My general rule of thumb on love interests is to try to incorporate them into the story as early as possible and to ensure that they are fully fleshed out characters with their own arc in the story. A successful love interest is one that is a recognizable individual and, for me anyway, the best part about even a romantic subplot is watching the two characters interactions as they fall in love. In a novel that runs between 70,000 to 100,000 words that’s not a lot of time to fit in a subplot beneath the main plot if the love interest is introduced in the middle or at the end.
However, the real problem is that you haven’t figured out who this character is yet. If you don’t know who he is, what he likes, what his goals and dreams are, and the itty bitty minutia of quirks that make people so interesting, how can you know what his place in the story is or even if he’s going to be suitable to even be the love interest?
The thing about falling in love is that it is in essence, a learning experience. In my opinion, that’s the joy of the early stages love. The joy that comes after the infatuation stage. The joy of discovery, of finding the person behind the mask. I’m going to borrow the lyrics from The King and I song “Getting to Know You”.
Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you,
Getting to hope you like me.
Getting to know you,
Getting to feel free and easy
When I am with you,
Getting to know what to say
Haven’t you noticed
Suddenly I’m bright and breezy?
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I’m learning about you
Day by day.
However, for a love story to really take root, the characters need time to get to know each other and the reader needs time to get to know them. This can only happen though if there’s fertile ground for that to take root, otherwise you’ll end up falling back on generic language that usually relates to being in love but not what it means to be in love with Character X.
Love takes two and each character needs to be fully realized with their own roles in the story outside of their romantic subplot. This doesn’t mean the love interest needs to be as important as the main character in the greater context of the novel, but they do need to be present and relevant.
The other important point is this: love comes in several different stages, but there is a difference between a character falling in love with their preconceived notions of who someone is (or who they want them to be) and falling in love with the actual person in question. This happens all the time in real life in many different kinds of relationships, so your character discovering a dichotomy between who they think someone is and who they actually are is incredibly important.
To do that well, you’ll need two characters who are put into situations where they must interact with each other on a regular basis. They have to get to know each other, see each other for who they really are, and not look away. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
For me, real love is about finding someone with whom I can trust my broken pieces to. The safe refuge in the storm. The person who is willing to look at me, in all my imperfections, and not ask me to change to suit them. I don’t want the person who wants the best version of me, I want the person who wants me. As I am. No unnecessary edits to the personality to make me more palatable. A gloriously imperfect love between two flawed human beings. (Which I do have, thanks.)
There is nothing more frustrating for me as a reader than not knowing why two characters are getting together or, worse, that the process of them getting together is held off for several books when the couple’s issues could easily be resolved in one.
Writing romantic subplots is difficult. Good luck!