Chemistry 101–Mini Lesson 5

In this concluding installment, I’m going to play the role of the thought police.

It is inevitable that your H/H think about each other.  And they should.  But remember, do not duplicate real life here and write long scenes where nothing goes on except somebody reliving events that had already taken place.  We know what happened already. Move on to the next set of events.

But what about the non-POV character, you ask?  We need to know what the non-POV character’s reaction was to the kiss/screw/crisis.

It’s okay.  Move on with the story, have the hero and the heroine do what they need to do, and then to have them think what happened or think of each other only when triggered.

This does two things.  One, it improves the pacing of your story, always moving it forward.  And remember, pacing matters to chemistry.

Two, it actually heightens the tension.

Remember, we readers of romance read a romance for the relationship.  We are already, a priori, interested in what the hero and the heroine think of each other.  By getting on with the story, by withholding revealing what they think of a kiss, a screw, or each other, you are building that tension.

And when the reveal comes, it is more powerful for having been delayed.  And it is even more powerful for having been triggered.  By this I mean, because your hero and heroine are in conflict, they, or at least one of them, do not want this relationship to go in the direction it is inexorably headed.  They do not want to think about the kiss or the screw or the whatever that happened between them.  They just want to get on with their lives.

And by limiting the amount of verbiage you spend on them thinking about each other, by conveying the fact that they only think of each other when they must, and yet they are still thinking about each other all too much for their comfort, you are heightening the chemistry, you are doing the conflict a service, and you do not waste any forward momentum on just mere thoughts.

[Of course your characters can and should reflect on dramatic events.  The point is to do so judiciously.  It is rare that a book is criticized for the H/H never thinking of each other; but too often romances suffer because there is too much thinking going on.]

The example is from Laura Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star.  We are almost halfway into the book.   There had been flashback scenes from his childhood and adolescence before, but this is the first time we get adult Samuel’s POV, the first time we know what he thinks of Leda–or how he tries not to think of her.

It would not have been so difficult, except for the distraction, the fate that had taken all the floating, chaotic energy of shikijo and fused it on her.  Samuel thought of her with her white shift pulled over her bare legs, drinking tea and arching her feet in a delicate motion like a dancer; he thought of her head bowed, all that shining hair, her hand poised over her notebook and the soft skin of her nape above the demure turned-down collar.  He could not keep his center; he kept falling from the way, losing zanshin, the vigilant unattached mind, and with it years of exercise and discipline.

To combat it, he spent long night hours sitting silently, trying not to want, attempting to shed all conscious desire, and still she crept into his mind like a slow heat.  He sat peacefully, facing a wall, thinking of nothing, and out of nothing the essence of her formed, the image of her brushing out her hair over naked shoulders, the curve of her back, the white roundness of her hips as she bent to step into her skirts.


9 thoughts on “Chemistry 101–Mini Lesson 5”

  1. That is really thought-provoking, and for me, timely advice. I definitely agree that having the character suppress their feelings and postponing revealing these reactions does everything you say it does, and especially build tension — both romantic /sexual tension in the character and suspense-tension in the reader, who will keep turning the pages to find out what the character is thinking and feeling. It’s a very useful device.

    But as good as it is, I think there may be some exceptions. I’m thinking of major turning point scenes where it can be useful to switch from one POV to another and immerse the reader in a character’s reaction to the explosive thing that just took place. You may lose something in terms of pacing at those times but you can gain something in terms of emotional impact on the reader that wham, the story and characters just did a 180. And that can also be a way to hook the reader if you plant the suggestion that there is going to be fallout from those turnarounds.

    I love that Kinsale quote. And reading it, I’m reminded again that there are no substitute for knowing the characters’ hearts and minds. “He could not keep his center; he kept falling from the way, losing zanshin…” Laura Kinsale is showing us how Leda’s presence in his life is hitting Samuel where he lives, upsetting the equilibrium he has spent years striving to attain. It’s masterful writing.

    This has been a really great series of posts on chemistry. So much to think about here.

    • Hi Janine,

      I absolutely agree that we must be in a person’s POV to really know him. What I was saying in the post is that let’s not let two people think about the same things over and over again. Move the story forward, and bringing in thoughts as triggered.

  2. Sherry,

    Did you ever sell your contemporary? Based on the Save the Contemporary Campaign over at DA, I gather it’s a tougher market to break into. I happen to enjoy reading both contemporaries and historicals.

    • Hi Kim,

      It hasn’t made its way past my agent yet. She has lots of suggestions for improvement–a tough critic, my agent. 🙂 And I think she’s right. I so much wrote that one for myself that I constructed the heroine entirely wrong–she is everything I wish I could be and you should never structure a character like that! Now to find time to fix it…

  3. Congratulations on your RITA nomination, Sherry. It must make all the hard work worthwhile. Good luck!!

    • Thank you! It is always a pleasure and a delight to be recognized. And the nomination part is more fun, three months of musing over fashion choices for Ritas. Whereas on Rita night, one stands a 87.5% chance of losing!

  4. seconding Kim – woot, woot on nom! considering all your covers with elaborate gowns, I expect you’ll post a picture of the one you’ll wear to the ceremony….

    • Lol, I still haven’t posted last year’s fab black dress yet. Prolly I’ll wear the white halter-top knee-length dress I was originally going to wear last year. I’m going to bring it, totally. 🙂

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