When To Romantically Pair Characters (or Shipping) and When Not To

This topic is dear to me because in today’s society, it is a growing trend to just throw two main characters together  because readers want this premise.

This is known as shipping and it’s a trope that is overused often.

Often, we hear that we’re writing for our readers. While that’s true, not everything should be about them. I say this because if you listen to every bit of advice someone gives, it will change your story a lot. Sometimes, it’s good (if it’s a professional editor).

When it’s your readers, it may end up in bad shape. If you alter it too much, it may not even sound like your own story anymore. Some editors pick up quickly when a story has been altered so much that the writer gave up on the manuscript. This is why writers need to write and let editors help them craft their masterpiece, not readers.

(Fellow authors have stated that after redoing a poorly sold book, their sales soared when the story went back to its roots. That’s why I’m throwing this in there for consideration.)

To avoid that problem, here are some questions that you can use to assess if a pairing should be shipped or not in any story.


#1: Are your characters the type of people to naturally have a romantic relationship with someone?

When you are drafting or editing a story, one important aspect to remember is that your characters are people. Therefore, they have emotions, feelings and thoughts that make them unique. Would they be the type of person that flirts with others all the time or seek companionship? Or are they loners and guard themselves from strangers?

A reader is going to know if a couple is placed together “just because” with no logical explanation. While it’s done in fanfiction, it’s frowned upon in novel writing.


#2: Is the dynamic right for your characters to be attracted to one another?

Sometimes, you just don’t have the right kind of characters for a relationship and that’s okay. Some characters are not meant to enter relationships when they’re at a critical point in their life. (See #3 for further explanation).

The relationship has to be set up if you are going to have main characters paired and go into their relationship/struggle throughout the entire novel. Good novels do this. Remember this when answering this question.


#3: Do the characters have a past that prevent them from pairing with others?

Many times I see characters that are suddenly attracted to one another after being alone for years. Their story comes out in a chapter where a past lover may have disappeared, been brutally murdered, kidnapped or left them for another person.

The circumstance is not what I’m asking you to evaluate, but your character’s reaction to said problem. Every one becomes set in their ways because of their experiences with the past. Your characters are no different and their behavior should be taken into consideration.

Here are three examples of characters that should not be in relationships:

A person who was attached to their spouse is not going to suddenly latch to the first person that waves, whistles or invites them out for a good time. Most likely, this person won’t get over said partner and might pine or pretend that they’ll return to them one day.

Someone who’s had their spouse brutally murdered before their eyes isn’t going to go looking to date someone else, even if they may have an attraction. That person would most likely throw themselves into their work, engage in reckless behavior to try to find said killer or stop caring about their well being. Also, they would probably feel guilty about considering another partner when they haven’t let their deceased loved one go.

A person who may have been kidnapped with no indication if they were alive or dead will not be the type to go looking hooking up with someone, either.


#4: Is it important for the characters to be together or separated and why?

Character driven actions help explain to the reader their rationale and decisions are made in the story. If you have built good, memorable characters, readers will understand and respect why these decisions took place. There are plenty of solid stories without paired couples that do sell really well.

It’s like the old saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

If your main character doesn’t want, need or can’t have a love interest, don’t spend time trying to turn that around if it’s not part of the story. Ask yourself why your character needs to be with someone. Is it important enough to include in character building or in story?

Seriously, you need to ask that question because if you can’t answer it, your readers won’t get it. And, if you don’t know, you don’t need it.


#5: What would the final outcome be if said characters do become a couple?

Many genres have races, hierarchies, organizations and places that may not allow different factions to be with one another. Some may be simple like cops and criminals (think Batman and Catwoman), others may be people at war with each other (Romeo and Juliet). You need to take this into consideration and how the rest of your cast will be effected if this were to happen. I can guarantee you – in real life, there’s always one person who objects to any relationship. (At least in my life, anyway.)


#6: How does this effect the rest of your series (if you are writing one) and characters later down the road?

When two characters get together, their behaviors may change such as mannerisms, thought processes, causes and their own feelings towards each other. If you are writing a series, you may have to deal with this for another book or maybe a few. Is there a situation where this may be in jeopardy, such as a spouse returns out of nowhere, someone is betrayed by another party or they may turn evil? These are things to consider when thinking of the long term impact of character shipping.


Have you ever shipped two characters due to popular feedback when it was a bad idea? Have you written a story about your characters that wasn’t true to them? If so, how did you fix it?


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