I want to try writing a forbidden relationship better. Do you have any tips to make it feel more real rather than a plot device? I've made the relationship actually look like a good relationship, rather than "we're forbidden, let's love" and making it look like there will be actual consequences other than embarrassment, but do you have anything else?
Hm! This is super interesting but not something I can give a straightforward answer to, because it’s very subjective. What I personally feel could improve a forbidden relationship story isn’t necessarily going to be something other people agree with. It’s also very difficult to tell you how to “fix” problems in this particular vein of genre: there’s probably lots of different ways to approach it (some great, some not so much) and no one-size-fits-all re: what works with your writing style and characters and plot and setting.
I should also flag that I am a difficult reader, especially when it comes to relationships between characters. Other readers might be happy with something totally different and/or less particular than my taste! Take everything I say with a grain of salt and please keep in mind there are usually always exceptions to the general rule. For example, if someone asked what I don’t like in fiction writing, first-person narration would be one of the first things I’d list–but I’ve also read books with first-person narration that I’ve really enjoyed. It’s all about how to tell your story, really. (Just look at Shakespeare!)
So, anyway. For me, the reoccurring biggest issue in forbidden relationships is that they’re often built on a premise that I don’t buy. A forbidden relationship is only compelling when there is a significant risk that is still outweighed by the benefit of the relationship–i.e., the relationship has to be worth more than death, or arrest, or poverty, or disgrace, whatever the risk is in your story. That’s some enormous initial stakes, because immediately what you’re advertising to the reader is, “Read this story because this relationship is going to be fascinating!” It also announces, “This relationship will be something that is unable to be replicated by any other character dynamic in this world.” What these characters provide for each other has to be unique and addictive enough to both of them to justify their running of the risk and their inability to find that quality in anyone else they know.
This quality may vary greatly between couples, and maybe even between partners in the couple! I can’t tell you what makes your characters need each other, because that’s basically limitless possibilities right there. But I can say that there are some things that, to me, just aren’t compelling enough. Sex is one of them. If physical attraction is the primary reason that the forbidden relationship characters run the risk, I’ll almost surely be bored. Perhaps I’m a little frustrating for more sentimental writers, but “love at first sight” doesn’t get far with me: to care and be invested, I need some level of emotional grip between characters. They have to be genuinely fascinating on their own before I can believe they’re fascinated with each other. I think of it as a major hook–for each character, something about the other is so memorable, so captivating (admirable or infuriating or something else, it’s up to you), it sinks into them and sticks. Then each event of the story and choice the characters make cranks a winch, pulling each towards the other–to continue the metaphor–by that hook. The closer they get, the more tiny hooks about each other they find and the harder and harder it becomes to break away.
Basically, being beautiful, handsome, winsome, ravishing–it’s nowhere near as good for a story as a character being ugly but interesting, in my opinion. You can say someone’s beautiful once and be done with it, but you can spend a whole novel talking about the intriguing parts of a person. (Not to say you can’t be beautiful and interesting, but a lot of the time, describing physical attractiveness becomes a shorthand for… everything else). A lot of forbidden relationship stories fumble this bit. They assume the reader will accept “we’re in love” as a basis for why the characters take the risks, but they don’t actually present an interesting dynamic between the characters that justifies their rule-breaking behaviour. Warriors is especially bad for this: Bluestar and Oakheart spring to mind first, because I can’t actually remember reading a blander, less convincing “romance.” I attribute that, at least in part, to the fact there is no hook for either character: they’re bland, so their relationship is bland.
Frankly, my feelings re: writing any romantic relationship is that you should approach from the perspective not of “we’re in love,” but “here’s why we love like this,” and sort of prove to your reader the reasons why your characters want and need and care about each other in the individual way that they do. This is a stylistic philosophy on my part, so it might not do for everyone, but I like to think of love not as a passive thing that happens to people but as an actively collaborative attempt to live symbiotically. Which is part of what makes a forbidden–or possibly long-distance, I suppose–relationship such an unusual and potentially fantastic exploration in the romance genre! How do they live together (emotionally, mentally, etc.) when they are forced to be apart physically?
Since you’ve said you’ve made the relationship into a decent one, forbidden or otherwise, I can’t really think what else would need to be done! Hopefully my long natter is of some use to you, but honestly, if you’re already writing an interesting relationship, I don’t think there’s anything more that you need to think about. If you’ve got more specific questions, feel free to ask and I’ll try to give a more direct answer than whatever this is. Good luck with your writing!