriers here, but there's lots of others if you google something like 'romance barriers/conflicts'. It's for romance novels, but it's really all a case of how much time you spend on the romance. In this case you don't need to dwell on it, I don't think.)

  • "With a m/m or m/f ship you're much more likely to pass under the radar and have the chemistry chalked up to just being good friends or seeing each other like siblings..."// P.S: Sorry, what means m/m or m/f? P.S.2: They will be friends, not like best friends, but good friends 😁 – Ana Clara Moreira Jul 13 at 19:34
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    @AnaClaraMoreira I think fifthviolent meant "m/m or f/f" (male/male, female/female, eg. a homosexual attraction). – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jul 13 at 20:08
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    Just be careful not to focus too much on the barrier to their love - it can make the readers think you're setting the barrier up as an obstacle to overcome (which you are) – tryin Jul 18 at 7:42
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Build-A-Barrier, or an invisible fence

As others have pointed out, barriers to a relationship are an often-used device to prolong the tension and keep the reader wondering. They can be hard rules (e.g., marriage, work regulations, societal taboo on homosexuality) or soft ones (e.g., "I'm not looking for a relationship right now"). You can work without an explicit barrier by ascribing a minor one in your head (e.g., "She thinks of him as a brother," or "Her personality reminds me too much of my ex,") and never stating it outright, but playing the interactions that way to suggest a fragile emotional barrier that could come tumbling down if the reader just wants it hard enough.

Establish their chemistry as a platonic friendship

With or without a barrier I'd suggest first trying to write the chemistry as a truly special platonic friendship or partnership. They can have compatible personalities, or complementary personalities, and they might have a shared goal with a united approach or opposing approaches (think the X-Files). The ones where they aren't rubbing along in sync I find more interesting, and they might perceive a sort of relationship barrier without there truly being an obstacle with any validity (easy to break through). Once you have that friendship, you know their relationship has substance and personality chemistry, and your reader will want to continue reading interactions between them. (Really, that's a kind of platonic shipping!)

Season your chili to make it hotter

Then, you can go back through the story and start turning up the heat with a few prolonged gazes, physical closeness, a sexual humor joke that falls flat in the situation because it hits too close to home, or whatever else you find intriguing in a developing romantic interest. If your readers already like the characters together it won't take much suggestion for them to jump to rooting for a romantic relationship.

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You don't have to do anything. People love matchmaking, and fictional matchmaking is particularly attractive, since it is easy and consequence free. It's harder to keep fans from reading romance between the lines where none is intended than it is to encourage them.So, in other words, just keep writing your main characters as platonic friends, but feel free to keep imagining them as romantic partners. The readers will get it.

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Unfortunately, even if a character spots another, attractive character across a room and does not speak to them for the whole book; if they do not have similar encounters with others, the reader will assume they will get together.

It's unfortunate, but for once the tropes work against you. The only way to bypass or subvert the trope is for there to be no ultimate romantic interest at all.

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