Last movie watched: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Playing on the iPod right now: No Surprise by Daughtry
Whether you’re writing category romance with a tight, intense relationship, or urban fantasy with sexual encounters, or a sweeping historical, or a fun chick lit romp, what distinguishes a women’s fiction/romance novel is the relationship. Not just the romantic relationship, but all the other character interactions that round out your main characters, and make them like real people with real lives, real worries and real joys.
Let’s talk about the romantic relationship.
How do you show the natural progression of a romantic relationship? How do you know you’re going too fast or too slow? Linda Howard wrote an interesting article called The 12 Steps to Intimacy, which is based on information from Desmond Morris’s books The Naked Ape and Intimate Behavior, about primate culture and interaction.
She contends that there are 12 natural stages to effectively convey intimacy, which are:
1. Eye to Body
2. Eye to Eye
3. Verbal Contact
4. Hand to Hand
5. Arm to Shoulder
6. Arm to Waist
7. Mouth to Mouth
8. Hand to Head
9. Hand to Body
10. Mouth to Breast
11. Hand to Genitals
12. Genitals to Genitals
Think of it this way – if your hero and heroine were complete strangers at the start of your book, and your hero put his hand on her butt without going through all the other steps (and knowing she was interested), then you’d have a big problem.
Even if your hero and heroine have had a prior relationship, you still must show a believable growth in their ‘getting to know each other again’. I instinctively follow a natural progression that, up until now, I haven’t actually thought about 😀 But if I had to write it down, it would go something along these lines:
- first meet (or meet again) – Must be tension/conflict. Definitely physical awareness and/or interest
- introspection – either convince themselves that they don’t need/want the complication OR that they can keep it purely physical
- first touch – If they start off as opposing forces, here’s where the first seed of doubt is planted. This person is not what the other thought they’d be like OR reinforces their belief that they are the enemy. Certainly there’s not full trust.
- kiss – physical attraction heightened. Major internal conflict.
- introspection – the more they see of the other (either with their own eyes or via other peoples’ actions and reactions) they begin to think maybe this person isn’t all that bad. Denial may often occur here, too.
- physical intimacy – Generally speaking (I read this somewhere in a book… possibly body language expert Allen Pease), women use sex to become emotionally closer to men. Men use emotion to get sex 😀 So (I’m not saying all the time, and it really will depend on your type of story), women tend to anguish more after the love scene than men. But then again, maybe not 😀
- emotional distance – things become too much because like it or not, they are emotionally and physically involved, effectively challenging each others’ core belief/s and invading their Ordinary World. They’ll probably be thinking “why can’t things be like they were before I met this person?”
- emotional commitment – one or the other commits in their mind, although they may not say the “I love you”s. This means their distrust/dislike that started in Chapter 1 has now been completely overcome. At this stage, they may decide to sacrifice themselves (either emotionally or physically) for the other person’s happiness.
- verbal commitment/HEA – The “I love you” moment, wrapping the story up with that ‘ahhhhh!’ feeling. This isn’t a scene you should skimp on, nor is it one that should go on and on and on.
This one involves a character’s friends, work colleagues, family or sex partners (not involving a HEA). Whatever you write, it’s important to remember that they should enhance but not dominate the main character’s growth. Some women’s fiction gives equal time to many characters over the course of the story, and that’s fine. I love those stories! But I’ve also noticed that if a scene or chapter starts in one person’s VP, the author will put that character centre stage and keep them there.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips is so very skilled at running secondary relationships throughout the major hero/heroine’s journey (see Nobody’s Baby But Mine). And she has often said that to get it right, she will remove the scenes that involve those secondary characters and read just those, to ensure the growth is on track. Then she does the same with the main relationship.