A good romance novel can transport you to a completely new world, with a captivating and relatable main character that you want to keep reading about and explore more.
But how can you make your protagonist realistic and relatable?
In this post, I'll guide you through the journey of creating a realistic, relatable character for your romance novel.
Give Them a History
Our experiences create our beliefs, our beliefs create our actions, and our actions create results.
Everything that's happened in your romance novel's main character's life will influence what they believe, how they act, and what happens.
For readers to understand and bond with your main character, they need to know the context of your main character's beliefs, actions, and how they deal with the results.
Give Them Their Own Journey
Interesting romance novel main characters shouldn't simply exist to fall in love with your love interest. They need to be on a journey with themselves.
Like it or not, we're our own constant companion, and navigating a relationship with someone else requires navigating the one have with ourselves.
What's especially satisfying for a reader is seeing that journey and the romantic journey. Even better, if that inner journey stands in the way of the romantic journey, the reader gets to see the symbiosis of the self with the other.
Give Them a Job
Even if it's a crappy one, a job builds your romance novel character's sense of self. It builds their history, beliefs, an aspect of their own journey, and a sense of self. Some people live to work and some people work to live.
And if your character doesn't have a job, how has that affected their beliefs, challenged their own journey, and affected their sense of self?
Give Them Relationships With Others
I LOVE A SIDEKICK. There, I said it.
Yes, your romance novel's about the relationship between the main character and the love interest, but your main character's relationships with other people can illuminate the main character's life in ways that's not always possible with the love interest.
Supporting characters can act as sounding boards for your main character, bring out backstory, or nudge them towards the 'Oh my God. I love Josh!*' moment. Some supporting characters do all three. Or more. Supporting characters have sooo much potential.
Plus, they're great for comic relief.
I LOVE A SIDEKICK. Did I mention that?
*See the movie Clueless or read my post on Romance Novel Scenes here.
Give Them Physical Flaws
That's rich for me to say because my current WIP, Model Behaviour, is about a male model, but as writers we can represent realistic people falling in love.
In a world of "look at me, I'm gorgeous" social media and the pressure to look perfect, give your reader a break and give them someone realistic and relatable. Remember, your main character is on their own journey and that journey might just be accepting themselves and their bodies for who and what they are.
While you're at it, have a think about their love interest. Might your main character be—gasp!—interested in something other than washboard abs (and a billionaire's bank account)?
That's not to say that you can't have drop-dead-gorgeous people in the pages of your book, but they have their insecurities too. Find them.
Give Them Strength
Giving your romance novel's main character strength is especially important if your love interest is an alpha. (Gotta keep them on their toes, right?)
That's doesn't mean your main character has to go toe-to-toe with everyone—strength needs to be tempered with vulnerability—but displays of strength shows that your main character's got something going for them.
Tie it to their history, their own journey, job, or relationships. They have to find that strength from somewhere.
Give Them Failure
Remember what I said about creating a main character who's realistic and relatable? There's nothing more realistic and relatable than someone messing up.
We make stupid decisions and that's a fact of life. Many standup comics have built their careers on telling an audience about their mistakes and the audience thinking, 'Oh God, I did that once too'. They feel a connection with the comic and each other—and that's powerful stuff.
Even if your reader doesn't agree with the stupid decisions your main characters makes, as long as you've explained fully why they made that decision, your main character takes ownership of that decision then tries to make up for it, you've created... you guessed it... a realistic and relatable main character.
And don't forget that vulnerability can be very, very attractive.
Give Them Sexuality
They might not have bumped uglies with anyone for a while, or at all, but sexuality is an important aspect of your romance novel's main character.
It doesn't mean they can't be a virgin, but chances are they've at least had their hands in their underwear while thinking about sex.
Sexuality of romance novel characters is important for many reasons. It draws readers to the idea of finding their own love in the pages of a book, and it is more likely that sexual tension will turn into romance if both parties are already sexually attracted to one another.
And let's not forget that sexual interactions between characters in romance novels who aren't heterosexual can empower both (or more, depending on where you're going with your romantic endgame).
Give Them the Spotlight
You must keep your romance novel's main character constantly involved in what is going on. Whatever you think, your story is actually your main character's story. That doesn't mean you can't have a dual point of view in your novel (I do), but your main character is still at the centre.
They are what everything revolves around.
Romance novels with a main character that isn't realistic and relatable to the reader won't resonate with them and will ultimately fail. Readers crave the feeling of being in the story, standing alongside your main character. If they can't relate to them, you've lost your readers, so make your main character come to life.
Creating a realistic, relatable main character is key to making your readers enjoy your novel, recommend it to their friends, and come back to you for more.
Need help? Book a free, 30-minute chat about how I could help you.