Building chemistry

I have set down books that fail to build proper inter-character chemistry.  Why? Because there is nothing more awkward than reading stiff lifeless interactions that feel forced or unwelcome. They should flow and feel organic to the reader.  I love a story that sucks you in, makes you feel at home and a part of the story. So if conversation or interactions fall flat, chances are I’ll either slog it out or set it down. As a writer that would be the ultimate worst to know someone felt that way. Therefore I spend extra time building the relationships, good or bad.

So what do I do when it comes to interactions? I know that I respond/react/interact differently with different people. This should be true for my characters. If I don’t have a clear set idea of how that is I will make sure to keep notes on it in my character bio’s. I Cant have Amber being friendly with Sasha for no reason. Or Anne talking silly with Tony. These aren’t always super obvious things either, a reader will appreciate the detail even if they don’t outright notice it. In fact, they may appreciate it more if they don’t.

Some things that a person might do with one person but not necessarily another

Joking around
Teasing
Flirting
Show respect
Touching – touch an arm, back or hand
Intent listening undivided attention
Eye rolling or sneering behind back

Chemistry isn’t always about romance or the potential for it, however, it is what people think of when the subject comes up. It is a big factor in story telling. So I will focus on that as well. Building romantic chemistry is a very serious business. A lot has to happen. Physical cues, verbal suggestions, behaviors, actions, and reactions. It’s an elixir of buildup. If I’m writing a sudden ‘romantic’ chemistry the scene will be intense and hold a lot of action tags and cues.  If I can build it up over time I like to sneak in little tidbits. Like touching of hands, blushing and things like seeking out their company over others and maybe doing small favors that have great meaning.  Subtle and flirty.

Since chemistry is an internal thing, for me it is tricky. I don’t use internal or first person POV. So I use a lot of action and description to show the chemistry instead of telling the reader it’s there. I find this is the best way to suck the reader into the romance and build the hope that the couple will get together.

The chemistry between friends should, in my opinion, be about making each other happy or comfortable. Set them at ease and or rev them up for stress releasing fun. An awkward show of friendship in the form of stiff interaction or conversation would be unbelievable to the reader. Real friends chill, tease and care.

Dale leaned his head back on the sofa. Scott handed him a beer and flopped down next to him. After a long draw, Dale sighed heavily. Scott glanced over at Dale’s miserable face, picked up the remote and turned on the game. Distraction was necessary.
Scott decided to go fishing for the right conversation topic. “Amber was weird today.”
Dale nodded. “Sure was.” he lifted the beer bottle to his lips.
Scott smiled slyly. “Rachael tripped today. She did a fantastic face plant into the meeting-room floor.”

The tension left Dale’s shoulders. The non-Amber conversation welcome. “Oh?” He finished the last half of his beer in one chug.
“No blood, but the clients got quite the show.” Scott got up to retrieve Dale another bottle. “Thanks.” Dale took the offered drink, sat back and settled in to watch the game.
“You should have seen it.” Scott began to tell the spiteful story.

Romantic chemistry seems easy to write, but in reality, it can be difficult to stay in POV and show instead of telling. Fluid movements and simple reactions are, in my opinion, the best way to illustrate this.

The stars twinkled in the cloud-free moonless sky. Anne breathed deeply the cool air as they left the restaurant. Immediately Tony slipped his hand in hers lacing their fingers. With a small smile, she glanced at the delighted gleam to his face.
“I’m not used to this.” Her confession needed no explanation. 
“I know.” He squeezed her hand gently and rubbed his thumb over the soft skin.
“How?” She licked her lips. “How do you know?”
“Because.” He lifted their hands and kissed the back of hers. She sighed softly and he smirked. “You react to every little thing I do as if it were some grand romantic gesture.”
“Oh.” She looked away and swallowed several times. It was true, she just didn’t know it was obvious. 
“Don’t act like it’s a bad thing, Anne.” Tony stopped, let go of her hand and made her face him. 
“It’s not?” Anne blinked slowly as his right hand brushed her cheek, cupping her face.
His lips parted and he leaned closer. “No.” His warm breath played across her lips and she shivered. Their eyes locked and she held her breath. “I’d say it’s a good thing.”
It was all she could do to nod her head, speaking was not an option. 

