What Makes an Attractive Couple in Fiction?

Creating believable couples in fiction is often hard work. You’ve created two cool characters. Why shouldn’t they end up as a romantic couple? But sometime, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get the romance to work. What makes an attractive couple in fiction?

I found the answer last week when I reposted author Penny Zeller’s post on seven must-haves for a romance novel. One of her must-haves stood out to me.

“While it may be a while before they like each other, there does have to be a level of attraction [between the male and female leads]. Make sure that attraction covers more than just appearance.”

Penny Zeller

In a romance, there must be more than physical attraction between the leads and the author’s determination that they have to become a couple. In fact, when I’ve paired two characters as a romantic couple and found I can’t get them to behave as such, I realize I can’t force it. Something is wrong with my character development. If you find you have two characters who should be romantic and refuse to cooperate, try the techniques below.

Mutual Respect about Something

I’ve read about the trope in romance novels called enemies-to-lovers; when a male and female can’t stand each other at first, but eventually fall in love. I’ve never bought this trope. If you can’t stand the other person at first glance, how do you get over that first impression? But as I thought about it, there could be something that both characters agree on, allowing them to see something positive in the other person and that can lead to lowering barriers.

That mutual respect can center around their jobs–maybe both are teachers and have very different approaches to education but come to realize the the other person’s approach is effective. Hobbies are also something that can generate respect. One character can be more advanced in the hobby–for example, fencing–but respects the hard word the other character is applying to the hobby as a newbie. Or it can center on family. Both characters have a relative with special needs that they help and recognize how hard this job is.

Admiration for a Quality that is Lacking

I’ve found I often admire in my husband what I lack or have very little of in myself. Such as he has a very logical mind and positive outlook. I’ve also discovered that many real-life couples are cases of opposites attract when it comes to personalities. The extroverted man is attracted to the introverted women. The laid-back woman is attracted to the goal-oriented man.

If you want to venture into the dark side of a relationship, you can turn admiration into jealousy. When one half of a couple grows jealous of the other, serious trouble is brewing. Even worse, it can lead to competition, which will gravely injure the relationship.

What makes attractive couples for you? Which stories have the best couples?

For more tip from romance writers, click here.

7 Key Elements of Romance Novels

Since my theme this year is “The Journey of Book”, we will be making stops throughout the year to study different genres. You can’t write for a genre without understanding its elements and reader’s expectations for it. So I am reposting Penny Zeller’s guest blog about the 7 key elements of romance novels. It’s a great post to get you familiar with the tropes of this genre.

While romance is one of the most popular genres, it’s not necessarily the easiest to write. Given this genre’s complexity, how can we, as authors, be sure our romance novels keep our readers turning the pages? Here are seven must-haves for romance novels.

Good character description 

As a visual person, it helps tremendously for me to have pictures of my main characters on hand before I begin writing a book. One of the best ways to do this is Pinterest boards. Create one for character inspiration you can refer back to for any book, as well as a dedicated individual board for each book you are writing.

When I was writing my first novel, I cut out the photo of my main male character and taped him to the edge of my computer monitor. When my husband, Lon, saw the picture that evening, our conversation went something like this:

Lon: “Who is that guy?”

Me: “Oh, that’s just Zach.”

Lon: “Zach? Do we know him?”

Me: “Well, you may not, but I do. He’s the main character in my book. A figment of my imagination.”

I still do this, although now my family is accustomed to seeing strange people taped all over my workspace. It helps to have your characters in front of you, whether taped to your monitor or a physical character board, or on a Pinterest board.

Great tip, Penny! Most of the time, I can’t write a character unless I can see them crystal clear in my imagination.

Attraction between characters  

While it may be a while before they like each other, there does have to be a level of attraction. Make sure that attraction covers more than just appearance.


Make sure you have conflict in your romance novel. Keep the reader guessing and hoping the two main characters will someday have their happily ever after.

Relationship formers

In my novel, Love in Disguise, Emilie and Thad form a relationship over regularly having lunch together. They find they have common interests, likes, and dislikes. Give your characters ways to build and form their relationship through spending time together. Give them commonalities and some areas of agreement that brought them together.

Strengths and weaknesses

One of the easiest ways I have found to give characters strengths and weaknesses is to interview them. Ask “What words would your closest friends use to describe you?” Chances are, your main characters will come up with mostly strengths, but a few weaknesses too. Are they determined?  Creative? Organized? Flexible? Spontaneous? Energetic? Athletic? Nerdy? Flighty? A grudge holder? Easily bored? Risk-taker? Planner? Extroverted? Introverted?

Check to see what type of Myers Briggs personality your characters have and research that personality type. This helps develop their strengths and weaknesses even further.


