Writing a Bad Romance


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Back in the day (circa 2000), I knew I wanted to write a novel set in 17th century England and the court of King Charles II. I’d quit my day job in early 1999 with the intent to design websites, provide web content for my website on About.com, and finally, write a novel, the last of which had been my dream for as long as I could remember. I don’t recall how far I got on this first novel-writing project–actually, now that I think about it I did have a fairly complete outline but never went much farther than writing the first chapter. I guess I just wasn’t ready.

That novel was going to be a romance. I had not yet become obsessed with crime fiction, and it never occurred to me I could write a historical that wasn’t a romance (I know, for a writer, I certainly lack imagination). It wasn’t until I read David LissA CONSPIRACY OF PAPER that I realized hey, I can combine these two genres (this is what they call a “duh” moment). It took at least another couple of years for me to finally outline my current project, DIARY OF BEDLAM, but once I started down that path, I never stopped.

Even a good crime story needs some romance, however, and last week I found myself revising a love scene between my main character, Isabel Wilde, and the King. For some reason, I thought this would be easy, because unlike murder and mayhem, I’ve actually experienced some er, romance, in my real life. It turns out it’s difficult to write sex and romance without sounding generic, cheesy, and ridiculous.

When I first started writing so many years ago, my helpful husband bought me a book called the “Romance Writer’s Phrasebook.” At a loss for words, I opened it’s pages to the section on “Sex,” hoping for some inspiration. These are the types of phrases I found:

“His eyes raked boldly over her”
“She replied with complacent buoyancy” (huh? I don’t even know what that means)
“A delicious shudder heated her body”
“His nearness kindled feelings of fire”

Needless to say, I will not be using this particular book as a resource any longer.

Left with only my own imagination as a guide, I continued revising the scene by trying to tap into what I find sexy, which wasn’t so easy because it required me to become vulnerable, to open myself up. The scene is better because of it, but it might be the first time since starting this novel that I felt a little uncomfortable. Sure, I can write about corpses all day long, but when asked to write something real, that had a little bit of me in it, I squirmed.

The scene is finished for now, but it definitely needs another pass, during which I’ll have to go back to that vulnerable place and infuse it with more emotion, conflict, and drama. More importantly, however, I learned something about what’s been missing from my writing in general–myself. Sure, every character has their own filter through which the story is told, but ultimately, if I don’t inject something of what I personally know about human behavior and emotion, the writing will lack heart.

Part of my background is in goldsmithing, a craft which took me over 10 years to learn and I’m nowhere near perfection, and sometimes, not even competence. To me, writing is a craft as well, one that I will spend a lifetime learning and perfecting, like creating an exquisite ring. Writing this love scene was just another lesson learned, and one more step on my path.

Holly West

2 Comments

  1. Love scenes are not easy and I too have turned to that book. The whole phrases don’t help but it does spark the imagination.

  2. “She replied with complacent buoyancy.” WOW! I’m now on a mission to get that into casual conversation.

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