Cheeky Guide on Romance and Flirting
I will begin with a flirting method I saw info on once. Not because it works, since I have done basically no further research into its validity, but because it had a handle mnemonic.
That stands for Humour, Open Body Language, Touch, Attention, Proximity, and Eye Contact. The theory is that these are the components of what kind of flirting would be more successful.
These are basically the same skills as what are required to be really fun to hang out with as a person, so they can easily be used to play into mixed signals between characters to give the reader an impression of romance, but then reveal full platonic friendzone on them, and the one of the characters too if you want.
Humour should be obvious. Funny means charismatic.
Open body language is like how much you are facing the other person, feet pointed towards them, shoulders pointed to them, not crossing your arms or bending in on yourself, keeping your arms further from your body instead of locked to your sides, the way you move, etc.
Touch, or tactile contact, is where things get a bit tricky. The question is how receptive is one character to the other touching them, and to what extent. Touching some people will NOT go over well no matter what you do, so this can also be relative to the personality of individual characters. You might consider shipping two characters by placing them in a situation where they would be in close physical proximity to each other for some reason, like crawling around in the vents and needing to share one viewing hole. You can get away with a lot more casual touching between two characters who need to be cooperating together professionally, and readers will accept that casualness, but they will also be more likely to ship these people. Probably. So you can use that to your advantage later.
Now attention is where things become more subtle. People crushing on one another have each other in their minds more than usual, and might have the urge to stare for longer and more regularly than necessary too. Attention means they’re looking at you, it means they’re listening closely to what you’re saying, it means they notice your body language and connect the dots of your way of thinking more than what might be normal (except if there’s someone else that knows you well enough to figure you out even without pulling all that mental effort.) Someone teaching something to you has to pay attention to figure out what you do and don’t understand. A servant character has to pay attention because because they need to be able to react appropriately and rapidly if necessary. Attention does not mean romance, but romance can easily lead to attention, so looking at all the signs together would be the best indicator of flirting.
Now comes proximity. This one is easy, they want to be close to you, they want to be around you. Most importantly though, they want to be in proximity for extended periods of time. This can be a stalker, yes. You can force characters to have to live together for a time if you want to be sneaky match-maker about it. All the pros and cons of living together apply, and figuring out how they apply in this specific relationship dynamic is kind of the point. Even fighting and rivalry between characters can create a sort of proximity and familiarity over time.
Now we come to Eye Contact. One of the most important indicators. This is for a very simple reason, try staring straight into the eyes of some random stranger and see how fast things get awkward. It’s like the awkwardness test, the less awkward it feels, the more you know. In fact this very implication is pretty much why eye contact can be so awkward in the first place, also why someone staring at you can be so unnerving (among other reasons.) Look at the mentor character for example, they might use jokes to help the learning process, get a lot of proximity in effort to teach you dancing for example, and pay very close attention to you, but I’d imagine you spdon’t have any teachers who go into a moment of silence and look deeply into your eyes for a few dozen seconds while not saying anything. Eww. Eye contact is one of the most important indicators among the others.
All of these can be misinterpreted, even eye contact depending on the situation, so context is crucial. Keep in mind that flirting sort of involves not revealing your intention until you sense the other person being receptive so you can do it without disrupting more casual interactions or creating awkwardness. Except for the characters shamelessly flirting with everyone that is. So the signs are meant to be subtle, unnoticed by others at times, and its easy to have a moment of eye contact that no one else in a group notices.
On to more general notes on romance.
Now a lot of what makes romance work in a narrative is how susceptible the characters and readers are to romance. Romance has to work to build up this susceptibility and preferably does this in both the perspective characters and the readers at sort of the same time. Though a lot of this can be done through just the awareness of what genre the book is in. Susceptibility is basically how accepting the reader/character is of the idea of the romance, and ties into how invested they are into the possibility. This means you can build this up just by having the possibility brought up and then moving along, since the implicit acceptance is there just by going further. You can use a desire to discover to enhance this, either with the character being inexperienced or with the prospect relationship being novel in some way. The character wanting to explore the possibility can help build a sympathetic desire in the reader.
A large component of romance is openness between the characters in question. This means a willingness to share between each other in various ways, this means open expression of emotions and private thoughts. You can look at this from the perspective of a character being more open with this relationship than they are otherwise, or you can look at a character who is basically always open no matter what. The “naivety” of a more open character can be endearing as much as the opening up of a more closed character can be highly compelling.
Insecurity is where the tension of romance often arises from. A normally closed character becoming open is usually a product of insecurity. You see this a lot with protagonists from poor backgrounds romancing the rich, characters with trust issues or mental health issues, shy characters, etc. The weirdness of identity and sexuality can play a heavy role in this such as LGBT themes and the character turning into a monster or a magical creature and having an identity crisis. Reincarnation stories can also utilize this identity insecurity depending on how changed they are and how different their new life/world/species is from how it was in their previous life. Openness and insecurity can go hand in hand to fuel a romance.