Disclaimer here: I love watching clean romantic comedies and chick-flicks. As such, I do realize the main characters have to fall in love quickly to fit the hour-and-a-half movie allotment. However, in our novels, we need to be sure we are pacing the romance well. Give your characters time before they fall head-over-heels in love. Let them discover why they’re falling in love. While attraction (see above) is important at first, it’s not what remains important. Allow your characters to fall in love with someone’s personality–their dedication to the Lord, their integrity, kindness, witty sense of humor, and generosity.

Or alternatively in the area of pacing, don’t have them dislike each other from page one to page 301 of a 302-page book, suddenly, falling in love on that second-to-the-last page. 

I think pacing is the hardest technique for a writer to learn. Great tip for keeping the romance real!

As authors, let’s give our readers a couple to root for by creating strong and relatable characters! 

A lot of your tips will work for any genre, not just romance. Thank you, Penny! 

For another perspective on the basic elements of writing a romance novel, click here.

For romance writing prompts, click here.


Penny Zeller is known for her heartfelt stories of faith and her passion to impact lives for Christ through fiction. While she has had a love for writing since childhood, she began her adult writing career penning articles for national and regional publications on a wide variety of topics. Today Penny is a multi-published author of several inspirational books. She is also a homeschool mom and a fitness instructor.

When Penny is not dreaming up new characters, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters, camping, hiking, canoeing, reading, running, cycling, gardening, and playing volleyball.She is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency and loves to hear from her readers at her website www.pennyzeller.com and her blog, random thoughts from a day in the life of a wife, mom, and author, at www.pennyzeller.wordpress.com. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitterInstagramPinterestAmazon Author Central, and MeWe.

7 key elements of romance novels

Find Settings that Help Your Mystery

Many articles and books describe how to create characters and plots for mysteries. But settings are just as important. If you’re writing in this genre, you need to find settings that help your mystery.

Settings to Meet People

In a mystery, the detective meets people, observes them, questions them. The plot can’t move forward without the detective performing these activities. In a novel where the detective is part of law enforcement, the author has an easy time getting his detective to the characters he needs to meet. In a cozy mystery with an amateur detective, the author has to invent opportunities.

My teen detective Rae Riley works in a library in a rural county in Ohio. As a check-out clerk, she can meet anyone I want to push through the front doors of the library. Rae works mostly at the main branch in the county seat, so she’s in the biggest town in the county, where locals would have any number of reasons to visit.

In a rural community, holiday and civic events provide Rae a chance to meet people. These events also allow me to make people who are unlikely to bump into each other otherwise to rub shoulders with one another.

Of course, Rae can meet just about anyone online, but if that person is going to be a significant character, he or she will have to make a physical appearance. A soley online presence limits character development. But to get the characters to meet, I’m faced with obstacles of how to plausibly introduce this character into Rae’s physical world. If Rae’s supposed to be smart, she wouldn’t just tell the person online where she lives.

Settings that Add Suspense

Isolating the detective is the best way to create suspense in a mystery, but these day, when it seems like help is just a phone call away, mystery writers have to work harder to create suspenseful scenes. And a writer can only use the phone battery dying so often. Finding settings that isolate the detective in a plausible way is crucial to adding suspense.

I have the advantage of using a rural county as my main setting. I’ve lived and traveled in enough rural locations to know that reception can disappear at any time. That’s perfect if I want to throw my detective into a dangerous situation in which he can only count on his wits.

Othering settings that add suspense are ones with a time element. The detective is trapped in a car that’s slowly sinking into a lake. Or she is being chased through a deserted part of an unfamiliar city, so that when she calls 911, she can’t tell them exactly where she is.

Any setting that’s been abandoned automatically adds an ominous mood to a story, whether it’s a quarry, a hospital, a school, or a farm.

Also any setting that is unfamiliar to your detective can add suspense. Hoping to find her missing sister, a woman who has lived her whole life in L.A. follows clues to a remote town in the Appalachian mountains. Or hoping to find her missing sister, a woman who has lived her whole life in the Appalachian mountains follows clues to L.A.

For more posts on writing mysteries, click here.

Which authors have found settings that help their mysteries?

Working Out the Logistics in a Mystery

Having been inspired by V.L. Adams’ guest post, “Start with the End: Leaving Clues in a Mystery“, I decided to write a post on working out the logistics in a mystery. As I tackled the next novel in my Rae Riley series, I hit upon a way to keep the action straight.

Get a Calendar

Preferably an old calendar. I’m using my calendar for this year but in months that have already passed. My novels are set during definite seasons of the year. A Shadow on the Snow starts in late January and ends on Good Friday. My current work-in-progress A Storm in Summer opens on Memorial Day and covers roughly two weeks with a wrap-up on Father’s Day.

On a day that action takes place, I draw a line down the middle of it. On the left side, I write action that will appear in the book. Since I write in first person, this is also what my main character is doing. On the right side, I write what other characters are up to during that same day. Their actions may or may not appear in the book. Keeping track of where all the characters are at certain points of the day prevents holes from appearing in my plot and makes it easier to fix holes when they do show up.

