Love is something we all strive for at one point or another in our lives. Having someone to witness our lives and share in the trials and tribulations is, at it's core, one of the most basic human needs. Living a life of love is complex and confusing, let alone trying to write a romance with all its intricacies correctly portrayed. To build the types of relationships that our audiences will respond to with the fervor of passion, we must first look to the epics of the past to inspire us. Here are the top 20 epic romances in literature that inspired us to change how we perceive love and relationships in writing.
1. Rhett & Scarlet
A dynamic powerhouse duo, they made their tempestuous debut in Gone With The Wind. Amidst the turmoil of the fall of the South and the rise of a new world, Scarlet and Rhett find themselves sustained by the on-again-off-again relationship that they share. While it is far from perfect, the two lean on each other in times of need, understand each other on a soulmate level, and work hard to build a mutual future (even if at times they don't appreciate it).
Why It Works: Both characters are well-rounded, with lives and dreams of their own. They are also both deeply flawed individuals whose relationship never resembles anything close to a fairy tale.
2. Romeo & Juliet
We all know the star-crossed teenage lovers from Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. Theirs is a reckless and passion-filled venture that meets an ill-fated end. Neither is old enough or wise enough to realize that the relationship can only end in heartbreak, yet they pursue it with the zeal of young lovers experiencing the powerful allure of love for the first time.
Why It Works: It shows the youthful side of falling in love. It's fun, intoxicating, passionate, and definitely something worth fighting and breaking all the rules for.
3. Elizabeth & Mr. Darcy
A timeless romance, this pair lives on in the romanticized world of Pride and Prejudice. A he-said, she-said tale where two individuals from different backgrounds meet and...hate each other on sight. After a series of misgivings, the pair finally communicate their true feelings and realize they have more than just love for each other in common.
Why It Works: It's not your typical love-at-first-sight story. Mutual dislike turns into attraction and then chemistry as the pair verbally spar, heating up their relationship until suddenly they can't live without each other. It works because of the gradual build-up rather than instant attraction approach.
4. Jane Eyre & Mr. Rochester
A soft-spoken governess meets a wealthy, brooding English landowner in Jane Eyre. A gritter version of beauty meets beast, the pair share the pains of their past in order to bond together as lovers in the present.
Why It Works: Neither one comes from a happy background, and coincidentally they find the peace they have been longing for in each other. But that happiness doesn't come easy and certainly has its price. Love overcomes it all, however, which is one of the reasons this story resonates.
5. Gatsby & Daisy
An iconic duo of star-crossed lovers separated by time, circumstances, and socioeconomic means. Gatsby and Daisy from The Great Gatsby bring nostalgia into their romance. Everything from the setting, to the word choice, to the way Gatsby looks at Daisy makes. us. swoon. Truly nothing is more romantic than a man risking it all for the love of a woman.
Why It Works: Just like how Gatsby weaves a fantasy for Daisy, we as the readers are drawn into his web of glittering intrigue and passion. Every aspect in the story of his life and the love he has for Daisy takes on a dream-like quality that we don't want to wake from. The lengths that one person will go to for the love of another and the sacrifices that entails is a story we can all admire.
6. Allie & Noah
An affair that raised the romance bar to a whole new level, The Notebook brought us the emotional and tear-jerking love between a poor fellow working in a lumberyard and a rich heiress. They defied the odds and created a long-standing relationship despite coming from two opposite worlds.
Why It Works: It shows that, like real relationships, anything is possible as long as you work at it. Both Allie and Noah worked relentlessly to keep their relationship from falling apart, and even at the moments when it did, they remained committed to fixing what was broken. That's the sort of commitment that even illness, old age, and death can't diminish.
7. Claire & Jamie
Nothing could be more romantic than time-traveling and meeting a hunky Scottish rebel, but that's exactly what happened to Claire in Outlander. Uniting past and present, this relationship heats up quickly and with a fervor neither of them knows how to handle.
