In case you don't know me at all, you'll know that I adore shipping people. They're probably my favorite thing out there involving any sort of fandoms. Though I do find that I tend to stick with the canon-verse ones that the author intended (except for Harry Potter because my heart will forever ship Harry/Hermione). My favorite ships of all time are the ones on TV and there is one show that yes, has a book, but it's the one case where I believe the show is
better (sorry to the author, but I find the character much more complex on screen...and the storyline).
The pairing I'll be using (and trying not to spoil for you all) is Bellamy Blake and Clarke Griffin from the CW show The 100. I use a lot of GIFs and a few videos from The 100, and I own none of them. I found the GIFs on google, tumblr, and the GIF search on here. The CW owns the right to all of these. The thoughts, as always, are my own.
I chose Bellamy and Clarke for the fact that I think there's a lot to tell about them. They didn't start off as friends, but they eventually evolved to that. There is most certainly inklings of something more throughout the seasons, but the best part of this is the ship. So, using Bellamy and Clarke, or rather Bellarke, I'll be using them to explain how to expand your "ships" into noteworthy ones.
Some basics on ships before we get started, and my thoughts on some of the basics.
They have to have chemistry
This one is really a no-brainer. Your characters need to have chemistry, it has to be a natural kind. If you foresee them getting together at some point in the novel, then you must let it happen naturally. For me, I had Aurelia and someone else in mind, but out of nowhere, this other guy came in and was like, "Hey Amanda, look, I know Aurelia thinks she's in love with that guy, but I'm actually the better one. He's a bit of a dick." So that's the story of how I became obsessed with my endgame. But chemistry is so important and seeing your endgame pairing interact is so worth it.
These can be useful, but like most novels, they're way too over-used. I'm not going to say I'm not playing with this idea in my own novel (I never intended to, it sort of happened) because I most certainly am. If you have your own take on it, then go for it. Do something different with something done so many times.
I also have to say that this stuff does not come with a first draft. In order to get your ship to the best it can be, it needs to undergo revision after revision. This comes as you begin to build your characters into the best they can be. So if you try to follow these tips and they're not working out for you, then keep picking at those scenes. Rewrite those scenes until they're the way you want them.
Oh, and one more thing. If you want to tease your readers in thinking that one ship will be canon, but want to go a different route, you can easily take these and convert them to a friendship-based level (except maybe the last one). We all love to be that evil writer now and again.
1. The Little Touches are Everything
The simplicity of a touch is what fuels a relationship. As humans, we crave touch, and having little scenes where they poke or prod each other's bubble is enough to get a reader/viewer going crazy. The scene in the gif above seems like nothing, but in retrospect it says a lot. What also is important is that during these scenes, they have the full trust of one another. What adds even more ship worthy excitement is a locked gaze.
Now, visually, it's hard to add this, but if you expand your words just right, you can get the same effect. Eye contact and touching are so important, so closing in that distance between your characters can really enhance a scene. If you sprinkle in a conversation about something important with an underlying tone of romance to it. These kinds of scenes make my little fangirl heart go CRAZY! An argument is even a good place to do these because even though your characters might be fighting about something serious, it's nice to throw in a tender moment to slow down the pacing of your scene, but also to give your readers something amazing.
I put the scene in question here (watch if you dare, but it's not a huge spoiler).
Even if you haven't watched this scene (or the show, which I think you should), the emotions behind this are so true and honest. Even though Bellamy and Clarke are arguing about something so awful and Bellamy deviated from his original character development (this was the biggest season 3 complaint), you can still see the sense of tenderness still relevant, as well as the emotions behind this scene.
At the end of the scene, when Bellamy crosses the room to comfort Clarke, they share a look. You know the look, the kind that is like a picture. It has so many emotions unsaid, but said all at once. Even as he walks away, you can tell he fights what he's done. It's an emotionally driven scene and the touches just added to it.
As a writer, scenes like this give me a reason to put my OTP (of my own characters) in a room, have an argument or a conversation, but still come together and have a moment like Bellamy and Clarke have at the end of this clip. It tells the reader that there is something there and they can be fixable (if it is an argument).
2. Slow Burn, Baby
This is probably my favorite thing to talk about on the face of planet Earth. Slow burn is your friend, guys. Especially if you're using the trope of enemies to friends to lovers. You want your progression to start naturally, and I really think this is the best way to do it. Even if your ship starts off as friends, or acquaintances, you don't want to go to fast.
I think out of all the ships I've seen, Bellamy and Clarke do the progression right. What the fans love the most about these two is their trust and faith in each other. They started off as enemies, Bellamy threatened to cut off her hand at one point in time in the first episode or two. It's crazy to think they started off as that kind of relationship and molding into the next GIF (I'm not telling you if it's canon or not, you can watch the show and figure it out).
What I love most about their relationship is how organic it is. There is no sudden "boom!" we're friends moment. They become close because of their experiences and I think that's really profound. I wish this was in more Young Adult Literature because it is something that really speaks to me and that's what I'm trying to work on in my own writing. As I was reading Warcross by Marie Lu, I couldn't help but think of all the tropes that I've seen with YA lit and how I was spoiled by the relationship of Bellamy and Clarke. The biggest thing: insta-love is non-existent.
