It’s February ~ that romantic month where the post-holiday lethargy of January bleeds away, our thoughts turn to romance, and our souls draw on the keen edge of anticipation for the dawn of spring, and all itâ€™s re-birthing glory.
A vibrant month, in which many couples take the time to celebrate being in love, whether for six months, or six decades. Some couples will share the fresh excitement of a new engagement, or the rekindling of an old flame. Retail stores are leaden with chocolate hearts, red rose flower arrangements, and greeting cards that cost more than a three hundred page e-book! Yes indeed, it is a ripe month for the romance reader, and with all the wonderful offerings out there to satisfy most any appetite, the reader will be in romance heaven.
With this romance phenomena firmly in mind, I recently reread Son Of The Morning by Linda Howard and got to thinking…what is itÂ that drags me into a story and keeps me there, a willing hostage, till the very end? And by the same token, what makes certain characters burrow into my sub conscious only to pop up at the most inane times, when Iâ€™m far away from the comfort of my reading chair?
Simply this ~ Romantic Tension
Of course for those of us who write romance, even if it is only a subplot for a mystery, thriller, fantasy, erotic romance, horror, sci-fi, or a young adult story, it is NOT that simple. Creating and building romantic tension that has staying power throughout an entire story takes skill, and trying to improve upon that skill is what we romance authors do. And…it’s up to you readers out there to let us know how we’re doing!
Character Layering ~ Building Depth
Just describing protag A is attracted to protag B, then throwing them into bed together doesn’t do it for me, nor does it do it for most readers. Several years ago I started reading a romance in which there were a brief couple of scenes explaining the female characterâ€™s dream connection with a man sheâ€™s never met. All too quickly she pursues the manâ€™s whereabouts, and at their first meeting, the author, instead of drawing the tension out, has them kiss immediately. Unfortunately the story fell flat for me at that point. I was disappointed because the kiss was premature, and I felt absolutely nothing for the male lead, because I didnâ€™t even know him yet.
InÂ Son Of The Morning, the heroine is forced on the run after witnessing the murder of her husband and his colleague, but Ms. Howard doesnâ€™t gloss over this aspect of the story in order to rush to the good stuff, instead she delves into the specifics and grit of what it might really be like to ‘go to ground’ in this day and age, and she expertly conveys through her writing all the terrifying feelings of being hunted by a relentless villain, thus adding rich depth to the character of the female lead. The male character, who is from a different century, is fleshed out relative to the dangerous and brutal times he lives in, and by the time Ms. Howard gets through rendering her hero, the reader is thoroughly engaged in both the protagonistâ€™s lives, and even though they have yet to meet, the anticipation of that meeting has already been solidly established.
Conflict ~ Canâ€™t live, or write without it.
Adding to the heroineâ€™s character development is the conflicted guilt she feels regarding her increasing fascination (and growing attraction) with the mysterious man from centuries past, while she is still mourning the violent death of her husband in the present. In contrast, the male lead, by circumstance and duty, is isolated and resigned to the fact that he will spend his remaining years alone. However, when a strange woman begins to haunt his dreams, and on occasion, he feels just a whisper or shadow of her presence, itâ€™s in those scenes that the tension is significantly ramped up between the two characters.
Time ~ Pacing ~ It takes time for attraction to grow.
All of the above spans over months for our heroine, yet the story is crafted and paced in such a way that you are pulled in, rooting for both the protagonists all the way. Never tiring of the wait for the two to meet, because Ms. Howard tells the story in a logical time progression, all the while weavingÂ every other facet throughout, thus steadily building the romantic tension.
Subplots and Supporting Characters ~ Add richness to the story.
Mystery, Treasure, Time travel, Secret Societies, History: all these elements add a delicious richness to Son Of The Morning. And while it is important to keep your two protagonists at the center of the story, I find the addition of interesting supporting characters makes a story more satisfying over all, and there isnâ€™t a shortage of these in Ms. Howardâ€™s novel, from the endearing teenage computer wizard, to the street wise female friend of the heroine, to the brooding hired assassin.
Putting it all together ~ And the two shall finally meet.
