Do you have any tips on writing really great mutual pining? It's a pretty big part of my next fic but I can't seem to get the emotions across in my writing ;-;
Plotting Great Romance
While “pining” implies an almost lack of romance, I still think the same goals of writing a great romance apply. You develop each of the two characters separately, and you develop a basic story for each of them separately, and then you see what happens when you bring them together. Think of it like clapping - each hand is capable of accomplishing a lot on its own, but when you slap your hands together, it creates a unique sound that one hand cannot produce on its own.
You could plot out the scenes/tension/suspense between them before developing each individual character, but I think it can be more challenging that way. So I would try to imagine the backstory, the characteristics, the wants, the needs, the goals, the motivations, the quirks, the interests…figure out who each of these characters is first.
Once you have that, you can start to think about how each character affects the other. What new characteristics do each bring out in the other? Are they good or bad? What ways do they challenge each other? What impact does each one have in the other’s life? Don’t think in terms of romance at this point. Just imagine your characters together, and imagine them separately. What’s the difference? What aspects of their personality do they suppress around the other and which ones do they set free?
Then, consider what qualities they each admire in the other. Why does each of them like being around the other? And counterpoint - what things frustrate them about the other?
When it comes to pining…
…make the reasons behind their unrequited romance good. A reader can quickly get frustrated by two characters who are simply too shy to admit their true feelings, or too naive to recognize chemistry and affection that is obviously mutual. This is easier than you think. Imagine what obstacles a relationship between them might have, and then have your character foresee this obstacle as too troublesome to deal with.
For example, in a Romeo/Juliet type storyline, two characters might pine for the other but fail to act on their feelings due to family expectations. An artist might never pursue art because their parents expect them to be a doctor, just like a person may not pursue another romantically because their parents wouldn’t approve.
Geography might be another potential obstacle. Two characters that meet unexpectedly while on vacation may hit it off, but knowing they each live on separate coastlines, they anticipate a stressful long-distance relationship and hold back on confessing feelings.
An existing relationship is a big one - a character might not feel fully committed to their current partner, but their partner has never treated them poorly and for all intents and purpose, they seem perfect for each other. So they hold back feelings for another person because they don’t want to hurt the person they’re currently with, who they do still care about deeply. Their life might also be comfortable with this person, or even well established, with a nice home and kids, and not wanting to hurt your children with a divorce is a big reason someone might hold back on feelings for someone else.
Basically, you need to consider what is stopping each character from confessing their feelings. Fear of rejection is implied - there needs to be more than that in order to carry mutual pining for an entire novel. There need to be other obstacles, and they need to be ones that your characters can predict, and ones they care about.
Let me put it much more simply. Instead of each character asking, “What if they don’t love me back?” have them ask, “What if they do love me back?” And consider what the answer to that question is. Once these feelings are requited, what are the consequences? What is each character afraid of?
So I think that would be my biggest suggestion - make their hesitations be about more than rejection. And when it comes to describing their emotions, don’t try too hard. Tell your story, and see what emotions naturally unfold. We convey emotion by putting ourselves into the shoes of our characters and imagining how it might make us feel. I think once you have the story well plotted and the characters well developed, it’ll become easier to describe what each of them is feeling.