There are two important things I’ve learned during my creative writing classes at university:
1. You should always write about what you know
2. Any story worth writing needs to be researched
There’s a problem there for me. I write romance and humorous science fiction. My daily job includes Alien invasions, spacegirls, and distant planets you access by walking through walls down here on earth.
See. Nothing I know anything about! Nothing I can research if I don’t want to end up browsing through tones of documents proving that Georges Bush Senior is some sort of lizard.
Which leave me with the other aspect of my writing: romance!
There’s something I like to research. Extensively!
There are a few essential conditions to researching romance.
1. You need to be single.
If you’re in a serious relationship or married, or committed to anyone in anyway, you will not make a good romance researcher. Romance doesn’t start after the first kiss, after the wedding, after you moved in together, or after you made any sort of serious commitment. No, no. A first kiss, or a wedding, belong to the last pages of a romance (or the opening pages of a comedy, a drama or a tragedy). No, a good romantic story is a story of first things exclusively. First sight. First date. First acceleration of the beating heart. First kiss. First love. First "marry me, Josie!" The end.
So, to research romance, you need to be single, available, and have a very open schedule. And then, you need to date. A lot.
2. You have to be a good listener and know how to ask the right questions.
When you’re on a date, or just meeting anyone, try to focus exclusively on relationship issues. Also, in a spirit of fairness, let your test subjects know that everything they tell you will most probably end up in a book or a blog. So when they phone or email later to complain, you’ll be in a "I told you so!" situation.
3. Use your time efficiently.
Remember, you’re not looking for a partner. You’re researching! If you lunch with Anna, try to brunch with Laura and dinner with Enia (not their real names). In one day, you’ll have more romantic material than you’ll ever get from a Lifetime TV week’athlon.
For example, Anna will tell you that she’s obsessively single, meaning she’s obsessing about un-singling herself. She will tell you that decisiveness is the sexiest quality in a man. She will say that a real romantic hero is someone who is not afraid to say things like "I’m going to kiss you now!" or "I like you and I want to be with you." Though, Anna will also tell you that she just broke up with a very indecisive person who was also very bad in bed. This might just explain that.
Laura is in a more complex situation. She is in a serious relationship, but she just found out that her boyfriend is using online dating to chat with other women. So she set up an alias on one of the sites he’s using. Now, she chats with him on a daily basis under the screen name "Natasha". "We never talked so much before. Now that I've become Natasha, he’s like chat chat chat!" she laughs. The only problem with her ruse: she got addicted to online dating. Hence the reason why she’s on a date with you!
And then there’s Enia… Ah, Enia…! You’re not dating, no no. She’s just a friend. But somehow, Enia is very open-minded about discussing relationships, romance, love… She’s like a cornucopia of good romantic data. But she's also absolutely lovely, and extra funny, and clever, and painfully attractive… which makes her a total professional hazard and the possible ruin of any given researcher (you).
Enia is in a serious relationship (ts! Shame… but remember, just collecting data here, okay). She’s in love with her boyfriend (typical!). But they fight sometimes. "He says 'go to hell.' And I take it literally and start packing my things getting ready to leave him and go to hell!" She nearly left him a few times in the past. "The secret to staying together," she explains while the waiter delivers your Baba dessert, "is to co-own a flat with your boyfriend. It makes it much harder to break up and walk away!" Ha. There you got it. Real-estate as the raison d'être for good romance. As soon as you leave the restaurant and part ways, you take out your notepad and write down this nugget of romantic field research: "the solution to a durable loving relationship is… location location location!"