Think of it like this, a romance protagonist must overcome their insecurities and become more open in order for the romance to succeed. This is effectively opening themselves up to pain, discomfort, awkwardness, and anxieties. Insecurities in a character can help clarify the difficulties inherent to this character transformation. Things like betrayal, failure, and insecurity can drive the character towards closing themselves off from, among others, the romance which they are the most emotionally vulnerable towards. Characters who started out open can have the same difficulties of having to discover the risks inherent to being open, or the dangers of others (their partner, etc) closing themselves off. Romance is then in effect the willingnes of a character to open themselves up to emotional risks or even tolerate the emotional distress that can result from this. As a controversial example, look at the “bad boy” romance fics in which the protagonist effectively become more willing to endure abuse over time, basically abandoning the very possibility of closing themselves off. I am not here to tell you what is and is not a good idea to bring into this world, I only care what is possible and why. How to use it is up to you.
The next thing I want to address is quiet romance. What is left when the hot passions either fade or run out of books? This is basically the more mature side of romance, the slow burning embers that don’t need any wild conflicts and betrayal plots to keep themselves going. Imagine if you will two very introverted characters, who do not want other people bothering them all the time. What hot passions and drama filled novels will these two form in their love? None. No one might even notice if things play out the way the like it. Remember proximity is one of the signs of flirting? So you just take these two, make them sit quietly together in the library or something.... and that’s it. That’s romance right there. No kissing?! Yes. Just sitting next to each other. The key lies in that these are people easily annoyed by excessive socialization and noisy friends, but they are drawn to each other. Who else would they spend time with than the one who can provide the calm the desire? These are the kinds of people who stay quiet, and they listen when things are spoken as long as they don’t have to sit and endure an endless river of dialogue. You might find no other who understand one another so wordlessly.
So taking that as an extreme example. How do we create a mature, quiet romance? The kind between two side characters which is never expressed but completely obvious to someone who thinks to pay attention. The kind we want for our shopkeeper who don’t get a lot of screen time and need to get to work giving supplies instead of producing filler content and side humour. This is where we use devotion.
Devotion is much simpler than it may sound at first. Devotion is simply one character wanting something that the other would dislike, and then helping them get it despite their personal feelings. It’s the power of changing a character’s mind just by using their love. Simple right? Character in love are automatically devoted to each other (or a terrible couple) and will go through a lot of effort to stay together, spend more time together, helping one another, and doing things for the other they wouldn’t otherwise. In the end, proximity is one of the most important elements of an established romance. Devoted characters are the kind that can spend long time apart and have utter confidence in one another, very little anxiety, and can act like nothing has happened when they get back together. A mature couple that have been together a long time would have no trouble with being apart. They are together no matter what separates them, that is devotion. Devotion is what makes a character willing to open themselves to another and stay attached to them through hard times, so this also plays a part in the openness/insecurity thing mentioned above in making characters less likely to close themself off again.
Now onto the cute things. Fatuity as I would like to call it, means foolishness or stupidity. I also use it for silliness in my head. This is a big part of making things adorable, and giving a lot of youthful enthusiasm in a romance. Love makes you stupid, as they say, and being stupid on purpose is a great part of having fun and opening up to someone, as well as being a big part of the awkwardness that is attraction and having to deal with your feelings. Making characters act stupid is a big tradition in romance, and sometimes it is even through no action of their own. Accidental encounters, fumbles, and a host of other silly misfortunes is a staple of romance stories. Who better to be your romantic interest than the one who can look at you covered in mud while desperate for help and sort it all out no questions asked. Living together means awkward times, so awkward times means romance. The naive character in a romance being foolish is also a part of this trend, and a lot of cute romance comes out of this kind of acting stupid.
My last point is preciousness. Romance is precious. Love is precious. Characters are precious, and hope is precious. A precious thing is one that is easily lost, something to treasure and protect. A rock can be precious, because you were obsessed with it as a child and it has a name. A precious thing can lose that value, because you’ve lost attachment to your childhood toys as you’ve grown older. Some characters hold a lot of things precious, while others have little they hold as precious. So e characters have things they hold as truly precious and worth a lot of sacrifice, while others see even their most valued possessions as fundamentally replaceable. A guy might love his car, but his attachment quickly loses it’s strength when he feels like getting a new one or the old one was damaged somehow.
Precious things are those that are rare, frail, unique, or sentimental. Characters can be all of these in multiple ways at the same time. You can have a lot of shared memories with another person, they can be easy to hurt in physical terms and emotional ones, you can lose them, they can lose you, and your relationship with them can be either hard to substitute, or impossible. Preciousness can drive romance as much as other things. Imagine a character who rarely opens her heart to others, a romance with them is a precious thing. What if there were very few young people in a town, and everyone else was old? That young love would be a precious thing, especially to a bunch of nosy old timers. Romance is not something taken lightly, and a reminder of that can make for a precious story.
That is all.