On writing an aromantic comedy

I stole my characters from another story.

It was my own story, and in the process of recasting them for The Trouble, they changed a lot. I feel like I took two out-of-work actors and said, "hey, I have another job for you." 

One thing that didn't change is Danny being aromantic.

I didn't have an outline for The Trouble. The book came out more as sketches, and then had to be stitched together by me, weeping, on deadlines. (And my amazing editor Amanda Jean, scolding me, also on deadlines.) 

But I knew one thing for sure: I was writing a book with a romance novel structure, and Danny being aromantic was never going to be the Drama.

That was so much fun, and so freeing. They get to have conversations about Danny being aro and what it means for their relationship—a relationship that they're both committed to. And I got to saddle them up with a buttload of other problems, which stemmed from their choices and backgrounds and personalities—not their romantic preferences.

I wanted to write a story about two people who come to mean the world to each other, but who don't have a mutual romantic love. The most challenging part for me was how to describe the strength of those emotions from Danny's POV, without making it sound like he was in love, but just didn't want to put a name to it.

Danny's feelings are huge and powerful and real! But they're not romantic.

One of my favorite things that I got to do with this pairing was then turn the mirror back on Jiyoon, who does feel romantic attraction. Jiyoon is hyper-analytical, and since he's interested in dating an aromantic person, he decides to figure out for himself what exactly a committed relationship means to him. Is it romance? Is it shared goals? Is it emotional support?

Here's a chart! Clickthrough for full size.

Here's a chart! Clickthrough for full size.

I feel like we could all benefit from looking at relationships that way (though we don't all have to make spreadsheets like Jiyoon does...). One of the reasons I love the rise of labels like "aromantic" or "gray-romantic" etc. is that it blows up the way we conceive of relationships.

I'm sure that everyone, not just people on the queer spectrum, could benefit from putting words to how and when and why they experience romantic attraction. There's absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain from treating these distinctions seriously—if not proudly on your Tinder profile, at least in conversation with yourself.

For me, being aromantic means that I know now that I occasionally get wildly intense crushes on people (usually people I'm just getting to know, who aren't quite on the friendship level yet). The crush will pass in like a week and then I'll be free of attraction again for a long, long-ass time. It's nice to know this. It's nice to have confidence in the consistency of my emotions and reactions to other people.

For Danny, being aromantic means he loves his friends and he puts them first. Jiyoon is a friend that he has wildly hot chemistry with, who understands and supports him emotionally and becomes irreplaceable. And hey, he wants to hang out with him all the time. He's not in love. And that's not the drama.


Making your writing 'click'

I'm always missing part of the story when I start writing it. Part of my process is waiting for things to click. This might happen by writing and rewriting; by taking lots of long showers; by monologuing in my head while I'm walking to the subway as if I were giving a presentation on a book tour — let me live.

No matter how it happens there's always a moment of clarity when I realize what the story has been missing.

In Sparkwood, it was my great weakness: characters having feelings about their sexuality. I'm not the most introspective person, and I've never grappled with knowing my identity—it's always just been there. So it doesn't always occur to me that my characters might not be as comfortable with their bisexuality as I always have been.

Finn, the main character of Sparkwood, is an aimless twenty-something working as a server in a restaurant. He was a star football player in high school. Oh, and he's bi, and not out about it.

His bisexuality was always just a given to me, and I made the mistake of thinking it was a given to the character as well.

I never thought about what being queer meant to Finn. Finn never thought about what that meant to Finn either, for that matter. And then one day it struck me: he should probably care about his sexuality. Maybe just a little.

Then it all clicked into place. Finn doesn't have a problem with the fact that he's bi. But for Finn, the likelihood of falling in love with a man is so minimal that it isn't worth the trouble of coming out. He saw his twin brother Luke go through all kinds of close-minded BS when he himself came out as bi. Finn decided he would rather squash down that part of himself than deal with potential prejudice.

That was the little nugget of characterization that I was missing, and it added so much to the tension as Finn went on to do what he thought he never would: fall for another guy.

My first book, The Trouble, is an story with a HFN and an aromantic lead, where the conflict isn't about being aromantic.


The main conflict drivers are the characters' personalities: Danny is very laissez-faire, while Jiyoon has a life plan and can't deal with spontaneity. Again, like Finn's sexuality, I treated those aspects of the characters as a given. The story gained so much life when (probably on a long drive) I realized that Danny's attitude comes from having the financial security to experiment. He can risk it all on his rock band and doing something he loves. That privilege makes him behave inconsiderately towards Jiyoon, who doesn't come from a well-off family, and feels like his options are limited. 

That is the driving tension between them. Once that clicked into place it felt like so much of the story opened up for me to explore.

The final versions of Sparkwood and The Trouble both contain huge puzzle pieces that weren't even on my radar in draft one.

One of my goals this year is to do a better job planning, and write more thorough first drafts. That's still something I'm committed to.

But I think about these experiences whenever I'm struggling. Writing is like always having a Rubik's Cube going in your mind. Eventually, the pieces will slot into place.