Friday, April 13, 2007

Book With Trish - The Emotional Rollercoaster


It’s a phrase you’ll hear used over and over again in the category romance game. But the simple truth is, just like relationships in real life, a romance will have highs and lows and we need to show that in fairly equal measure through the 'first' two thirds of a book (I’ll talk more about ‘thirds’ next time but basically the third ‘third’ is where you have the ‘black moment’ and the ‘resolution’ aka the Happily Ever After or HEA)

Despite the fact that the Romance line is perceived by many as being full of dramatic, deeply emotional ‘weepies’ – this really isn’t the case! In fact there are just as many light hearted or funny moments in the stories as there are times when you might find yourself welling up. Trust me on this. The trick is to strike a balance and not to become either too laugh out loud heavy or too angst heavy.

Let’s look at the taglines of the two lines I write for, shall we?

Romance isExperience the anticipation, the thrill of the chase and the rush of falling in love..

And in the eHarlequin guidelines for the line it says: “Although some books can be "weepies" — stories that may move readers to tears — stories should always be upbeat and entertaining overall. They should not veer into the depressing or tragic. These stories are fundamentally feel-good reads — they just need to deliver on the emotion, as well.”

So what does that mean? Well, to me, it means that there should always be a moment or two in the book where we can see that these two people are just as capable of laughing together as they are of working their way through issues. We’ve all experienced that initial ‘thrill’, haven’t we? The faster heartbeat, the anticipation of seeing them, we’ve smiled long after they hung up the phone or left us at the door… so there needs to be just as much of that in your story as there is of the moments when they’re angry or upset or distant from each other – maybe even a little more. Because we want to believe they’ll stay together beyond the end of the book, right? And if their entire relationship is based on doom and gloom… well… you get my drift.

You ask any woman these days to list the kind of things that attracts them to a man and I guarantee you a sense of humor will be in there! Maybe in a story you don’t have him laugh for ages, so that when he does it let’s the heroine see a new side of him. Maybe you have him use humor in a self-depreciating way to cover a larger hurt or maybe he quite simply likes to tease laughter out of your heroine despite her best efforts not to laugh with him… What it ISN’T is slapstick humor. I’m trying to think of a way of putting this… I guess the most simplistic way of saying it would be that he’s not a practical joker, no whoopee cushions, no stand up comedy… does that make sense? Having said that a heroine who is sometimes clumsy could be funny in a cute way, even though the humor might be considered slapstick because it’s ‘physical humor’… If you’re still confused (cos I’m confusing myself a bit here…) then it might just be easier for you to ask me by using an example of your own…

So basically, even though your story will without doubt have deeply emotional issues there will also be laughter, and a building sense of happiness which will be all the more believable at the end when the conflicts are resolved… If anyone has read any of my books they’ll know I’m a firm believer in that!

Let’s look at a couple of examples from Project: Parenthood, the book that just finalled for the Holt Medallion in the Traditional Category:

Showing Humor:
“He swung their joined hands gently back and forth, ‘Do you want to get them something fun, or something with educational value?’
‘Tough choice,’ She grinned across at him, ‘Though I’ll bet you’ll pull a face if I say educational.’
He pulled a face.
Teagan laughed, ‘I knew it. We’d better get something fun then, because I don’t know if I could live with that face.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with my face.’
‘Most of the time, I’d agree.’
‘You see,’ He leaned the face under scrutiny a little closer to hers, ‘You think I’m adorable already.’
‘Oh yeah, that’s you,’ She stopped in the middle of the bust pedestrian area, ‘Cute as a puppy.’”
And Emotion:

“It was the nights that were the worst.
Because at night she was truly alone. And when she sat in her house as the light faded outside, and she couldn’t gather the energy to get up to pull the curtains or switch on some lamps, she would look across at his house. And she would ache as she’d never ached before.
And the rain would fall in streaks along the windowpane so that there were always tears before her eyes. Even when she didn’t shed them.”


Then let’s look at Modern Extra. It’s tag-lined: “Sizzling, stylish, sensual – the ultimate temptation.

The beauty of this line is it’s still very much in its infancy, so the scope is wide. But it’s still a romance! Let’s look at the things I think are key elements from the Eharlequin guidelines: “These titles promise to deliver to the reader a feel-good experience, focusing on the kind of relationships that women between the ages of 18 and 35 aspire to…

Focusing on the phrases ‘feel-good experience’ and ’18-35 aspire to’ and then let’s add (again from the guideline) “an international city background that vividly conveys the sophistication and buzz of cosmopolitan life, an independent woman who knows what she wants from love and her career and a guy who's confident, easygoing and gorgeously sexy…” and what do we get? Well… from my point of view, we get something much faster paced, flirtier, more obviously sexy and with a good dose of fun and laughter along the way! There’s still room for the emotional conflicts of course, because it’s still character driven, but there’s much more room for a good row followed by hot make up sex or laugh out loud funny one liner’s to avoid a moment going all heavy with angst. What gives them the elements of an emotional ‘roller coaster’ will be the getting closer, then for some reason stepping back, the anger then dissipated by laughter, the ‘almost there’ and then for some reason torn apart again…the sex bringing them closer but then complicating things so that they step back yet again to regroup… Highs and lows… Ups and downs (in more that one way!!!) – but a roller coaster nevertheless…

Let’s use White-Hot! (being released in the US as The Firefighter’s Chosen Bride this August) for a couple of examples:

Showing Humor:
Babe. He kept calling her babe, didn’t he? Somewhere in her addled brain she allowed the endearment to slip through where it rattled around in her skull for a while and then seeped down into her chest. She’d have paid good money to hear him call her in that tone before.

It was an awful shame it had taken her house to burn down for him to use it, on her. He never had trouble using the word on any other female on the island they called home. Finn knew. It was a throwaway word for him, thrown mostly at skinny blondes with skirts so short they probably had permanent kidney infections, as it happened.”

And Emotion:
“Green eyes locked with blue. Finn was angry. So, so angry. He’d just given her all the proof she needed that she was right not to get any more involved with him. But he’d also just shown her that she already cared what happened to him, that, no matter how she tried avoiding him, he was already entangled in her life.
And the fact that the one thing was so conflicted with the other made her mad. Mad at him. Mad that he had made her cry in front of him so that he knew she cared without her even having to say so out loud.”


So Part Nine Of The Workshop is to look where you can inject a little humour into your work, or a smile, an affectionate glance, a bubble of happiness and then balance it with the emotional aspects. It may be that the characters will naturally ‘soften’ as the story progresses, they get to know each other better, have their pre-conceptions of each other challenged – and that will therefore allow more room for them to relax in each others company and a lighter moment to automatically appear. The rollercoaster is that ebb and flow along the path to happily ever after. And it should feel natural. If a hero is stern and intractable, then a light hearted moment that shows a glimmer of humour in his eyes is going to show us that there’s more to this guy than he gives away! If a heroine laughs when she really doesn’t want to then we can see she softening towards this guy a little despite her convictions!

But just when we see these two getting somewhere – we throw something into the mix to still hold them apart… And so the story continues…

Any questions then ask away and next time, unless you specifically request we cover something else… we’ll move onto Part Ten Of The Workshop which covers A Book of Three Parts… My personal theories on pacing…

Links to all the workshop Blogs can be found on the Writing Tips page of my Website.

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