How to Write a Complex Love Interest
Updated: Feb 3
Too often in books, I see the distinction between character description and objectification blurred—or, worse, downright trampled. Love interests are reduced to sexy "rewards" for the main character rather than portrayed as the thinking, interesting human being a well-rounded character should be.
While it's perfectly fine for your story's love interest to be gorgeous (I mean, this is fiction—let us dream), you don't want to send the message that they exist solely for the pleasure of your main character. It's far more interesting to create a dynamic partnership, and the tips below will help show you how.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The animated movie The Swan Princess may be obscure and geared toward children, but it teaches a fantastic lesson: dig beneath the surface.
Plot overview: Princess Odette is betrothed to Prince Derek. The two meet as children, but neither seem interested in the other. Derek makes it clear he does not find her attractive, which becomes the basis for his refusal to marry her. Until . . . bam! She grows into a hot blonde with curves like damn. Now she’s got his attention. He tells her she’s beautiful and that he will marry her. She puts a screeching halt to his hasty acceptance by replying, “Thank you . . . but what else is there? Is beauty all that matters to you?”
This, my writerly friends, should be the question we apply to all our love interests. It is perfectly fine to have a good-looking sir/madam if we make it clear that's not all there is to them.
How do we do that? Simple. Basic characterization should handle that. Do they have hobbies? What are their goals? Skills? Faults? Fears? Show readers all of these aspects. Make them a believable, three-dimensional character. It’s the physical appeal that sparks interest, but it’ll be the personality that keeps it.
WHY ARE THEY ATTRACTED?
We become attracted to people for a number of reasons. Sure, the first thing we notice is often appearance. Whether we like it or not, we make snap assessments about a person based on their clothing, how they carry themselves, their accent—you name it. Describing how the love interest is physically attractive to your character will not be detrimental to your book, so long as the thoughts aren't derogatory or obscene for no good reason.
What will become detrimental is only focusing on appearance. Now that we've characterized their personality, the next step is to show what about love interest's personality captivates the main character.
What makes two people compatible? That will depend on the characters. Common ground is a good starting point. Maybe they share a hobby, a world view, or they both like cats. They don’t have to be carbon copies of one another, but I doubt they’ll be able to stand each other if they disagree on everything.
What does each admire about the other? Their humor? Their common sense? Their spontaneity? Be creative. So long as I know each genuinely enjoys the other’s presence, I will root for the relationship. If they make each other happy, what more could they ask for?
GET (SPECIFICALLY) DESCRIPTIVE
There's a neat trick to making someone sound oh-so-gorgeous without going on and on about what a nice ass they have, detailing every rippling muscle, or hinting on the massive cleavage at every turn.
You do this by describing other physical characteristics.
“What? Isn’t that counterproductive? I thought you said to avoid excessive physical descriptions!”
Yes. Yes, I did. Avoid the ones that can apply to just any hot stranger. But tell me more about the aspects that make this character unique.
Does the love interest have a smile that makes your main character melt? Maybe it’s a little crooked, or hesitant, or a full-blown goofy grin. Whatever it is, it lights up the main character’s day because it belongs to the one (s)he loves.
Maybe the love interest has dimples the main character thinks are adorable, freckles in just the right place, or an interesting birth mark the MC finds fascinating. The details don’t have to be generally accepted as attractive (some people consider freckles too childish, for instance), but the fact that your main character cherishes them will likewise endear the reader to them.
Another way to avoid the doomed “objectification” label is to show that physical attractiveness does not make your love interest a god(dess). Yes, they can be beautiful and have a pleasing personality (that’s what we all hope for in our fantasies, after all), but no one is flawless. They will make mistakes. They will say the wrong thing. They can have a vise, limitations, weaknesses. Believe it or not, these imperfections will make the love interest more appealing. We feel closer to people after we've seen them mess up—because it means they’re human like us.
Showing your love interest in their element can entice the main character, but it’s the odd quirks or awkward moments that will ultimately make them decide, “This is the one for me.” If all of the curtains have been drawn aside and your character still loves this person, then it’s a relationship built to last.
Who are your favorite love interests? What quirks did they have that made them irresistible? Drop a comment below!