Friday, January 9, 2009

A Keen Look at the HEART of Romance Writing: Part I of II by Robert W. Walker

Yes, every good story ought to have a romance of one sort or another embedded in the tale; it may be a romance between an older married couple who have settled into their love like a warm woolen blanket, orit may be the passioate first kiss of newly found love. It may be the romance a child has with a pet, or a romance of obsession with a silly material thing like a car for a teenager. It may be a romance between a boy and a girl, a girl and a girl, a boy and a best friend but the story has to have it. However, writing a romance scene even between your boy meets girl is probably the hardest scene to write. Fight scenes, let me at em. Arguments at the cemetery or at the coming out party, let me at em. Chase scenes, I am there in a flash. Thriller moments, easy and fun. Sex scenes, ugh -- and even tougher than a lustful sex scene is the truly ROMANTIC Love Scene.

Now that, like comedy, is HARD to do....very difficult work, and it may take twenty or more rewrites on that scene -- take after take. But there are some saving grace list items you can take into a love scene to distinguish it and set it apart from a reworded fight scene. Hey there are a lot of similarities between a fight scene and orchestrating a love scene, especially if you want it to rise above a sex scene.

1. Treat it as you would when you want to write your best 'other' scenes. In other words, give it at least as much time as you gave introducing your characters for instance. Go in with the notion it will take successive rewrites to make it sing. If you can't make it sing, then at least make it clear (every concern of punctuation and every element -- as in consistent voice must be in the frame/scene).

2. Bring in all the five senses and work toward the ethereal sixth sense which the plan to lift this lovemaking into a "religious" experience or at least one of an "astral" or of such a sensual nature as to seem so out of body while in body experience that the participants rise above mere lust and mere sex. In short, make it a Chagall painting.

3. In any scene, I try to triangulate at least 3 and I work toward all 5 of the senses. What are the sounds around the lovers? What sounds do they make? What tastes occur? What sights? If there is a storm outside, how is it captured and brought into their bed? If there is a fire in the hearth, how does that fire relate to their touch? What touchy feeling things can I bring to "bear" or "bare"? Thoughts? Metaphors? Images? AS in number 2 above, you can't emphasize the senses too much if you are to turn the moment from the physical to the etheral, the corporeal to the sense the lovers are touched by a pleased universe. Wow....I man....floating figures in a Chagall painting for real.

4. Give your love scene at least as much attention as you would give your chase scene or fight scene, and engage all the senses, and also use all the props in and around the lovers to become metaphorical implements used to heighten the moment (fireplace flames, storm, annoying knat? -- Okay toss the knat. Be careful of the use of words that bring the lovers back to a sense or connotation that this is lust and not lover (save the LUST scenes for the villians who truly don't know how to love, see? Lust goes with the bad guys in the black hats and the vixens who kill for hire and kick dogs). Words used in a lust scene you want to avoid in a love scene are: rammed, dunked, perspiration, sweat, and perhaps the corded muscles of his chest along with his manhood. Retire these lustful accolades for "eased" "sank" and "melded" or even better "coelesced". Consult the Romance Writers Phrase Book (yes, there is one).

5. For the various body parts (corded muscles of his chest, eyes, ears, noses, etc.) do consult the Romance Writers Phrase Book. His physical descript and hers can be culled from such a book, but you also learn what has been done to death and so to avoid like the plague. Such reminders make you work harder to take a cliche and twist it in a new and fresh direction, to make it work for you.

6. Finally,even better throw out any word you have ever seen ten thousand times in romance novels and create a unique vision--your vision of what makes great love. When we write horror, we work with what scares us; when we write historicals, we write what interst us; when we write chillers and thrillers, we write what chills and thrills us; when we write a mystery, we don't want to repeat a plot that is a bread trail of clues that has been done many times over by others, no! We want a unique plot and storyline and charcters, and so it is with a love scene. While it should be familiar (not kinky!), it should also be unique, and unique mans fresh and imaginative. The hardest thing to do on the planet for film makers and writers to do--create something new out of the oldest story on the planet -- boy meets girl. So there is nothing quck and easy about making love come alive on the page. It is very hard, very tough, very difficult work and involves many rewrites and a lot of thought--and then to put that thought into practice and hope the scene is not a jumble of nonsense but a perfectly orchestrated thing of beaty--a Chagall. Or you may want to go for a Renoir. Or a Van Gogh. And thank God for brothers and sisters. Vincent had Theo, and I have my sister Sybil and my wife Miranda, and many feminie friends who are willing to read my romance scnes and tear them apart for me before they make it to print.

Finally, next week in Part TWO of Rob Goes Romance, a peek at a love scene set in 1692 from my work in progress, an historical romance mystery-hystory entitled Bloodroot. In Bloodroot, I have not one but TWO great love stories entertwined -- that of the young Jeremy Wakely and Serena Nurse and that of Serena's parents, Rebecca and Francis Nurse, and I defy anyone to say which of the two loves--young vs old is more poignant and lovely. In point of fact, I can't recall a single novel of mine that has not had a romance thread running through it--especially true of my Edge Series and my upcoming DEAD ON which you can get in eARC form at my website at the stroke of a key.

Rob Walker


Morgan Mandel said...

Next you'll be going to the RWA National conference in July. (G)

Great take on romance in novels, Rob.

Morgan Mandel
on Twitter at

Debra St. John said...

Great advice, Rob. It is tricky to get to the HEART of a love scene. You really looked deeply into this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I look forward to next week.

Anonymous said...

"I can't recall a single novel of mine that has not had a romance thread running through it." Same for me, Rob.

At GRWA's Moonlight & Magnolias '08, where I presented a workshop, I chatted with bestselling romance author/keynote speaker Teresa Medeiros. I told her that writing love scenes made me amorous. She laughed, hugged me, and said, "Well, then, you're doing it correctly." Something to keep in mind. :-)

I enjoyed your post and look forward to reading Part 2.

Margot Justes said...

Sound advice, can't wait for part
Rob Walker writes romance...

Margot Justes

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Yep, romance has got to be there--integral part of our lives so should be important in a mystery as well.

Good job telling how to do it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone. My mother thanks you, my fadder thanks you, my dogand my cat thank you. Apprciate the remarks, truly. I have been always a mystery writer who believes a good mystery needs a good romance thread, and a good romance needs a good mystery in it too! Next week a true display of romance in Part 2. Tell your friends and lovers.