An important aspect of building story readers can connect with is developing great chemistry between characters.
Chemistry is the emotional connection between characters, and it helps create a connection with the reader. It isn’t just about romances. All characters need to have some level of chemistry with the other characters in order to bring them to life.
Essential elements of creating chemistry include:
- A strong first meeting
- Bonding moments
- Conflict and dislike
Common romance chemistry tropes include:
- Opposites attract: provides instant conflict and a logical path of progression
- Forbidden love: may be true or perceived barriers; creates tension, desire, and conflict
- Love/Hate relationship: less realistic, but provides tension and a logical path to the climax; plays on the idea that love and hate are very similar emotions
Creating chemistry involves a balance between bonding and dislike
The balance between the two depends on the type of relationship (friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, star-crossed lovers, friends, family, estranged family or friends, etc.).
Bonding moments bring characters closer together and deepen their connection. Finding common interests, opportunities to help each other, moments of understanding, doing something unexpected for the other person, opening up about personal topics, etc.
Dislike is built with conflict (light and heavy). Competition, intellectual or moral disagreements, misunderstandings, lashing out, etc.
Bonding and dislike should escalate over the course of the story, with bonding generally having more progress (until the dark moment when dealing with main characters). Dislike will take over during crises, but a chance for bonding remains.
Creating realistic attraction develops more profound chemistry
This doesn’t mean no insta-love ever, especially if that’s going to be a source of conflict later when the character realize love at first sight doesn’t mean no problems, but the reason for their attraction should be believable.
Good looks aren’t enough. Being hot doesn’t prevent a person from being an asshole. Draw from personality, compatibility, intrigue, uniqueness…something that will last and create conflict later in the story.
Build realistic tension to increase chemistry
Tension can come in a variety of ways, including miscommunication, lies, secrets, arguments, moving too fast/slow, etc. The key is for these to be realistic and fit with the overall story. One rumor that’s never fact-checked or confronted and causes the MC to run away without looking back and fall into utter despair isn’t realistic and tends to frustrate readers. Especially if the MC is an otherwise strong and intelligent person.
If a point of tension can be fixed in less than a paragraph, it probably isn’t complex enough to be believable.
Create high stakes to build chemistry even higher
There should always be something that can completely ruin a relationship. This may be developed from page one or be a surprise two-thirds of the way through.
The risk that everything could fall apart, and both or one of the characters knows this, will affect everything they do and act as a constant reminder to the reader that they shouldn’t assume everything will turn out all right.
Movie vs. written chemistry
Working with video can have advantages over the written word, but sometimes the opposite is true. Consider how much more you can convey about a character’s internal thoughts and motivations through writing that is difficult to capture on film.
Here’s a funny example of how sharing a character’s internal thoughts on film makes for a really awkward romance scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIlHR2SWW9E
Can you think of any other movie relationship scenes that would have been better in writing?