There’s nothing better than a book where the chemistry between the characters simmers until it reaches a hot, sizzling boiling point. That build-up of tension is what makes romance the best-selling genre of fiction. It’s also what keeps readers turning pages quickly. But most importantly, it’s what makes loyal fans who feel connected to your characters, and, by default, your author brand.
Writing sizzling character chemistry is a nuanced and well-planned device. When done well, it replicates and magnifies that excitement of real-life chemistry (hence the idea that love stories are better in fiction). Good chemistry reads as though it has been written effortlessly. The reality is that it takes a skilled writer to get readers invested in characters enough to see the relationship reach a climax (and yes, the pun is completely intended here). Let’s dive in to some of the ways to get this tension ramped-up.
Well-Drawn Characters are Key
One of the foundations of many aspects of writing is the creation of well-drawn characters. Good chemistry is no different. It’s vital to create characters that readers care about if you want the character relationships to matter.
For the purposes of chemistry, though, one of the most important aspects of character development is emotion. Character emotion can be built through the layering of point of view character thoughts, physical actions/responses, and through the use of metaphor and environmental cues. The more the reader can understand what the character is thinking and feeling, the more strongly connected to them they will feel.
Examples of Character Emotion
Here are some examples of each of the ways to create character emotion.
She scowled as he entered the room. It wasn’t just his presence that annoyed her. What right did he have to come in acting so superior? This was her family’s inn—and she wasn’t about to let him get away with acting like the boss, even if he’d bought out the place for the week.
He reached out to steady her by the elbow. She pulled her arm back, the touch of his fingertips against her arm making her skin tingle. “I’m fine.” She glared at him.
He crossed his arms and smirked. “Are you?” He turned his attention back the notepad in front of him and scribbled something illegible down. “You really think you should be drinking on the job?”
Her face flushed. She focused on wiping down the gleaming bartop. “One shot with the best-tipping regular we have isn’t called drinking. It’s called doing my job.”
She stalked away from the inn and into the stillness of the twilight. The salt spray and humid air from the sound usually helped her reset her mind. She swatted a mosquito that landed on her arm and pressed onward until she reached the top of the hill overlooking the water. Another mosquito. Great. The universe was conspiring to drive her crazy. Even the air felt too thick and soupy to be comfortable. She flung the cocktail napkin, still balled in her fist, from into the wind. Littering, it turned out, didn’t make her feel any less suffocated.
Chemistry Through Subtext
The reason character emotion is so vital to the creation of chemistry comes down to one word: subtext. In real life, chemistry and attraction often comes down to subtext—underlying and unsaid conversations through visual and physical cues. In writing, the use of character emotion is what gives readers the necessary clues to that subtext to be able to sense the simmering attraction and the tension between characters.
What’s unsaid often goes a long way to giving readers their own level of excitement as they discover and process what is going on between the characters. Remember, the emotional experience your readers have when reading is the most important aspect of hooking your readers to your story. And when it comes to chemistry—it’s not just your characters who have to fall in love: your readers should fall in love right along with them.