Forced Proximity: 50 Reasons for Your Characters to Be Stuck Together

Add believability to your romance story ideas with 50 legitimate reasons for them to be stuck together from Hallmark Publishing editor Bryn Donovan.
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Add believability to your romance story ideas with 50 legitimate reasons for them to be stuck together from Hallmark Publishing Editor Bryn Donovan.

romance story ideas

When I read romance novel submissions in my day job in publishing, I come across many that are well-written, but are missing a strong reason for the two main characters to see each other a lot. They just keep randomly bumping into each other.

Many strong romance story ideas and plots provide a reason for the characters to be together, even though each person has a good reason not to get involved with the other. In some cases, they don’t even like one another … at least at first. This creates the kind of romantic tension that keeps people reading.

When circumstances throw characters together, it’s often referred to as "forced proximity," although some people reserve that term to refer to a specific romance novel trope in which characters are stuck together in close quarters (having no choice but to share a hotel room, for example).

Interaction is a key element in plotting a romance.

When you solve the problem of “how can I force my characters to be together a lot,” the rest of a romance plot falls into place a lot more easily, with fewer plot points that feel forced or strain credulity. We have plenty of opportunities to see their relationship and their attraction develop, and it’s much easier to create a convincing HEA (“happy ever after,” as we say in romance).

Forced proximity can be important in other genres, too.

If you’re writing about friendship or about enemies or rivals, you will likely need good reasons for two characters to be together for long periods of time. And if you have any kind of romance subplot in your novel, regardless of genre, forced proximity can work for you, too.

Here are fifty reasons why your characters might be stuck together. Some of them are light-hearted, and some are dire. Please note that relationships in which one character has a lot of power over the other can be ethically tricky for romance.

Here’s the list to enhance your romance story ideas.

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  1. They’ve been sent on the same business trip.
  2. They’ve been assigned to collaborate on the same project at the office or at school.
  3. They’re strangers sitting next to each other on a plane that gets delayed on the tarmac for hours ... before a long flight.
  4. They’re guests at the same bed and breakfast or vacation rental.
  5. They have staterooms next to one another on a cruise ship … or a spaceship.
  6. They’re flight attendants on a plane, or one is a flight attendant and the other is a pilot.
  7. They’re live-in servants at the same lavish estate.
  8. They’re the only two employees on the night shift.
  9. One of them is the servant or personal assistant of the other.
  10. One of them is a bodyguard for the other.
  11. They’re a singer and an accompanist, a conductor and a musician, or in a band together.
  12. They’ve been cast in leading roles in the same play or movie.
  13. One of them is a tutor or a personal trainer for the other.
  14. One of them is the teacher or coach of the other one’s child.
  15. They’re training for a team sport.
  16. They’re in the same military unit.
  17. Both of them are spies sent on the same mission.
  18. One of them is a spy charged with getting close to the other.
  19. They’re prisoners in the same room or cell.
  20. One of them is the prisoner or hostage of the other.
  21. They’ve been stranded on a deserted island … or a deserted planet.
  22. They’re snowed in, trapped after an earthquake, or hunkered down after a nuclear blast.
  23. One of them is doing a major construction project or renovations for the other.
  24. One is the other’s real estate agent.
  25. They claim ownership of the same property, and they’re both staying there while it gets sorted out legally.
  26. One of them is investigating the other—either as a journalist or as a detective.
  27. They’re both investigating the same case or the same mysterious event.
  28. One of them is a painter or sculptor, and the other is a model.
  29. One of them has a complicated medical issue, and the other is the doctor or nurse.
  30. One of them is the caretaker or nurse for the other’s elderly parent.
  31. They volunteer at the same nature center or community food bank.
  32. They own shops next door to each other or across the street from each other.
  33. They’re both members of the wedding party.
  34. Their children or their parents are getting married to one another.
  35. One is a lawyer representing the other one in a court case.
  36. One of them is the translator for the other.
  37. They both learn that they’ve been cheated by or are being blackmailed by the same person, and they band together to seek justice.
  38. They’re in the same cult, and they both want out.
  39. One of them is a magician, and the other is the assistant.
  40. They’re contestants on a reality TV show.
  41. One of them is the director of a funeral home and helping the other plan a memorial service.
  42. One of them is the guide on a multi-day group tour, and the other is a tourist in the group.
  43. They’re part of an archeological expedition, out in the desert or deep in the jungle.
  44. They’re in a research station in Antarctica.
  45. They’re camp counselors.
  46. They’re servers at the same restaurant.
  47. One of them tends bar and the other is a cocktail waitress at the same club.
  48. They’re on the same planning committee for an event.
  49. They are both working on the same political campaign.
  50. They’re conspiring in an uprising or mutiny.

Most of the ideas on this list can play out in many different ways, and just reading over a list like this can often spark other ideas. I hope you find some inspiration here. Thanks for reading, and happy writing!

Consider 7 clever ways to harness coincidences with this WD post from Steven James.

Get more story ideas with Bryn Donovan's writing prompt book.

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