For example, let’s say I need my teen detective Rae Riley to see a certain car. The most plausible way for her to see it is town where she works. So I write a scene where she goes to work at the library and has lunch with a friend and spots the car

But how did the car get there? On the right, I write what the other characters have done so Rae can see the convertible in town. Those reasons may not have to appear in the book for readers to make sense of the mystery, but it helps me understand my plot and the motivation of my characters.

You can break this technique down to hours or even minutes if you’re plotting requires it.

Let’s say you’re writing a mystery in which someone had to have been murdered between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Select your day and then the times to schedule what the detective, victim, guilty part and suspects were doing.

Plotter or Pantser

This method works for a plotter or a pantser. If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, a plotter is someone who maps out her entire book, writes from an outline, and doesn’t deviate from it much. A pantser usually has a rough idea of characters, settings, and plot but explores all those aspects as he writes. While my calendar plotting obviously appeals to a plotter, it can also help a pantser when she needs to smooth out rough spots and fill in the holes in her story.

If you write crime fiction, what method do you use for working out the logistics in a mystery? I’d love to learn about it!

Mysteries are a Mystery!

After bringing to you several new authors over the last few months, I’m glad to welcome back an old friend, Carole Brown. Carole relates how mysteries are a mystery to write until you dig into understanding the genre. Welcome back, Carole!

It was a dark and stormy night.

Uh, huh. We’ve heard this one before. But what if you start your novel like this…

Lightning split the coal-black heavens into multiple pieces as the bullet-sized raindrops pounded Jason’s hood-covered head, encouraging a mammoth headache to split his head into confusion. 

Mysteries are said to be the hardest genre to write. I believe it, but I also find it fascinating to attempt it.   A few things you have to remember when attempting this genre are simple enough to explain but harder to do. But effort, study and a determination to succeed will put you in a good place to get that mystery book written. 

Investigate the different sub-genres of mystery diligently. Know what will resound with your writing before you begin, or write a few short stories as practice until you recognize which one fits you– classic/traditional, crime, police procedurals/hard-boiled, noir, gumshoe/private detective, cozies, and capers. 

Remember, you don’t want too write like so and so. You want to stand out on your own merits. Add a new element, that coincides with the mystery genre, but makes readers straighten in their seat. Do your diligent homework, study the genre and what is necessary, find that element that will cause you to stand out from the rest, then proceed (again and again) to write your mystery. 

Here are a few thoughts on what helps:

  • Pose your mystery question at the beginning as quickly as possible.
  • Choose an ordinary character who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances OR an extraordinary character who finds himself in ordinary circumstances. Create your characters to stand out, to be ordinary or not, abled to be labeled as: 
    • a reflection of society
    • someone with a bit of sassiness
    • serious with a bent to boredom and over-thinking
    • one who is callous to murder
  • Research and pick your setting with purpose.
  • Red herrings
  • Suspenseful dialogue
  • Set the mood with descriptive language
  • Chapters that keep your reader turning pages, trying to figure out who is the antagonist, what will happen next..

I have two mystery series I’m working on, although one of them is on hold for awhile:  

  • The Denton and Alex Davies series (cozy). A fun, adventurous married couple (even if Denton is a bit grumpy) who travel the U.S. and constantly find mysteries that seem to pop up everywhere. 
  • The Appleton, WV Romantic Cozies series. (A town filled with colorful characters who find their own mystery in each book.)

There is lots more to learn about mysteries, all of it fascinating and helpful. Do your due diligence in studying about mysteries. And if you proceed, you’ll find it’s one of the hardest but most rewarding genres to write in. 

Wishes for great success to you mystery book authors! 

To read more posts on writing mysteries, click here.



Toni DeLuca, the Italian owner of DeLuca Construction, finds herself confronted with doubts about her father and his possible deceptions—all because of the mysterious pink notes she’s been receiving.

Relations with Perrin Douglas who has a troubling history—but the first man in years who’s interested her—is building to a peak. Yet Perrin’s own personal problems and his doubts about women and God, keep getting in the way.

Gossip, a Spanish proposal, an inheritance, and a sabotaged construction business may ruin Christmas for Toni’s employees as well as her own happiness.

Will a mysterious person succeed in pulling off the biggest scam Appleton, West Virginia has ever seen? And will this culprit destroy Toni’s last chance at happiness with the man of her dreams?


Besides being a member and active participant of many writing groups, Carole Brown enjoys mentoring beginning writers. An author of fourteen, best selling, award-winning books, she loves to weave suspense, mystery and tough topics into her books, along with a touch of romance and whimsy, and is always on the lookout for outstanding titles and catchy ideas. She’s also published one children’s book and is in two anthologies. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. She has found that the traveling and ministering has served her well in writing her novels. Together, they enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons?  Connect with Carole on her personal blog, Facebook, FB fan page, Amazon, Bookbub, IG, Pinterest, Twitter, Goodreads, and LinkedIn.

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