How to Write Romance, Part 3: Scene-Level Romantic Tension
Last week, I discussed the importance of fatal flaws (and strengths) in romance (I also talked about hate-at-first sight on the NaNoWriMo blog!). This week, I want to look at what all of this stuff means on a scene-level. Like, how do we bring the romance to life in an actual scene?
It’s All About the Feelings
Consider this: when we read a book, we root for the people–not the events through which they move. Though we’re all curious about who killed Veronica Mars’s best friend, the reason we keep watching the show is because we care about Veronica.
Like, have you ever watched a wild action scene on TV that made you feel nothing? That in fact, left you totally bored? Well, the reason you didn’t care was because you weren’t connected to the characters. You weren’t invested in whether the heroine made it out of the giant explosion alive, so all those special effects were just wasted eye candy.
All of this applies to romance too. Gratuitous sex scenes aren’t gratuitous if we care about the characters and have been waiting for them to get together. So, in order to care about the romantic events unfolding on the page, we must first care about the characters. And even then, it’s still less about the events and more about how the events make the character (and reader) feel.
So remember: if the reader doesn’t care about the character, then the reader won’t keep reading.
Deep Point of View
One of the best way to make your reader feel something is to put your heroine (or hero) to filter the story’s conflict through the character’s POV. More importantly, you want to give us the POV for whichever character has the most at stake.
If you’ve ever read adult romance, then you’ve seen this done before. Whenever the lovers are together, whoever is beings pushed toward the most is the POV we’re in. And it’s not just surface level, but DEEP point-of-view. We feel everything the character feels as events unfold. We feel how the hero’s insistence that our heroine push herself harder makes her angry and uncomfortable. Then we see how she leaves the scene–after pushing herself harder–changed by the events.
Of course, if your book has only one POV, then you’re limited to that one person’s growth. As such, you’ll want to make sure that every scene with the protagonist + love interest is pushing the protagonist toward growth.
So remember: deep point of view with high stakes doth the reader’s interest make.
Push and Pull in Action
In E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, we’re limited to only Lucy Honeychurch’s POV. Although, the book is an omniscient narrator, we still get a solid sense of what Lucy is feeling. Plus, we see how each scene (and the two love interests) pushes her in a good (or bad) direction.
Here’s a scene with George, the “good” love interest who pushes Lucy to reach her inner need:
In this scene, Lucy has just witnessed a murder and fainted (in true Edwardian style) into our hero’s arms. She is not only disturbed by the murder, but she’s disturbed by how George Emerson reacts to it. Everything he and his father say to her–about living life with passion and asking eternal questions–confuses her. Yet for the first time so far in the book, she’s actually slightly open to what he’s telling her. So when he says, “I shall want to live, I say,” she doesn’t take her usual approach of condescension or retreat. Instead, she joins him on the parapet and contemplates “…the River Arno, whose roar was suggesting some unexpected melody to her ears.”
Additionally, notice how we’re shown what Lucy feels (although not through deep, limited POV–this is an omniscient narrator, as was popular back then). We see Lucy’s discomfort as well as her growing warmth for George, and we, the readers, like that she’s been forced outside of her comfort zone. As such, we’re excited for the next time George comes around.
Now you tell me: How do you develop scene-level romantic tension? Or, what are some of your favorite romance scenes in fiction?