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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Adjusting the Thermostat for Romance Part 1: When First We Met

Creating the potential for romantic interest right off the bat is essential. Let's face it, if your readers found your book in the section headed ROMANCE, they have certain expectations. That doesn't mean smooth sailing for your heroine and your hero. In fact, readers would be largely disappointed if they found that final proclamation of love came too easily. That being said, your starring couple need to either spark or spar fairly early in the story.

When I wrote my first play, Welcome to Joe's, Joe and Jane (there was a reason for their names, trust me) met very early in Act I. When Jane entered Joe's she was just one of the clamoring coffee crowd. The audience couldn't spot anything unique about her to single her out as the love interest until she placed her order. To this point in the story Joe had revealed quite a bit about himself in the opening monologue, so when Jane ordered a plain cup of coffee the audience knew immediately that these two were headed for romance. Because this play was written with a Christian theatre in mind, the natural conflict between them was a matter of faith and, because I'm a sucker for a happy ending and personally motivated to express the message and joy of the Christian faith, that issue was resolved so that romance could bloom.

The same conflict presented in my second play, Related Spaces. Here Renee and Will meet and immediately knock heads. A romantic interest in one another seems unlikely from the start, but the more the two are on stage and the more we hear what each has to say about himself or herself and each other, the more we know they are destined to be together.

Whether your hero and heroine meet on sweet or sour terms, your reader must believe that they will ultimately end up together. Creating the tension in the romance will best be achieved through character development. The best character conflicts stem from the challenge to personal value systems. This is why you have to know your characters well and why it is so necessary to spend time letting your reader get to know them. The little things count: it was important that Joe drank his coffee black; knowing that Renee was raised in a family of strong, forward thinking women was essential to the conflict which was ultimately happily resolved.

A point of departure for me is always letting my characters talk first - at least in draft form. I listen to what they have to say, let them rant a bit on the page and then decide who will be the love interest and how they will first meet. Usually, since I am a career person myself, it is easiest if my hero and heroine meet through contact in the business setting. Joe and Jane met when she came to his shop for coffee; Renee met Will when he came along with a friend to inspect the property she'd purchased; and Patricia and Josh met when. . . well, you'll have to read the the novel to find out. Business settings provide an abundance of fodder for a cornucopia of conflict and ample opportunity to find out what the characters really stand for. Are they philanthropic? Friendly? Hard-workers? Money minded? Strong-willed? Easy to get along with? Problem solvers? Anything that can be a conflict at work can certainly be a conflict at home.

Creating a back story for each of your main characters is so important. How many of you have discovered just how alive your own past really is when it collides with the living past of someone else in your life? We all bring our stuff into relationships and our characters should, too. Back story can easily be revealed through conversations between characters. Think about how you got to know the personal histories of the people in your life. You talked, reminisced, ranted, compared notes. Just make sure that when you put it on paper it is natural and conversational; your readers shouldn't be subjected to a transcript of a therapy session just so they can figure out what makes your characters tick.

Establishing romantic tension early in the story is foundational for a successful romance. The next two parts of the Adjusting the Thermostat for Romance series will deal with degrees of tension.

Happy writing!


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