Back when I was an undergrad (and humans had just learned how to work the sundial), I didn’t dance on a slow song at dorm or frat parties with just anyone. The dude had to meet at least a couple of the following criteria:
(2) Someone with whom I’d made significant eye contact during the evening (and by significant, I mean 15 seconds)
(4) Three Greek letters on his T-shirt (or at least be the leader of his own fake fraternity)
(5) Enrollment at the school
(7) Cigarette-less. I didn’t care if he smoked. Just put it down for five minutes, please, wouldja?
(8) Someone I thought was cool
Ah, those were the days when my shallowness was at its height. (I can’t say I’m very deep these days.) But the selection criteria often depended on the song. If it was a favorite, I was not so choosy about my companion in the dance. Getting to dance was all that mattered.
A dance comes to mind as I contemplate the relationship between the heroine of my novel and a would-be love interest who also is a point of view character.
Dance is the metaphor often used for two people moving toward love. So I appreciate authors who incorporate relationship-building dance sequences in their works. Take Jane Austen. I can’t help thinking of her, because Professor VJ Duke mentioned Pride & Prejudice on his blog recently. (Waves to the Professor.)
In Pride and Prejudice—and I’m thinking not just of the book, but of the 2005 film adaptation starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen—dance is not only an opportunity for social commentary, it is a declaration of war.
If you’ve seen that movie, cast your mind back to the scene at Mr. Bingley’s mansion. Mr. Darcy (Macfadyen) has asked Elizabeth Bennet (Knightley) to dance. But this isn’t just a dance—it’s a battle. She’s thinking of how much she dislikes him, but can’t snub him—an act of social suicide. He’s thinking of why he shouldn’t like her. After the opening salvo, their conversation is polite but barbed—a thorny rose. The tension continues as each retreats to his or her side. I love this dance, because during that sequence the others in the scene fade away, leaving just Darcy and Lizzie. Neither looks happy, because neither will give in.
Ah, I love that stuff, though some might judge such a scene as too subtle. But I love the slow build toward romance—a delicate pas de deux. I tend to lose interest in stories where the love is as instant as oatmeal. I’m not debating an author’s right to go there. However, if I already know true love is in the room the moment a pair of eyes meet another, I’m outta there.
I’m not talking about chemistry. You can be attracted to someone in an instant. But in a novel, I like roadblocks. And since my novel is not a romance but contains romantic elements, I can throw all the roadblocks I want into the mix as long as they fit the plot. But I have criteria for the roadblocks standing in the way of true love.
I started to write Just kidding as if I were referring back to my earlier dance criteria. But as I think about it, hotness is an issue. If I write about someone who is conventionally hot (and my hero and heroine actually fit this convention, contrary to another novel I wrote), looks will not be the golden ticket that gains him or her his/her desires. Sorry. I’m quirky that way. This is not to say that I dislike books where the hero and heroine are both hot. On the contrary, I’ve loved many books with this feature. But what’s huge for me in this book is to show what lies below the surface. So physical attraction is something my characters seriously wrestle against.
The tension between Person A and Person B must go beyond the tiff that a five-minute conversation can solve if only they would stop glaring at each other. There has to be a fundamental reason why Person B is the last person on earth (or at least the semi-last person) Person A would fall for. In fact, Person A considers several compelling reasons why Person B might need to be executed for the good of humanity. And I need to keep raising the stakes against their relationship. But there’s a third criterion.
I draw the line at physical or sexual abuse as a step in the dance toward love. Sorry, but that’s my preference as an author and a reader. I’m not talking about the physicality of a battle-trained hero and heroine engaged in a battle to defend himself or herself or because he/she follows a commanding officer’s orders. Books about warriors need battles. If both are warriors, they know the stakes. I’m talking about books where the misunderstood bad boy shoves or punches the heroine or a rape occurs, but they fall in love within the space of 100—200 pages. I’m old school, so please don’t write me and complain if your book fits this description. I’m talking about my preferences here. Physical abuse or rape is a hurdle I’ve never been able to jump over as a reader and I refuse to try as an author. I’m of the belief that rape is not a crime of passion, but a crime, as is physical abuse. Sorry. Won’t go there.
I’m getting off my soapbox now and will return to my slow sizzle story. And now you can tell me what criteria you have if you include romance in your book. What books with romance do you love as a reader?
Knightley and Macfadyen dancing photo from kootation.com. Pride and Prejudice movie poster from Wikipedia. Instant oatmeal photo from talkhealthytome.com. Couple slow dancing from gograph.com.