Getting the romance right - slow burn that's too fast???

Today’s critique session left me scratching my head.

In my story, the love story is secondary to the main plot though it doesn’t mean it’s not important. So far I thought I left some good implied clues that these characters would make a cute couple but nothing happened yet. They’re just friends. That happen to live together.

In chapter 12, the pov character for the first time internally acknowledges that he’s into the other. We’ve got the equivalent of the butterflies in the stomach, etc. Nothing happens between them other than being really cute (they end up dancing under the stars) and they talk. He starts to open up a bit about himself but then talks himself out of explicitly saying “I like you.” So, as it stands, they’re still just friends.

Plot-wise, these characters have known each other for 4 days.

Feedback I got on this chapter confused me because they said it felt too sudden because there were no butterflies in his stomach in any of the earlier chapters. They wanted the character to either acknowledge the attraction in an earlier chapter or acknowledge it here but move the character opening up to the other to a later chapter.

And that just gives me a head scratcher. Is it really a problem that a character would think that he likes the other and then NOT do anything about it in the same chapter?

This feedback would make sense if in the same chapter he would internally acknowledge attraction and then profess undying love. Yes, that would be too sudden.

But nothing happens other than this character has just gained a new motive and he might have dropped some hints to the other character that he’s interested but they’re very vague hints so they don’t change much between them.

If it was one critique, I could easily ignore it but it was both of my writing friends saying that. One is into slow burns - took her two books just to get her characters to the first kiss. The other had the characters passionately kiss in public after talking for five minutes. So I’ve got writers with these extreme tastes agree that it felt too sudden.

They agreed that they liked the chapter and thought it was cute so it’s not that they hated it or something. And this chapter is f$#@$ng adorable so that’s an expected reaction.

Sigh.

I don’t know, is it because potential romance has only been implied so far and maybe they enjoyed it better as implied? Is it a case of romantic tension that works better when it’s never pointed out?

Well, too bad. Few chapters later things get hotter. We’re not leaving it at the unsatisfied tension.

But it makes me wonder if I should take their feedback seriously and add some preliminary attraction in earlier chapters. I thought I did, I’ve had this character reflect on the other’s body, but it looks like it was too subtle.

Also, sorry that this topic got this long. Maybe I needed a good vent.

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Honestly, I’m confused by the people who read it. Do they think attraction equals butterflies? Like I’m so confused.

It almost sounds like they want insta-love and to be fair by the days that have passed I would of said give it a few more days for them to actually get to know each other. But to be fair that’s not even a necessary thing.

I don’t know just from my perspective it seems like they want insta-love and want you to “show” it mostly by attraction in earlier chapters.

Also, to your question no it is not odd. It’s like realizing you have a crush and having to build up the courage to possibly pursue it. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody do those two things at once except for in insta-love.

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The whole book is over within about two weeks or so so adding extra days isn’t really that much of an option. I just happen to write very in the moment which is why it’s chapter 12 and we’re still in day 4 (day 4 ends in chapter 13 actually). The first kiss happens in chapter 18 which is day 6 and about the middle of the full story.

So if you’re looking at it from the point of view of how many days pass, it isn’t a slow burn at all. They meet, spend a few days getting to know each other and they get into it.
But from looking at the number of chapters, it’s semi-slow.

I guess it’s less of a slow burn but a slow start because they start as friends without considering romance at all.

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from what you’ve explained here I don’t see any reason why the pacing should be considered too fast. The best guess I have is that while the plot pacing is okay, the pacing of the writing itself might be a little off.

so yeah, maybe this. But i dunno, i’d have to read it to tell you for sure.

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Seems that it’s a problem with them, not you.

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There’s nothing wrong with it as a romance—it’s just not slow burn.

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Can you post some of the hints? I feel like I can’t really say anything if I don’t read what the hints were haha

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The hints in this scene were:

  1. MC asked LI to dance. Sure, you could argue that just-friends can dance but I think that’s a hint if I ever saw one.
  2. MC opens up in that scene and in a moment of feeling brave says “I’m gay. What about you?” He says it to gauge interest since he’s not sure what’s going on. LI hasn’t pushed him away but isn’t initiating anything either so it’s mixed signals all the way.
    Unfortunately, LI isn’t ready to handle this question and says nothing, so MC tries to play it cool like coming out to him wasn’t a big deal.
  3. Another big hint is implied from the premise of this situation. MC has amnesia and LI is the first boy he meets and then lives with. For him to have figured out that he’s gay this quickly, well, there’s only one reason why he would, isn’t it? If LI allowed himself to come to this conclusion, he would clearly see that he was being hit on during this scene. But he’s too much stuck in his old worldview to accept the possibility of MC considering him hot.

So, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a lot of implied information that LI has been given in this chapter. The readers get a whole lot more since it’s from MC’s pov and you get to be in his head as it goes from cute to awkward to embarrassing and to a smooth recovery. :sweat_smile:

In MC’s pov there’s also the thought that he wasn’t sure at which moment he noticed that he liked him, then lists out a few moments from the last couple of chapters. I feel like that’s sort of a reminder to the readers that no, they didn’t miss these feelings being mentioned before. They were on the page, they just weren’t explicitly named. The difference in this chapter is that here the character admitted the feelings to himself (and tried and failed to do something about them).