Why It Works: Passion, heat, a Scottish accent- what's not to like? Their intense relationship is all about desire and leaves us all gasping for breath and wanting more. Not to mention that it takes place in one of the most mesmerizing backdrops on earth. It practically screams excitement and adventure.
8. Paris & Helen
The classic tale of a beautiful, unobtainable queen tamed by a wild playboy prince seen in The Illiad. Forbidden love, a scandalous exit from Sparta to Troy, and one crazy war later, Troy lies in ruins at the feet of the Greeks, but Paris and Helen stay together through it all.
Why It Works: Poor decision-making, scandals, bloody duels, an all-out-war, and terrible consequences- Paris and Helen definitely did not think this one through. But, to their credit, they stayed together even when all was lost. Their love was strong enough to survive the fall of everyone else they knew. This is what they mean by "finding a love worth fighting for".
9. Katniss & Peeta
The Hunger Games throws the possibilities for love in stark contrast with death. This life-and-death struggle and high stakes makes Katniss and Peeta's whirlwind romance deepen into a lifelong bond way faster than relationships that aren't under duress.
Why It Works: Having the possibility of immediate death looming over the shoulders of these young, "doomed" lovers gives us a reason to root for them. We want to see them repeatedly win the games for the sake of each other, not only for ourselves.
10. Hamlet & Ophelia
Proof that even the darkest and most tragic love affairs can inspire us. Ophelia's devotion and loyalty to the disturbed Hamlet runs so deep that she never lets go of him, even when he refuses to see her there by his side, and when he ultimately he drives her into madness and then to her death.
Why It Works: We're all searching for the one person who would do anything for us, to be there for us at our worst and stand by us no matter what. The person who would die for us if need be. That's what you get from Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship, dark as it is.
11. Catherine & Heathcliff
Along the lines of doom and gloom comes another epic romance in Wuthering Heights. A love filled by the fiery throws of both passion and hatred, the pair grow up together. She is an aristocrat, he is an orphan. Separated by their class, they engage in a secret romance until the day that Catherine is married. United in their hatred of her husband, and the resentment of each other, the pair dissolves into chaos.
Why It Works: The pure drama of their relationship keeps us captivated and emotionally enthralled from beginning to end. We almost don't know which one to root for or which one to hate more.
12. Anthony & Cleopatra
Another earth-shaking powerhouse, we see two ancient civilizations combine and ultimately fall in Shakespeare's play Anthony & Cleopatra. When the two get into a fight that threatens to end the relationship, things take a tragic turn as rumors swirl around Cleopatra's supposed death. A heartbroken Anthony kills himself in both guilt and grief, bringing about the end of the pair's reign over Egypt and leaving Cleopatra with no choice but to join him in the afterlife.
Why It Works: Watching two powerhouses self-destruct in the name of love is so satisfying. We all know what it's like to go through a bad break-up, but Cleopatra certainly knows how to take the crazy up a notch. Add to the fact that their actions impact history itself, and you've got a story too good to pass up.
13. Hazel & Augustus
Out of options and time, this couple faces their imminent and irreversible deaths with bravery in The Fault in Our Stars. Both victims of cancer, they have to grapple with the fact that they will never live "normal" lives, while frantically trying to discover their life's purpose before it is gone. What they find is love and the comfort of each other.
Why It Works: Spending the time they have left building a bittersweet romance yanks the heart-strings. Immediately we're hooked and invested in their relationship because, like them, we know it won't last forever. And neither will our tissues.
14. Henry & Clare
Time-traveling isn't all it's cracked up to be when you're constantly being separated from the person you love most. This is the circumstance dealt to Henry and Clare, the husband-wife duo in The Time Traveler's Wife. Maintaining a marriage under normal circumstances can be challenging, but when your partner isn't given a choice when it comes to missing out on life events, the results can be heartbreaking.
