From my podcast today, Where's The Spark. The script is below, but you can take a listen here: A Writers Life Podcast, Season 2 Episode 5 Where's The Spark?
Hello, and welcome to today’s episode of A Writer’s Life. I’m your host, Dana Wayne. Today, we’re discussing Where’s The Spark? For a romance author, the spark is integral to the story, so for purposes of today’s discussion, I’m speaking specifically about romance writing, though you can probably apply this to any genre that has a romantic subplot.
I got the idea for this topic during a recent discussion about romance in general with another author and he asked me how I knew when to add in the love scenes in my books.
That brought up the story about my first book, Secrets of The Heart.
I’d read a lot of stuff about how to write a romance novel, but this was my first attempt at one and needed to know if I was on the right track or not. When it was completed in 2016, I sent sample chapters to a couple of different editors looking for someone willing to edit it for me since I was green as a gourd and needed/wanted help. If you don’t know, most editors will sample chapters to see if they think they can work with you. Anyway, both editors I contacted told me right quick my book would never make it as a romance because the main characters weren’t having sex by the third chapter. That floored me. When I told them I couldn’t add that before the time was right for my characters and the story, they both said, add the sex and I’ll be happy to work with you. That’s when I found out about formula romance. A lot of people like it, but I don’t. I firmly believe every story, every character is different; thus the pace, degree and timing of intimacy will be different.
Needless to say, I didn’t use either of those editors. I did find someone later on who understood my vision and was willing to work with me, but she gave me some great advice that I want to pass on to you. The sexual or sensual tension between your main characters is everything. They don’t have to jump in the sack by the third chapter, unless that’s that you and the story want to happen, but they DO need that spark. Your readers want and need that emotional connection from the start.
As a general rule, things progress quickly in a romance, and mine are no exception. But every story is different. However, one thing is a given: they must like or be attracted to each other, whether that attraction is wanted or not, from the beginning so the reader can start rooting for them to get together.
And that’s where the spark comes in.
There are hundreds of tropes out there and more are added all the time. Friends-to-lovers, Fake-Relationship, Stuck-together, Enemies to lovers. The list goes on and on.
And that trope is also important in deciding when/where/how the spark is ignited between your characters.
Secrets main trope is Fake-Relationship and Unwanted-attraction. But there are several others as well. Second Chances, Widow, Single parent, all of which play into the story. Our heroine Tori is a hospice nurse from Houston, a widow who is trying to get her life back. Her family and friends are smothering her, so she takes a job in Montana as an in-home hospice nurse – without telling anyone until the day before she leaves. Anyway, when she arrives, she discovers a series of unexpected events have occurred and, if she takes the job, she must pretend to be the fiancé of her handsome boss for the sake of her terminally patient, his mother.
Neither is happy about the change in plans. Not only are they not looking for a relationship, they dislike being dishonest. Against their better judgment, they decide to try and pull it off for the sake of Wade’s mother.
BUT – they are total strangers. Putting them in bed by chapter three is not realistic. Yeah, I know stuff like that happens, but not in my stories.
So…how do I add that spark between two relationship-shy people? How do I get the reader emotionally invested in this convoluted situation and make them believe a happily-ever-after will happen by ‘the end’?
Because it’s a romance, we know the HEA is a given, but I needed to build the foundation, to set up the journey toward that end.
They don’t even meet in person until Chapter Three, so I show the attraction, albeit unwanted, through their reactions to phone calls and photographs they share with each other. Because I write dual POV, by the time they do meet in person, the reader knows they are in for an adventure because Wade just found out about the fiancé part and has to tell Tori about it.
He really wants her to play the part for the sake of his mother, but knows it’s asking a lot. Tori married the only man she ever dated, so thoughts of being intimate, even on a small scale with someone one, scares her. All of that needed to be revealed early so the reader became emotionally involved right away. And it’s the little things that accomplished that in the first three chapters.
The scene in the hotel where he tells her what’s transpired, offers another glimpse into each of their thoughts as they process the situation. It’s written to give the reader bits and pieces of their past and how they feel about the present. And I really love the part where he talks about his mother and how much he wants to make her happy.
In the end, they had to make the decision to proceed with the ruse together. After that, there are a couple of scenes where they are put together is a somewhat intimate manner without it being well, intimate. I show the connection and the ambivalence each feels about it.
Finally, I have them interact as a couple when Tori meets his mother for the first time. All of this forms a tenuous link between them. They aren’t in bed by Chapter Three, but they do form a friendship of sorts, albeit a strained one.
Still – it needs a little more. So…I give them a kiss, but not just any kiss. It happens when Wade tells her they need a test kiss. It’s an impromptu idea that surprises them both, but it effectively establishes that they are indeed physically attracted to one another. Every encounter after that, builds on that sensual tension until it culminates in intimacy.
