Love Letters: How to Spark Romance in a Story Without Using the L-Word

The most convincing romantic stories are those that feel natural. Learn how to write romance scenes and romance novels without using the word "love."
Publish date:

After learning in the February 2018 Writer’s Digest how to spark romance in a story without ever writing the “L” word, you can see how the masters make it seem natural in these five examples from classic favorites and modern bestsellers.

Image placeholder title

Here’s an exercise: In the Harry Potter books, when did you realize that Ron and Hermione were in love? (If you haven’t read the Potter series, feel free to substitute Emma and Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma. If you haven’t read Emma either, you need to start asking yourself some very difficult questions about how you’re going about things.)

Most people answer by citing the third or fourth book in the series, when the characters were older and more emotionally complex—but in truth, the signs are there from almost the very beginning, though they’re subtle. Upon first read of Sorcerer’s Stone, Hermione and Ron playing chess together in the common room might not seem like much. But go back and read it a second time with foreknowledge of their eventual relationship, and the subtext is clear—and remains clear for the hundreds of thousands of words that Rowling spins about the two, despite the conspicuously minimal appearance of the phrase I love you.

This is as it should be, because love is one of the trickiest subjects to figure out—in real life as well as in fiction. Love is also where the irritatingly omnipresent writing advice “show, don’t tell” really hits home for any writer. If you want pure, heartfelt emotion to land, you should avoid the words at all costs. In writing, as in the real world, actions speak much louder than words.

(Handling the Risqué Parts of Writing Romance)

Love is like electricity: It’s a force that prompts people to make crazy, plot-friendly decisions, but it’s difficult to control—and sometimes difficult to see. One of the biggest story challenges is to convey a deep emotional relationship between characters without resorting to the clumsy and the obvious. Go too subtle and your reader might not understand that two characters have fallen in love; too obvious, and it gets theatrical and begins to feel inauthentic.

The trouble is those three little words. They’re melodramatic, they’re overused, and the only way to amplify them on the page is to do a lot of behind-the-scenes buildup. An “I love you” on Page 2 is a whimper; an “I love you” on Page 350 is a bang. In between, you have to hint at what’s going on without coming out and saying so.

5 Incredibly Romantic Lines That Don’t Use the Word “Love”

  1. “If you ever have need of my life, come and take it.” (Anton Chekhov, The Seagull)
  2. “You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.” (John Green, The Fault in Our Stars)
  3. “I wish I knew how to quit you.” (Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain)
  4. “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.” (A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh)
  5. “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” (Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights)
Writing the Romance Novel

This course explores why romance is the same, yet different. Some essential components of romance are unique to the genre, while some romance requirements are identical to those of any good fiction story.

Click to continue.

What Is a Palindrome in Writing?

What Is a Palindrome in Writing?

In this post, we look at what a palindrome is when it comes to writing, including several examples of palindromes.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Set a Trap

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Set a Trap

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's time to set a trap.

5 Ways to Add a Refrain to Your Picture Books (and Why You Should)

5 Ways to Add a Refrain to Your Picture Books (and Why You Should)

Children's author Christine Evans shares how repetition is good for growing readers and gives you the tools to write your story's perfect refrain.

From Our Readers

Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World: From Our Readers (Comment for a Chance at Publication)

This post announces our latest From Our Readers ask: Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World. Comment for a chance at publication in a future issue of Writer's Digest.

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

Your story belongs to you but will involve other people. Where do your rights end and theirs begin?

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Editor-in-chief Amy Jones navigates how to know your target audience, and how knowing will make your writing stronger.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 575

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a safe poem.


I Spy

Every writer needs a little inspiration once and a while. For today's prompt, someone is watching your narrator ... but there's a twist.

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

In this article, Brian Freeman, author of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Treachery, discusses how he took up the mantle of a great series and made it his own.