Whether it’s romantic, platonic or rivalry, the interaction between two people should be personal. I do my best to keep it this way because it not only reads better but it elicits emotions from the reader. I really try not to mix styles between characters. Scott and Dale can chill and depend on the other for distraction, I wouldn’t have them behave the same way exactly with other characters. This quiet understanding is strictly for them. Same goes for Anne and Tony, he’s not her first boyfriend, but he’s the only one she gets breathless around.

My advice about building chemistry.
Start from the first moment characters meet. If they have met or already know each other before the story starts, show their comradery or chemistry subtly and often in little ways that will endear the reader to them and their Symbiosis.

-Sheryl

Other romantic posts

Setting the mood

It’s a love hate sort of thing

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved

 Fishing
Symbiosis
Elixir

One step forward and two steps back

The point of any story is to get from one point to another with entertaining bits in-between. Ideally, the protagonist is on a journey of some sort. Probably growth by emotions or achievements.  No path is smooth nor should it be. How dull would it be if nothing ever got in the way? If nothing pushed the hero off course and they sailed on through to the end easy-peasy.  Yawn. Double yawn even.

I am a huge fan of the setback, the ‘are you freaking kidding me?’ moments.  I don’t care for over the top non-stop terrible incident after terrible incident. The kind where the character can’t ever catch a break, so much that it becomes annoying. In those cases it’s more about bad luck or sensational writing without content. Like a sweet strawberry cream filled chocolate without the strawberry filling. It’s okay, because hey, chocolate. But where’s the gooey good stuff?

All in all, the protagonist should be steadily gaining ground and when setback they should triumph and move along to the next obstacle.

What about those obstacles? Well, I try to make them meaningful to the story in some way. Random death or destruction is fun but if it means nothing to anyone in the story, the reader certainly won’t give a rats ass either.

For example, I’ll talk about Sasha. She is pretty high up in importance at the design firm. She knows how to utilize others’ skills appropriately and is a team player. She lacks drive or the push to get her to do what she should really be doing and starting her own agency. So I’ve set Amber on her to make her work life hell and later someone else will toss her to the flames and really light a fire under her butt.  Now in her personal life. She has a secret and a few select people in her life know about it. Something bad happened and slowly, this will be drawn out by a series of relationship related events. Some good, some bad and some very much both. Her friends are trying to force her to move on, men are trying to drag her out of her self-inflicted misery, but eventually someone will give her the courage to let it all go and move on herself. Don’t worry the path is riddled with awful things that make her grow as a person.

Cal is a detective and loves his job. His journey has not been addressed yet, so no spoilers.

Not all journeys are for the greater good. A character can wander from the ideal path and become well… bad. These are fun to play with. You can get super mean and nasty to them to drive them over the edge. Or maybe they’re already there and are the ones tossing out the roadblocks on the sly for the protagonist to trip on.

Think of it like a ladder. The side boards are the progression, the protagonist will climb from the base of the ladder to the top. Some rungs may break and others may be missing. Eventually they need to get to the top. Some characters will be making their way down. It’s easier to go down and even fall fast. Then there are the rungs of the ladder. It’s okay to have rungs, the characters/events that serve only to help someone else up or down. They have no real part in the journey other than that one moment.

Overall, the strong emotion eliciting moments are the ones that will keep the pages turning. How are they going to get out of this mess? What happens next?

My advice about setbacks.
Use them appropriately with cause and purpose. If you over do the set backs then the reader might start eye rolling and get bored or frustrated. Remember its all about the endgame. How can a struggle or set back make the reward sweeter?

-Sheryl

Other posts

Desperately procrastinating

I’m just me

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