So I have an aroace character. Another character falls in love with her and she doesn't with him. She never will. Now, she does come to love him. Just not romantically. (Spoilers!) He's killed at the end of the first book. This is when she finally comes to terms with loving him, and she basically cries, "I love you" to his dying body. The thing is, how can I communicate to my audience that she never had romantic feelings for him? I don't want people to think her being aro is just for angst
Thanks so much for your question, love! That sounds like a great relationship, and one I’d personally love to see published :)
So we’ve talked a lot about romantic love on the blog – in fact, we made a recent post on the distinction of romantic love. But we haven’t talked about how to specify platonic love over romantic, and that can be very important in modern fiction – especially in today’s fandom culture, where fans assume every two characters that breathe in a mutual direction are romantically attracted to one another. Strong F/M friendships (and aromantic characters!) are desperately needed in modern fiction!
I have some advice for you that might help :) Here we go…
How to Keep Fictional Friendships Platonic
- Avoid admiration of each other’s physicality – especially involving sexualized body parts. Friends may notice attractive qualities in each other, no matter their gender or sexuality, but these thoughts can easily confuse readers. When observing a scene through your aromantic character’s POV, avoid dwelling on the other character’s eyes, lips, scent, muscles/curves, or any details that might be considered sexual (e.g. how their clothing hugs their body). Some writers don’t think about how their descriptions color their main character’s image/emotions – and that’s how we get female characters who notice each other’s glistening hair and “plump breasts” but are never ever lesbians because god forbid.
- Show your character’s discomfort at romantic advances. Just because your character grows to platonically love their friend does not mean they’ll become more comfortable with romantic displays. Longing looks, moments of silence or one-way sexual tension, small displays of affection like hugs that last too long or gifts (with clear romantic intention) – if the romantic love isn’t returned, those moments will be awkward, and maybe even guilt-inducing. It’s hard when someone wants you to feel something you don’t, especially if you’re close to them. Those moments will be there.
- Allow your character to treat their friend with love, without expectation of anything in return. A clear indication of love is when a person is kind/considerate or goes out of their way to help their friend – but that moment afterward, when they watch their friend smile and want a hug or a kiss or some kind of reward, turns it romantic. Friends help each other because they care about each other; they’ve already reached the status of friendship, and they just want to maintain it. But when you love someone, you’re pursuing something – you’re expecting advancement and change. When your character is kind to their friend, let them do it just because that’s what friends do. Skip the long silent moment of anticipation afterwards.
- Keep them on a level playing field. The easiest way to make a relationship seem instantly romantic is to typecast the characters involved – especially if they’re F/M. Putting the woman in the “woman role” – portraying her softness, her patience, her need for protection – and putting the man in the “man role” – protective, strong, unemotional – causes readers to associate them with the stereotypical romance story. Instead (and you should do this with romance anyway), portray them as equals and separates. They can do things without each other. They have thoughts about people other than each other. They aren’t each other’s puzzle piece and the universe isn’t pushing them together. And they aren’t Man and Woman – they’re Person and Person. Playing up their genders (and gender roles) will not serve you in any way.
- Let them express that they have no romantic feelings for their friend. Maybe they say it in dialogue; maybe they say it in their head. Maybe they show it in how they describe the other person (”tall, wears cool jackets, has a great sense of humor, awful driver,” and other non-romantic but still affectionate details). Maybe they have a romantic encounter with that character, just to feel it out, and decide they just don’t feel anything at all, even if they wanted to. Maybe the character outright states they’re aromantic, and that solves the puzzle for readers right there (although you may have to say it a few times). Phrases like: “I can’t love you the way you want.” “I feel like I’m a disappointment to you.” “I care about you a lot.” “You’re my best friend.” As angsty or as non-angsty as you want, any phrase a whiteguy would refer to as “friendzoning” can be your ticket to an indirect expression of platonic love.
- And specific for you, anon: when the friend dies, make sure your character only has platonic memories of them, just to make their meaning behind “I love you” clear. Have them remember the bad jokes, or the high-fives, or the deep conversations – basically anything that isn’t touchy-feely or a stereotypical couple-thing. Once your character drops the ILY, readers might get confused. Make sure they leave the book with a clear image of what you intended for your characters.
I know that got long, but I hope these ideas help you! I applaud you for wanting to make your aromantic representation clear, and I hope this goes well for you. If you have any more questions, the inbox opens on Nov. 1st :)
Thanks again, and good luck!