I’ve read quite a few romance novels lately that substitute erotica scenes for romance. Even my publisher has commented on how romance is missing from recent submissions. Authors are describing sex in detail sometimes at the beginning, middle, or end of the story. Although sometimes the romance is developed, I finished one book where it made no sense for the couple to go to bed.
In “Impending Love and Promise” the characters are young but have been through traumatic experiences. Jules is being stalked by a killer who has mistaken her for her older sister and wants revenge. Roe was an orderly at Gettysburg and then learned the surgery skills of a doctor on the battlefields but was so traumatized by the experience he no longer wants to practice medicine. By helping each other, they grow closer together but must make life-changing choices if the romance is to survive.
Because of their youth and connections to the family, they do not have sex in the story. It wasn’t right for this couple, but the romance is there with looks, conversations, trust and other things necessary for a relationship to grow and become strong.
Think about the great romances and what is needed in a romance story. I’m going to list a few.
The gaze: this is when the man and woman lock gazes on one another and know that this person is special. They can’t take their eyes off them. In “Sleepless in Seattle” there is hardly any interaction between the main characters, but there is a long gaze when Meg’s character is standing on the side of the street and Tom’s character sees her. They gaze at one another and can only say “hello.”
A Meet Cute: This is the initial meeting between the couple and make it memorable. They should make an impression on each other and want to meet again.
Flirting: the characters need to talk to one another and there should be an element of flirting even if the initial meeting is a disaster. This is where a writer can shine as they develop witty dialogue that conveys deeper feelings beneath the innocent or not-so-innocent words exchanged between the lead characters. In “How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days” the characters reduce their initial flirting to a single word or phrase before she rides off with him, but the attraction is highly charged between them.
Non-sexual touching: A kiss was the most sex in an Austen novel, and hand touching, dancing, lifting someone in or out of a carriage, a stroke on the arm, or a hand on the waist become ways of communicating wanting someone. Anticipation is a big part of romance. Don’t rush your characters to bed.
Communication: Talking about dreams or values is another way to connect the characters. Show what they have in common. What will make them a happy and fulfilling couple? Show what makes each one the perfect partner, and let each character discover that link. Romance has a moment where the person realizes this is the one. Let your characters experience that moment.
Overcoming a difference or obstacle: In “You’ve Got Mail” Tom’s character put’s Meg’s character out of business. Is the romance doomed? No. Tom’s character works hard to mend their relationship by offering friendship and then posing the all important question about whether she can forgive him. It makes her love deeper by looking past the wrong done to her and looking toward a future together.
Act of kindness: Who doesn’t like someone to take care of them, especially if hurt or sick. Either character can play nurse or rescuer. It also helps if there is a risk factor to save the other person. Sacrifice demonstrates love.
Treatment of others: Whose heart hasn’t been softened by a man playing with a baby or child? Or someone helping an elderly person. Have your couple witness the other in an adorable situation that melts their heart.
Think of your favorite romance stories. What scene stands out as the defining moment for the romance?
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