When I first get an idea, it's most often a Character doing a Thing. Said Character will also usually be in a Situation where they can Do That Thing, and said Situation usually involves a Place for the story to happen. Once I have those crucial elements set in my head, I can start building on them (and often end up with something completely different), but there's something that always comes up in these early stages:
Who is the Character going to Kiss?
Gratuitous Capitalization aside, this is something that comes up in nearly everything I try to write. It's rare for me to come up with a cast of characters without wondering who should end up together, if they'll have chemistry, and what will or won't develop between them. I'd love to say that I let this happen organically as the characters develop, but I can't even type that with a straight face. Most often I'm shipping my own half-formed characters together before I even know how the story ends.
...that's not entirely true. Most often, I know that the story ends with them together in some way, because I can't stand tragic romances. Anyway.
For me, a lot of this probably comes from writing the same couple over and over again. When it's inevitable that two characters will get together, it gets easy to make that part of the planning process for every story. In one of my plots-in-progress, I realized that there was no romance, and immediately started wondering if the main character should get together with someone. When I determined there was no one suitable, I thought about changing one of the other significant characters to make them a better romantic foil.
I don't think that's how it's supposed to work. The characters should define the romance, not the other way around. Otherwise it ends up feeling forced or problematic. And I'd really like to avoid that kind of thing.
Realizing that this is how I approach romance has me reconsidering a lot of things. I had some romantic threads to pull in another plot-in-progress, but as I (struggle to) develop that one, the more I work on it the more I wonder if that's how it's actually going to turn out. What seemed natural for the characters now seems contrived, and I can't tell if it'll turn out the way I imagined. I'm a little disappointed, as losing this romance means I wouldn't get to write a sex scene that's both very touching and rather unconventional, but I've sent enough of this story to the cutting room floor, what's one more bit.
(No, I'm not going into detail on the sex scene. It comes purely from the characters, and without knowing them and what they've had to deal with, it would just seem strange.)
Anyway. I am absolutely certain that I'm not the only one here who's dealt with this sort of thing. So how do you deal with it? Do you ship your characters before you've even written them? And have your characters ever refused to get together?
Next week: problematic plot elements.