Writing About LOVE—Ditch the Cliches & Turn Up the Heat in Your Romance
Today, we have Alex Limberg guest posting with us once again. I’d already recruited Alex to do some guest posts for me because I just love his wit and style and he’s being a huge help because yes, I am seriously sick. I’m pretty sure Hubby tried to assassinate me with Ebola and make it look like “the flu”. I think I have Swine flu…NO! LAMB FLU!
I see a rainbow bridge and a light! No! I can’t go to the light! Not yet, Grandma! I am doing NaNoWriMo and I and on par for word count!
Actually, I don’t know if my husband is really trying to kill me, I think the Mucinex is making me paranoid. I called the White House though and told them that Lincoln totally shot first and that if the Secret Service would just return my probiotic gummy bears I will stop ordering pizza delivery.
Anyway…of course what else would you think about when you are dying from the flu? Duh. Love scenes! Hellooo?
I totally just lied about that.
But Alex wrote this really freaking amazing post and I’m glad about that because I was born and raised in the bible belt, which means I can only write love scenes in my books when all of my family is dead. That and in Texas, romance involves a gun show or ammo sale.
To mix things up a bit, Alex is assisting me through the holiday season. His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you with creating intriguing novels and shorts. And this time, he is here to melt your hearts and minds with a fresh outlook at romance in fiction. Please cheer for him once again!
Texans *rolls eyes*. If you are a gal, let me ask you one question about romance.
Imagine a guy is courting you. Which one of the following two scenarios do you find more romantic?
- He composes a minnesong for you and plays it on his mandolin under your window
- He invites you to the movies and to dinner
Take a moment to post your answer in the comments below. I’m not going to pompously prescribe you a “correct” answer, but instead have a second question for you (this post is getting worse than “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” right?).
Tell me, what do you think about the following love scene:
Heavy rain was pattering down on the streets.
“Wait, wait,” he suddenly shouted from behind, running after her. “You forgot something…”
Under her umbrella, she turned around surprised, with an expectant look on her face: “What is it?”
Panting he stood before her: “You forgot to give me a chance to tell you that I love you. More than I have ever imagined that I could love someone!”
“Oh, Mike!” She fell round his neck. Suddenly teardrops were mixing with the pouring rain: “I promise to love you forever, every single day of eternity.” She sighed. “Being with you is… like magic.”
They kissed passionately under the open sky, lost in a bubble of time and space, not even noticing the heavy waterfalls pouring down on them and getting them soaking wet.
Did this scene touch you deeply? Did it really get to you?
To me, it did nothing.
What you just read is a pile of cliches we have seen a thousand times before, all pressed into one single scene. I just fed you a learned code instead of serving you fresh fiction; yes, I force-fed you a learned code like traffic signals or like the bell that trained Pavlov’s dogs. The signals above are intended to get you salivating romantically… ring, ring!
Cliched setting? Check (“Heavy rain was pattering down on the streets.”)
Cliched expressions? Check (“I promise to love you forever, every single day of eternity”)
Cliched feelings? Check (“…I love you. More than I have ever imagined that I could love someone”)
Cliched comparisons and similes? Check (“Being with you is… like magic.”)
In short, the snippet above contains too many cliches and relies way too much on what the author thinks romance should be.
Fiction needs to speak truth, it needs to be raw and bold and unconditional, it has to touch our inner beings– like love. It should’t be a preformed template.
Here is the problem though: No feeling in fiction is harder to convey than love. That’s because being in love is a feeling that escapes any description– it’s too exciting; too strange; too magnetic; too rare. Pain, joy, disappointment, anxiousness are all easier to describe than love. They are more one-dimensional, more common and most of the time not as overwhelming as love.
Because love is so difficult to describe, many writers circle around it. Instead of taking a shot at painting the feeling itself for you, they give you placeholders you recognize from movies: “Ah, they are saying they will love each other forever! That’s how it works in romance novels, so that must mean it’s real love.”
So how can you do it better?
This post aims to show you a couple of ways to craft more authentic love scenes, drawing from deep inside. Also, because I know stereotypes can be hard to detect, you can find a free, downloadable goodie here to help you check your story for cliches and any other imaginable problem (it uses test questions).
Let’s take a look at refreshing ways to craft love scenes.
1. Use Commonalities
There is one thing all romances share in real life, and that’s definitely not a cliche: It’s the lovers’ commonalities.
