It’s Valentine’s Day, which for me is the day that the cinnamon jelly hearts go on sale. Not that I’m allowed to have any, but still, I know they’re out there. It’s also the day I’m doing a romance pass on Nita’s first act. Huh. I just realized that “romance pass” may not be the best term for the rewrite in which I go through and try to remember that I’m setting up a romance-to-come. Which is also probably not a good term to use. Uh, rewrite to foreshadow a future romance? Not as catchy, but then not snicker-worthy, either. Which reminds me, the Snickers in the pink foil wrappers are on sale today, too.
So what I’m doing is going through the first act and looking for story moments to foreshadow a romance. Usually, romance readers do a lot of this work for me. I’m fairly sure that if Nita has the first scene and Nick has the second and then they meet in the third, most romance readers will say, “Hello,” and settle in to see things develop. That’s because the real fun of a love story is seeing how thing develop: how they work together, how they handle disagreements, how they
come learn to trust each other, the building of the community of two, the growth of the community around the relationship, all of that stuff. Usually when I write a romance, that stuff comes happens first, and then I think, “Right, I need a plot,” and find an antagonist. This time, it was all about the supernatural and struggling with ideas, although I liked both characters from the start.
The thing is, I don’t like most of the shorthand romance tropes. Like he’s gorgeous and she’s gorgeous, so of course they’ll be gorgeous together. I like it that Nick is supernaturally handsome because he’s not real, but that means that Nita has to point that out from the beginning or he becomes Romance Guy. I like it that Nita is kind of scary-looking. I like it that she doesn’t start to trust him until she sees that he’s a skeleton (helps that she’s drunk). But I still need cues in there that there’s a spark, moments that make the romance reader lean into the story. They’re not in there now.
I also like the idea of shared experiences, like the breakfast scene in Nita or the awful-movie-watching in Anyone But You. Okay, I like food and people who like food, so people who like the same food seems like a no-brainer to me. (For best romantic food scene of all time, see illustration above.) Beyond that, people working together on a problem are often drawn together through a shared goal and through stress which produces adrenalin which produces heightened awareness. Also, stress often makes people fall in love: see office and wartime romances. So a shared antagonist and interlocking problems and goals are already in the mix here. I just need to find the moments that make that clear.
But there are also a lot of little clues that work. I think one of the best ones I ever wrote (patting myself on the back here), was Shane giving Agnes the air conditioner. So not a romantic gift. So much more romantic than roses. It’s that moment of understanding that’s a throwaway, not a big production. In fact, I think the most powerful moments are always the throwaway moments, the things that the characters don’t even think about because it’s the natural thing to do.
And there’s there’s the retro but still compelling “I’ll take care of you” move, which isn’t that retro because it works both ways. Like the special license that Freddy brings Kitty in
Sprig Muslin Cotillion. Cal defending Min at her parents and vice versa in Bet Me.
And then there’s the always powerful comments-by-others-who-know-the-couple. One of my faves is from The Grand Sophy: When one of Sophie’s friends says “. . . heaven preserve me from marriage with her,” another friend says, “If heaven did not, I fancy Rivenhall would,” an acknowledgement within the story what the reader has known all along, that Sophy and Charles Rivenhall are Meant For Each Other.
I could go on, but it would be more fun if you were playing, too. What are your favorite romantic moments in stories–page or film–and most important, why did they work for you? This isn’t a Valentine’s Day squee topic, we’re doing serious narrative work here. I have a romance to write. You should help.
Let’s talk about what makes a powerful romantic moment.