I don’t know if there’s a solution to this really.

I don’t like the idea of these characters swooning over each other from page one. Considering the types of people they are, it’s more in line with their personalities to develop feelings over time.

Another option would be to go back to edit the earlier chapters to add more attraction clues. Some are dropped throughout, but they’re pretty subtle.
The way I see it is because the characters aren’t aware yet that they’re interested in each other. That interest grows over time. Only when they admit it to themselves, can it be explicitly on the page. And once you see something, you can’t unsee it which is why what was subtle before is glaringly obvious now.

Saying this makes me wonder if maybe the solution is in making it gradual. Maybe that’s what my writing friends meant. All chapters leading up to this had little clues. Maybe it should start from one clue a chapter then advance to two clues a chapter, then three, etc until the clues are so blaring that the character has no choice but to admit it.

The problem with that is that this approach could lead to cheesiness that could distract and hurt the global story. If this book was a romance, then yes, that could work but it isn’t. I don’t want every chapter to be filled with characters checking each other out. That gets boring quickly.

And I’m back in square one. Maybe I’ll just have to wait until more readers check it out.

Also sorry for the long reply. It turned into brainstorming again.

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I write books that involve romance as well , so I know writing attraction can be different for others. I never read the book so I’m just going based off of if I think these hints could work or not.

Yeah, idk, to me this comes off more as friends since I don’t have more details. Did the person who has a crush felt his heart skip a beat while dancing with him? Did his chest tighten and he forgot how to breathe? If they stepped closer to each other, did he feel his cheeks warm up with a blush? If they held hands while dancing, did he have sweaty palms? 'Cause I feel like attraction has to be more than just asking someone to dance. You gotta add little things that makes the dance feel more special to the readers.

Of course, if you already added those little details, then the readers probably missed all of that.

Hmmm yeah I think this should’ve worked.

Oh, this was for the second hint? Did the MC look over his body and also focused on the LI’s attractive face? I know you said you made a character reflect on the other’s body, but maybe it really was too subtle? Did he experience anything from what I said about the first hint? Like blushing and feeling his chest tighten when he saw the LI’s body? Because if he just said he was gay, then that sounds like to me that he’s just telling the LI things about him, like when you first introduce yourself to someone.

I feel like you’re gonna have to do this. Of course, you shouldn’t go all out with everything I said. Since you want things to go slow, make the stuff I said happen for a quick second then continue making them happen more often when the characters hang out more. Make the hints I said feel stronger when you’re closer to the reveals.

EDIT:

Yes, this. This is what I mean.

Then just don’t put it in every chapter. Just make sure the feelings continue to grow.

Again, I could be so wrong with everything I said since I didn’t read the book. Sorry if I didn’t help at all haha.

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No, I think you are helping.

All those little examples you gave are good examples of attraction.

You see, I don’t do that very often because it doesn’t feel real to me. I don’t experience attraction in that way at least. Once physical contact is involved, then yes, there’s a physical reaction but otherwise, as far as my own experience, the initial from a distance attraction I experience is just noticing fascinating things that might linger in my head, and I catch myself by surprise with a “why am I thinking about that?”
And that’s how I describe this with my characters as well.

For example, there was this one time at a boring work meeting that I caught myself staring at this one guy’s hands. It was unnerving that I found his hands beautiful and could watch him gesticulate for hours. That’s never happened to me before. I never found hands attractive. And let me just add that the guy wasn’t my type. He was a ruddy faced ginger and I am really not into that. But there was something about his hands that took me off guard and I had to control myself to not stare. Any physical reaction I felt was only caused by my brain questioning itself. :joy:

And I guess I describe attraction in writing in the way that I experience it. Adding things like forgetting how to breathe feels overdone.

But it’s definitely something to think about because it seems that my way of experiencing attraction isn’t everybody’s way. Once upon a time I’ve identified as asexual. By now I don’t think that describes me. Maybe demisexual fits better
I haven’t researched enough to put a solid label on myself because I have an aversion to labels.

And so the question comes - what do I do about that? Do I continue to describe attraction my way or do I conform to the standards of the majority?

I see two votes for continuing as is:

  1. Doing it any other way feels fake to me and I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to fake it in a way that would feel natural to everyone else.
  2. There might be readers out there that feel like me who would appreciate it.

This has definitely been illuminating. Thanks for the ideas.

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Glad I could help! I hope things work out!

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Maybe make a list of biophysical reactions that you resonate with, and thread one of those into the earlier chapters? Gasping for breath no but a casual bump while dancing, or nudge when he asked? Creeping into each other’s thoughts, even ‘hey LI would like to try this food/movie/whatever interests they share.’ when not together is another option.

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Yeah. This conversation certainly made me think about how I’ve been portraying attraction so far. I think what I need is to create a guide so I can keep things consistent and character-specific.