When it comes to that all-important element required for romance, what is it that defines chemistry between characters?


Have you ever read or watched something and craved more chemistry between the characters? What about your own work? Has any a reader ever told you they would like to see more chemistry between your main characters?

How do we determine what is it, exactly, that's missing?

I wish it were as easy as writing out a formula to be studied, or a map to be followed.


Alas, we are left with our own devices of deciphering body language, unspoken words and innuendos, and often, reading between the lines of misleading dialog.

But when it works, holy cow does it work!

Physical attraction is one thing. It's an initial response that's sometimes out of our control. So many stories use this visceral reaction to evoke chemistry between characters. But when you think about it, it's rather superficial, right?

I mean, we've all been there--and we know how enjoyable it is to feel that physical rush of attraction. In a book we might read it as: stomach tightening or flipping, breath hitching, goosebumps prickling, nipples erecting .... and so much more.

Well that puts us inside the character's body, so we can feel what they feel, which is oh-so-fun and necessary in most cases. But what next? The attraction has to evolve into one of genuine substance.

We need real emotion. Not to be told the character is feeling something, but to actually feel it ourselves as the reader or watcher.

And that kind of chemistry that ignites a spark between characters comes from a connection that's stronger than physical attraction.

Is it that the couple shares the same world view?
Do they share they same goofy flaws?
Or maybe the same goal?

Opposites attract too, and sometimes characters with opposing views provide the best chemistry of all. It's their differences that excites them, and the it's those challenges that they evoke in each other that makes the eventual union so sweet. But there has to be a common connection between them--maybe a passion for something that links them unexpectedly.

Or maybe the connection is the fact they are both thrust into the same harrowing situation, and must rely on each other for support and understanding. That can create a bond between two people that never dissolves. Going through a tragedy can be one of the most riveting ways to evoke connection and chemistry between characters.

Every story, whether it be a book, movie, play, TV show, must have that moment between characters when the romantic interest evolves to actual love. It's the payoff after seeing or reading them interact over and over while that chemistry builds and bond tightens.

Think about your favorite romantic stories where the chemistry between characters just sizzles and cools you all at the same time. What is it about them that causes this effect? How can we better add it to our own stories?

I asked this same question on Facebook about which movies do romantic chemistry well and you can follow that link to the original post. Here are some of the answers:

Sleepless in Seattle   (received the most nominations)
Chocolat
The Notebook
One Fine Day
The Vow
Out of Africa
Two Weeks Notice
The Wedding Date
Cold Mountain
Swept by the Sea
The Longest Ride
Pride & Prejudice (Knightly version)
Dracula (Coppola version)
The Ugly Truth
The Tourist
Bridges of Madison County
Affair to Remember
Casablanca
Gone with the Wind
Moulin Rouge
Titanic
The Little Mermaid
Mr & Mrs Smith
Jane Eyre

None of these are sex-heavy movies that rely on physical attraction. Yes, it's there, and it's fun and sexy and exciting, but each of these stories also experience a connection that's stronger than physical. I'm not saying we shouldn't have the physical, sometimes even erotic scenes in stories, but I am saying there has to be more than primal urges between characters or else it leaves us feeling a bit like we just lost our virginity to the pizza delivery dude. Used, and most likely unsatisfied.

So what are some of the ways you employ chemistry in your scenes? What are some of your favorite characters that exhibit chemistry? What can you identify about them that evokes that chemistry? 

Post a Comment

  1. Those are some epic movies! And I think a reflection of my take on chemistry: There are many, many different kinds. There's the instant attraction, "they just fit" kind. There's the antagonistic, opposites attract kind. There's the playful and spontaneous, "keep us on our toes" kind.

    I think the key to selling it in our fiction is to make the reader feel like they're in the middle of it--or are in on some kind of beautiful secret. Set it up to where you feel like you're near the most amazing couple at cafe table and can hear everything they say and think. And keep the twists coming! There's great suspense in all the best romances. :-)

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  2. Oo, I see someone mentioned Untamed Heart in the comments of your FB post. That one definitely has chemistry!

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  3. Chemistry is so important in romance. I need to feel the excitement, the heart pumping, the all-around addiction as a reader or I'm lost. You give lots of great examples here!

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  4. Figuring out the unique chemistry between two new lovers (or old ones reunited) is always an absorbing venture. And not unlike high school chemistry when you put two potentially explosive ingredients together. LOL.

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