The type of these commonalities might be completely different from romance to romance: One couple could be very similar in character, but very different in lifestyle; another one could have the same hobbies, but sport very divergent world views.
Common features and differences are what makes romance exciting; use the tension between the opposites and the attraction of the same to craft an emotional rhythm in your scene– or maybe it’s the tension between the same and the attraction of the opposites…?
One great ingredient of a love scene is two people “discovering” each other. Discovering commonalities is an exciting process and often lets love grow, so play with it. Let them be like magnets: Repelling when approaching each other from the wrong side, but attracting each other strongly when approaching from the right side.
2. Less Is Often More
The finest notes in good love scenes are often spoken without words, or they are articulated in a delayed or shortened way. It’s because we are operating on emotionally delicate ground: A lot of desires, reservations, suspicions and fears play into our notion of romance.
Don’t just let your characters plainly say what they are about! This rule holds true for all dialogues, but the difference in a love scene is that you have very believable reasons to not let your figures talk, be it awkwardness or reservation. Operate with unspoken words, silence, a sentence much too short at the right time.
You can let body language speak for itself.
This technique should force your reader to read between the lines; to turn on her own imagination, which is the most amazing thing you can do for her: Let your reader watch her very own movie.
Here is a quick example:
“Sometimes I feel like there is nobody to turn to,” Joe said. “Like… like the world is an empty place. Do you know what I mean?”
Scarlet just stared at her shoes.
“Nobody,” he said.
3. Draw from Your Very Private Experiences
Draw from your private treasure trove of experience instead of from experiences movies and TV shows have pre-canned for you.
Don’t commit the error we were just talking about and sidestep the challenge. Don’t fall back on cliches because you feel like you don’t have the ability to describe something on your own terms, following your own laws.
In other words: Risk something!
Anger, hurt, attraction, admiration, enthusiasm, guilt: Let your characters experience, express and withhold a broad range of emotions, a variety of complex feelings– love is complicated.
Think of all the emotions you could send your characters through. Try to express things the way they felt to you personally when you were there, not in the way you have seen others describe them.
The word “love” is so overused it has become one giant cliche in itself. You can find it everywhere, be it in movies, novels or song lyrics, not to speak of oversized ads or everyday language. So try not to use it. Instead, it makes much more impact to just describe what love does to your characters.
Using your private experiences also means that you will have to get naked and expose bits and pieces of your private feelings for everybody to see.
Luckily, nobody knows which parts stem from you personally and which parts are just made up. And contrary to an actor, you don’t have to pour out your soul directly in front of an audience, but have the laptop screen between you and your readers to protect you.
4. Let Men and Women Talk Differently
There is a big misconception about men and women.
Maybe it’s just a misconception of language, because when somebody says, “Men and women are equal,” this person is only half right: We are equal in value, but not equal in nature.
We don’t feel alike. We don’t act alike. We don’t talk alike.
For example, can you quickly tell if the following phrase likely comes from a man or from a woman?
“Do you think he/she looks better than me?”
How about the following one, man or woman?
“If he does this again, I will teach him some manners!”
You might call this a cliche, but I can’t remember ever overhearing a woman saying the second sentence. I have heard men uttering similar statements though– we just have big egos…
So keep in mind to lend different voices to your guy and your gal. In other words, let the differences between men and women get into your scene and make sure the romance in your story becomes as complicated and as awesome as romance is in real life…
Use the Power of Authenticity
When you write your next love scene, keep these four signposts in mind, and your scene will make a powerful impact and touch your readers deeply; for sure more deeply than a cliched movie and dinner date.
You can see so much phony fiction around, a fresh approach will make you stand out like Johnny Depp amongst a stage full of cheap Elvis impersonators.
Take a risk and indulge in the power of truth– your readers will feel so strongly for your story, they will be ready to dive deeply into it and to love and suffer with you.
Alex Limberg is blogging on Ride the Pen to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing prompts. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.
Hey, it’s Kristen again and now it’s your turn: What are your own secrets for love scenes? Have you found a trick that works really well? Did you ever use a very personal experience in a romantic scene and did it feel awkward to “expose” yourself? Do you love love scenes? Hate them? Are you like me and can’t write love scenes until every living member of your family dies? Gotta love goring up in the bible belt.
Alex is going to be guest posting a few more times, so if there are any other topics you’d like HIM to explore, put them in the comments!
Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.