Though it isnâ€™t until the last third of the story that the two characters finally meet (in the the flesh) the romantic tension which has been woven and built from the beginning, is so well done, the reader is almost desperate to have the two meet. And let me tell you, it is by no means anticlimactic:)
Of course Linda Howard is just one of many authors out there that can craft romantic tension to such a fine degree. One of the very first romantic suspense novels I ever read, remains to this day, my all time favorite novel in the genre: A Thin Dark Line, by Tami Hoag.
The conflict and escalating romantic tension between the two main characters in this story might be hard to beat, and I havenâ€™t read anything yet to compare. A bold statement I hear you say, but here is the key. Ms. Hoag sets these two protagonists up to make it unlikely they can ever be together. Add to that the external conflict she builds up around the couple, and the tension abounds.
Hereâ€™s the rundown: A tough detective with a dark haunted past knows a suspect thatâ€™s about to walk on a technicality is guilty, the detective has seen too much, and when he loses his cool and assaults the suspect, a younger, less experienced, female sheriffâ€™s deputy, stops him mid assault and arrests him. Throw in some good ole boy mentality and rising resentment within the department, in response to her actions, and this young deputy finds herself the target of harassment and blackballing, while still trying to do her job.
Other examples of conflict between couples in Romance…
~The couple have a history together, but something devastating happens in the past to pull them apart. Then fate throws them together again.
~ A protagonist canâ€™t get over a person from their past, canâ€™t allow themselves to move on, or forward.
~ The protagonists canâ€™t stand each other based on false information, or misinformation.
~ The two protagonists are working opposing sides (competing companies)
~ There are physical limitations (human vs. vampire)
~ A protagonist mentors someone lesser in their eyes, but begins to have feelings for that person (Pygmalion, My Fair Lady)
~ The two protagonists come from different cultural or religious beliefs, or from different time periods.
~ A protagonist is comfortable in their current life style.
~ A protagonist betrays another.
Now I could go on and on, but you get the idea that conflict can go a long way in increasing romantic tension in a novel.
In my paranormal romance novel The Jaguar Sun, the protagonist (Aiden Pierce) is a senior prosecuting attorney for King County, in Seattle. The conflict arises when his friend and mentor, the Chief Prosecuting Attorney, is found murdered in his home, and the person of interest and last person to see the deceased, is a woman, who not only owns a discreet high-end escort service, but was having an affair with Aiden’s mentor. The trouble is, Aiden wants nothing to do with this woman, who maddeningly stirs up all sorts of natural and supernatural desires within him.Â Violaâ€™ conflict!
A word about touch, sensation and internal thoughts: Romantic tension can be heightened by using mere words, incorporating the senses, and or voicing those internal thoughts that a character wouldnâ€™t otherwise say out loud. Here are a few examples off the cuff:
~A whispery heat shimmered through her belly at his gaze.
~The gentle pressure of his hand upon her hip sent a flutter of tingling up her back.
~ Was it her imagination, the coldness in his stare.
~ Mist coiled around her, tightening her nipples and dewing her skin.
~ If he couldnâ€™t touch her, brush his lips over her pale shoulder, taste her soon, heâ€™d be forced to take matters into his own hands:)
Last, but not least and just for fun, here are just some of my favorite movies in which all these things weâ€™ve just talked about, have been translated onto the screen.
A Star is Born
An Officer and a Gentleman
Shakespeare In Love
As Good As It Gets
Sleepless In Seattle
Heaven Can Wait
You’ve Got Mail
Thomas Crown Affair
Now!Â I would love to hear about your all time favorite romantic read, and what was special about the romantic tension that drew you in and held you hostage!
**P. S. The Â giveaway is optional, so if you would like to be entered into the basket to win an e-book copy of The Jaguar Sun, just leave your email addy in comment box!
Cheers, and Happy February!
- About the Author
- Posts in the Past
S.Durham is a native Oregonian who currently lives in the Portland,
Metropolitan Area with her husband, three children, an independent cat
named Lucy, and (the newest addition)…Henry, a toy Maltese with
boundless energy. Ocean beaches, mountain forests, and every other
facet of the beautiful Pacific Northwest is a rich mine of inspiration
that feeds Ms.Durhamâ€™s fertile imagination. She is thrilled to
announce the sequel to The Lycan Moon, THE JAGUAR SUN (2nd in The Wild
Magick series), was released December 2012. Currently S. Durham is starting the
3rd installment of The Wild Magick series as well as finishing her forth novel, a departure from witches, werewolves, jaguars, angels and demons…