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How to Keep “Love” From Being Cheesy in Fiction

Love and like and infatuation in real life can be cheesy.

Like really cheesy.

Like stupid lines and awkward first kisses that leave you both laughing hard before leaning in for more.

But in real life, all that cheese can be cute and endearing… leaving your legs all weak and your smile bigger than it has any right to be.

Again, that's true in real life. In fiction, however, as with any other emotion, action or intent, it can be overdone. And quite badly too.

That warm and mushy feeling you get while snuggling up into someone special’s arms doesn’t always translate well on paper. That’s why, below, we’re going to address three aspects to keep in mind to keep your readers feeling a spark…

Instead of falling asleep.

That’s No. 1. That header above: Know your genre.

Some genres allow for more mush and gush than others. For instance, I’m currently staring at one of my bookshelves – the one containing a 12-book series by Lauren Willig.

It’s historical fiction chicklit, and let me tell you that it gets ridiculous at points. We’re talking about dashing, daring spies falling for plucky, beautiful heroines – most of them innocent little maidens. Of course.

So, essentially, the whole nine yards of romantic melodrama.

Yet, you know what? It works, and it works well. In large part, that’s because Lauren Willig knows how to tell delightful romps that leave you rooting for love.

But it’s also because she knows her genre like the back of her gloved hand.

Chicklit can be silly and lighthearted, to the point where cheese is pretty much expected. You might as well pour some wine and get comfy, because the baked brie is being served.

That’s not necessarily so of other areas of the literary world. So know what you’re getting into before you get into it.

Obviously, your star-crossed characters are going to have certain genders, whether male or female. And men tend to do “love” differently than women.

For instance, at least in my experience, men are much more likely to say really hokey lines that actually do sound like they’re straight out of a romance novel.

Don’t get me wrong, those hokey lines can still make women smile. But try to limit them nonetheless so that the ones you do leave in stand out as endearingly awkward as they should.

With that said, that doesn’t mean your female characters can’t be hokey too. That might be their personality.

Speaking of personality – which is the biggest aspect to take into consideration here – also factor in age, ethnicity, upbringing and geographical location into what they say and do.

Each character should be as unique as possible in their pursuit of love. And if you establish their individuality well enough in the beginning… it should be a lot easier to know how they should act and react when presented with a potential partner.

You might want to spend all day every day with your romantic partner in real life.

But in fiction, that’s not going to translate so well on the page if you actually have them constantly interacting in “I can’t get enough of you” fashion.

(Actually, it doesn’t always translate very well in real life either.)

Understand that no matter whether you’re writing a hard-core romance, a cutesy cutesy chicklit, a horror, or a thriller… you need to keep your doe-eyed and smoochy scenes at least somewhat brief.

Of course, this brings us back to the Know Your Genre consideration. Because “somewhat brief” is definitely very open to interpretation here.

As such, I suppose the best advice I can give in this regard is threefold:

  1. Write what you think you should write.

  2. Edit how you think you should edit.

  3. Then get an editor to tell you if it’s sweet/sexy or a snooze-fest.

Otherwise, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to a tragic tale instead of the romance you want with your readers.

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