This is what I'm going to advise you on with your own writing: stay away from instant love. As a reader, I tend to dislike the romantic pairing if it's super obvious as to who is the love interest. I want to fall in love with my characters rather than throw two characters together. Bellamy and Clarke have this natural progression and that's the excitement in it all. We're discovering their tale as the events around them unfold.
Another great example of slow burn is A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. It's more in the second book, but it still shows a natural progression based on trust and understanding. The more you work on your characters' relationship and build it up brick-by-brick, it becomes something that is so beautiful and will leave your reader wanting more. This won't come instantly. My slow burn pairing is coming together slowly through editing and every time I work on one of their scenes, it makes me so excited to one day be able to fulfill the rest of their story.
Don't be afraid of slowing things down in your story, readers will appreciate it. Your readers deserve the love and care and special build up of the romance. In the end, it will be so worth it. Both for you and your readers. So slow things down and see how it works out.
3. Separation Is Okay
If you've ever seen The 100, then you will know that Bellamy and Clarke do not do well when one another is not around. Bellamy is always a little bit lost and unsure of who he is without her around (see the video clip in the first section). Personally, I think separation is good. Your ship does not need to be together all the time for your readers to want them together. Being together all the time can be unhealthy and it also gives your character a chance to breathe and think about their relationship.
I'm also the kind of person who loves the angst that comes along with separation. Bellamy almost depends on Clarke too much and when they're apart, he realizes that he is his own person and he has to make his own decisions. When they find each other again, Bellamy gets excited and he does become irrational, but that's what has the reader/viewer rooting for them.
The way you bring your characters back together really speaks volumes. You don't want to undercut it, you want to give it the right amount of emotional charge. Your scene has to say "this means everything to these characters." What you want to convey in your characters coming back together, or trying to get back to each other, is how desperate they are. In the GIF above, you can see how desperate Bellamy is to get to Clarke. His whole goal is to protect her and the way he is portrayed is so well done. I'm amazed by Bellamy's character all the freaking time, guys. That, or it might be Bob Morley's acting because he is amazing.
But the thing is, without this much passion driving your characters, you can't make the viewer feel all the feels. It's important to have emotion and passion driving this. The more you amp up the passion and driving factors, the more you can create an epic reunion scene such as this (again, don't watch if you don't want spoilers):
The separation of this couple creates high emotions that when they see each other, even for a few moments, knowing one another is alive is such a sigh of relief. If your characters are two people who are it for each other, even if they don't know it yet, this will come to a huge sigh of relief to them and the readers. Your readers are over there rooting for them and seeing an interaction like this will be the biggest flailing and fangirl moment they'll experience. They don't want anything to happen to their OTP/Ship, so knowing there's still a chance of them still very much sailing, it comes as a huge sigh of relief.
My favorite thing in books is when these characters come together and have one of those "You're alive" kind of moments. These are some of the most breath taking scenes I've ever read. The emotion drives the scene and it creates such strong chemistry between these characters. But you can't do this until you've established that they are a team and they have a mutual respect for one another. I personally think this works better when your characters haven't professed their feelings yet. Your readers won't know what to expect and seeing a scene such as this will get their little hearts going. They live for those moments, use them wisely.
4. Trust & "Together"
Okay, these are probably my favorite things to talk about when it comes to writing ships. In order for your ship to be a ship, there has to be groundwork. We all know this, I've said it 1000 times now. Trust is something that needs to be a key feature in any relationship and if there's no trust, then there's really not much of a relationship. If your MC is walking around worrying that the guy is doing something stupid and is lying to her, then that's not the person your MC belongs with.
The trust you instill in your characters is, again, something you have to build over time. It's not something that will come right away. Trust is a constant cycle. They have to consistently prove that they are loyal to each other. For some writers, this will certainly be easy, but others will be difficult. Your characters loyalty to each other is something that I love to read about.
Bellamy and Clarke's trust is one of the most profound features. Clarke, in the GIF above, trusts Bellamy with her whole soul. You can see that in her face alone, and Bellamy does the same. Their trust runs both ways and that is the founding of a good relationship, as well as a good leadership. Their trust in each other in just about any situation is breathtaking. There's one scene in season four where they gave each other a look and just about killed each other in one scene. It was amazing, and they trust each other in just about everything they do.
I was reading a tumblr article where it says that "___" translates to "I love you." The word "together" is very much a similar meaning to Bellamy and Clarke and it becomes a theme for them. Everything they do is together, meaning they have each other's backs because they trust one another. While writing these characters, you have to ask yourself if they're at that point yet. Are they at the point where they can unconditionally support one another? Is trusting that person as easy as breathing? If the answer is yes, then make their love known. But does it happen organically? Have it be a natural progression because there is nothing worst than instant love. It's awful, actually. Give your readers time to digest that something is happening and let it come about in the most beautiful way.
5. Unannounced Feelings
I admit, this section is going to be the toughest one to incorporate into your story because this is all based on looks and actions. This is also going to be a Bellamy heavy section because I've more or less noticed this mostly in Bellamy (especially the bottom photo...).
I am a strong believer that actions speak louder than words. But you have to convey those same actions using words that speak volumes. It's complicated, I know, but you guys, those looks of longing makes me squeal with delight. I honestly think Sarah J. Maas does this perfectly in her Throne of Glass books and I am loving it! She says a lot without saying too much and oh my word, it's amazing. If you're looking for some amazing ship-worthy writing, her books are the best. She knows how to write relationships really well.