Why It Works: Clare's loyalty to her husband is as awe-inspiring as it is tear-jerking. She waits for him endlessly because to her, sharing what little time they do have together is worth it. The magnitude of her love is so great that she refuses to move on even after her husband's death, showing us that true love lingers long after the person we love is gone.
15. John & Savannah
A classic soldier-civilian relationship, it showcases the ups and downs of the type of partnerships that military personnel face while being enlisted in active service. The sacrifices and misunderstandings that John and Savannah go through in Dear John lead to the devastating "Dear John" letter, but the two end up reuniting and beating the odds together anyways.
Why It Works: It shows us that real relationships take commitment. When you make a vow, you stick to it and see it through no matter what odds you face. And if per chance things don't go according to plan, mistakes can always be mended.
16. Ethan & Lena
When a magical world and the impending curse placed on Lena threatens to ruin their newly budding relationship in Beautiful Creatures, Ethan takes the strangeness of it all in stride. The pair stay united throughout all their challenges and prove that true love really does conquer all.
Why It Works: Ethan accepts Lena's flaws and loves her in spite of them. He never asks her to change and instead does his best to fit into her lifestyle so that he can better support her. He's willing to grow with her and is committed to their relationship no matter what.
17. Lancelot & Guinevere
Depicted as the two backstabbing lovers of Arthurian legend, the pair falls in love despite Guinevere already being married to King Arthur. It is a classic example of cheating spouses, but we couldn't be more about it! With an attraction as strong and potent as theirs, it's hard not to betray their best friend/husband in the name of love.
Why It Works: It's a very relatable story even in modern times. Relationships form whether we intended them to or not, and once affairs start it's almost impossible for feelings not to get hurt.
18. Estella & Pip
What do you do when the person you like doesn't like you back? You persist! That's what. Pip definitely won't take "no" for an answer in Great Expectations despite Estella's protests and lack of interest in romance altogether. It takes Pip's rise to fortune and her unfortunate marriage for her to see the light, but eventually the two find a middle ground.
Why It Works: Sometimes the person we like doesn't know we exist, or needs a little convincing. It's the thrill of the chase that makes the reward of love all the sweeter, as Pip well knows.
19. Hermione & Ron
When two friends decide to change the dynamic of their relationship, things can get a little messy. Hermione and Ron learn this first-hand in Harry Potter, as the two long-time best friends don't exactly know how to balance the new romantic feelings they have for one another. In the end they manage to figure it out, but not without some awkward fumbling and bouts of petty jealousy on both sides.
Why It Works: Young love comes with the challenge of inexperience. It's awkward, confusing, and something that keeps us blushing from embarrassment from time-to-time. But, if we wind up getting it right, the relationship holds the sweetest sentiments.
20. Bella & Edward
Mixing elements of the supernatural with the awkwardness of humanity somehow creates an intoxicating cocktail in Twilight. Bella's teenage infatuation with the vampire, Edward convinces him that she's worth a second look and not just another feeding opportunity that he is compelled to avoid. Their relationship sparks a lot of confusion within the supernatural world at large, as the couple defy the laws of vampirism in order to be together.
Why It Works: The fantasy element keeps this relationship fresh. While normal high school drama leaks in, the overarching sense of magic and mystery takes you to a place that is familiar and strange at the same time. Bella and Edward's loyalty, commitment, and reckless abandon is enough to make us believe that they will survive whatever challenge life throws at them while giving us a reason to swoon.
Now matter where you look in literature, love abounds. There are plenty more examples of romances not mentioned here- you've only to open up another book to find one. What makes a literary couple epic is their ability to accurately represent different faucets of love. These couples complement each other, they go through challenges to be together, and their relationship experiences highs and lows. Most of all neither relationship is perfect, but each individual pair are a unique testimony to the love that those two particular people create. Using these 20 examples will help you craft your own romances for your story, but ultimately the way your character's relationship turns out is entirely up to them.