Just as in real life, there are ways to know if he’s the right one for her; if she’s the one who will change his life. In romantic fiction, every little telltale is something else … it’s a plot point, and therefore of huge value to the writer. A plot point is a place in your story where you have options that will take the story forward. There are possiblies, probablies, ulterior motives and what ifs. As a fun way of illustrating this I’ve adapted an old blog post I wrote where the question was ‘How do you know if you’re in love?‘
Let’s look at heroes and heroines asking ‘Are you in love?’ and speculate on a few ways each answer can benefit or affect your plot.
1 He puts her happiness high on his list of priorities – Possibly. He could easily be in love. Or he could be after something or just a nice guy or trying to impress her sister or best friend.
He considers her happiness … as long as it doesn’t affect his own – Probably not! This can be a great hint to the reader that the relationship’s jogging along or he has ulterior motives for being nice as long it’s not too much trouble.
2 He congratulates her on her achievements and success and tells all his friends – Probably/possibly but it doesn’t exclude him turning out to be just a good friend and there’s even a chance he wants to bask in reflected glory or benefit from her success. (Characters appearing to be something then gradually revealing their true colours is one of the joys of spinning a story. Making characters act in too straightforward a manner leaves little room for surprises.)
He congratulates her on her achievements and success and tells all his friends what a big part he had to play in them – I’m thinking ‘no’. That’s not hero behaviour. He’s too self-interested.
He doesn’t congratulate her because he’s not really listening when she tells him – The readers will cotton immediately that this is not the hero. Somewhere not too much farther into the story you’ll probably let her begin to see the light … maybe about the same time as she meets the character who is going to be the hero.
3 She can’t wait to see him. Literally, can’t wait. She looks at his pix on her phone just to enjoy how hot he is, she crosses town just to sneak a peek at lunch time – Welllllllll … it looks like soppy-in-love behaviour, doesn’t it? But also a bit wet. Or stalky. I think this only merits a possibly and a pretty lukewarm one at that but what a great plot point if she does turn a little stalky! Although you’re going to have to work hard to convert this to heroine-like behaviour.
She does her own thing and when he has to cancel a date she shrugs – I feel pretty safe saying no. Unless you have some reason up your sleeve for making her pretend to be cool about it when she’s miserable or anxious inside then I could go as far as possibly (but as a reader I’d need convincing).
4 She’s upset. He asks why – Possibly/probably. But decent human beings do this, too. Even strangers on trains do this.
She’s upset. He asks why but is obviously thinking about how to stop her going on about it – Probably not. Unless you’ve given him an awful conflict that might account for this? He may even be protecting her from something he knows about and she doesn’t, in which case you could easily flip this into a yes.
She’s upset and he gets cross or doesn’t notice – Probably not. I’m not certain how you could bring this around so that readers like him. Unless his crossness is with the person who upset her, of course! That could be heroic.
5 He’s upset. She has a huge hollow feeling behind her breastbone and can’t concentrate at work for thinking of ways to make him feel better – I’ll give this a definite maybe. It’s certainly a point for you to begin making her realise the depths of her feelings for him and maybe even reveal them. Or she could be in for a massive disappointment if he’s upset that the woman he was about to leave your heroine for has given him the elbow.
He’s upset. She hopes he gets over it soon. He’s a man. Men are meant to hide their feelings, right? – I’m going to give this a straight out no. Unless (there’s a lot of unlessing going on in this post) you’re going to make her realise pretty quickly that she absolutely does care and spend the rest of the book letting her convince him (and the readers). It might be hard to bring off because when you cool their feelings towards someone it’s harder to warm them up again.
6 She’s going to spend time alone with him. She spends ages thinking of how to make it special/different/fun for him – Probably. Loads of potential here for you to let the readers see how she feels for him. Equally, lots of potential to make him respond like an oaf and demonstrate that he’s no hero. A lot depends on where in the story this incident occurs.
He’s going to spend time alone with her. He spends ages thinking of how to make it special/different/fun for her. And, yes, this can mean in bed! – Promising. Works well to develop the relationship or even as a epilogue to show the Happy Ever After in action. Make it interesting, though, and make it relevant.
They’re going to spend time alone together. They’re both such huge Formula 1 fans that they’re in one accord that they’re going to spend the time watching the race in total silence so that they don’t miss a word – As a total F1 nut it seems a perfect date to me but I suspect it won’t work well in your story!
7 He doesn’t want her to get a tattoo. So she doesn’t – Possibly. If he knows she wants a tattoo that much, should he really object? And if you want your heroine to have a tattoo that much can’t you just make him think it’s sexy?
He doesn’t want her to get a tattoo. But she goes ahead anyway – Probably not. I admire her making her own decisions but she actively wanted to make herself unattractive to him.
He doesn’t want her to get a tattoo. She gets one. He pretends to love it – He either loves her or he’s a wimp. But I’m not convinced about her feelings towards him. NB I hate the phrase ‘get’ a tattoo but can’t think of anything better.
8 She’s alone with him and has hot expectations – Well, it’s a good start but it may be lust alone so I’m not going to give this a yes yet. If she never has hot expectations when alone with him, it’s a no, not even a possibly.
9 Her parents don’t like him. She knows they’re wrong and tries to convince them that he’s a great guy – Possibly. But it could infatuation or even a stubborn heroine who doesn’t admit mistakes (unless you make her as part of her redemption towards the climax to the story).
His parents don’t like her. She feels they have no reason to but, it is what it is so she behaves in ways that might change their minds – Probably. Unless the characterisation you’ve given her is that she’s a people pleaser or a needy barnacle … but are they characteristics of a heroine, whom we all need to warm to? And should the hero be standing up for her? (My answer to this last point is ‘yes’ if he knows about it.)
His parents don’t like her and she’s just glad to be let out of all the family occasions and can’t see why he should mind that – Unlikely! That’s a pretty cold attitude from someone we ought to warm to.
10 She just knows. He just knows – Lucky them. Unlucky you because you probably need a lot more to your plot. You don’t want them just ‘knowing’. You want conflicted feelings, conflicted goals, fences that divide them, obstacles that get in their way, misunderstandings that mess with their heads and keep the readers on the edges of their seats until you finally let them find their Happy Ever After through overcoming obstacles, sorting out misunderstandings and learning that love means not always putting yourself first.