Having them jump into the sack from the beginning wouldn’t work, it would be sex for the sake of sex. And that’s not what romance is – at least to me. Romance is about emotion, not sex. Yes, it leads to that, but that’s not important. What’s important is two people getting to know each other, the good, bad and ugly parts, and deciding they love them anyway.
Once you establish a link between your characters, it’s much easier to build on the relationship going forward. And, like I said before, I write duel POV so we know their innermost feelings long before they are revealed to the other person.
The spark is integral to a romance novel, and I believe you can have it without them get naked. It can be instant like Coop and Sam in Whispers On The Wind or slow and unexpected like Wade and Tori. How much or how little is up to you and the story. However you decide to do it, make it fit. Make it right. Don’t short-change your characters or your readers. Build up to the intimacy and make it worth the wait.
Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for a short except from my latest work, Unveiling Beulah, a western historical romance set in 1879 Texas, released a couple of months ago. The two main characters are Luc and Bea, both in their 30’s and never married, though both went through a broken engagement.
Luc stepped off the porch.
“I…um…I plan to try and move in this weekend.” Bea hesitated, unsure how to proceed.
“Would you like some help?”
“Maybe. Probably. Um…I thought…I might.” Flustered, she closed her eyes and tried again. “I will be at the restaurant around eight tonight. I would not object to company.”
His intense gaze shifted from her eyes to her lips, and a slow, seductive smile tugged up the corners of his mouth. “I never turn down an opportunity to dine with a beautiful woman.” He bowed at the waist and turned toward the gate. Two steps later, he stopped and looked back, his face unreadable. “That was a good thing you did for Daisy.”
Luc waited five minutes before he entered The Yellow Rose after Bea and spotted her right away. Four long strides took him to the table they shared before. She looked up at his approach, cheeks a lovely shade of pink.
Back stiff, she kept her hands in her lap. “Please,” she said, her voice a bit shaky, “Sit down.”
She shifted in her seat and cleared her throat, eyes darting all around the restaurant. Finally, her gaze connected with his, and one hand fingered the napkin in front of her. The color on her cheeks deepened, and she looked away.
Some women can fake that kind of coyness, but he knew she did not. “You look lovely this evening, mon ami,” he said softly.
Her fingers pulled on the napkin. “Thank you…Luc.”
Miss Vi arrived with two cups of coffee. “Saw y’all come in and knew you’d want this.” Hands resting on her hips, she looked between them. “You folks wanna order now or chat first?” “Thank you.” He looked at Bea. “I think we would like to drink our coffee first if you don’t mind.”
“I’ll check back in a bit. We got venison steak with potatoes and green beans tonight.”
Bea picked up her cup, cradling it between trembling hands. “Thank you for the fire in the fireplace. It made working at home more comfortable.”
“Glad I could help. I noticed you got some work done already.”
Stiff at first, Bea eventually relaxed enough that her smiles reached those alluring eyes. She talked freely about her day, surprised and honored when several townspeople brought gifts and things for the house.
“I now have a couch and a chair for the living room,” she said happily, “and a small table to sit beside the bed. I still have things coming from New York, but I don’t have to wait to move in. And Lizzy gave me the most beautiful curtains for my bedroom.”
At the mention of her bedroom, an immediate flush stained her cheeks, and her gaze drifted downward.
Does your mind see what mine does, Chère?
She regained her composure and continued discussing plans for the house.
Her contagious enthusiasm elicited a smile in return even as he wondered about it. He knew the family was wealthy and lived in a stately mansion. Why would this place make her happy?
Belle told him that once Bea enjoyed a sizeable inheritance. So, why was she so willing to live in a small frame house with hand-me-down furniture?
“I still can’t believe how nice everyone is,” she said, shaking her head in wonder. “I mean, to just bring me things for the house.” She sat back in her chair. Voice lowered, one hand fingered the gold locket around her neck, and awe transformed her face. “I don’t know why they did it. I know they’re not big or expensive things, Luc, but they mean the world to me.”
She looked at him with honest, open eyes, and something turned over inside. Never had he expected to find such a jewel in this place.
“Why would they do that?” she asked, her soft voice filled with surprise. “For a stranger?”
He thought it odd someone of her upbringing would find such examples of kindness unusual. “We are a small town, Chère. And you are now a part of it. We look out for each other and help where we can.”
The glow of her smile warmed him from across the table.
Vi walked by, and they ordered supper. The remainder of the meal passed in casual conversation, neither getting off into personal topics.
Dessert was warm apple pie, and they ate with relish.
“I can cook,” said Bea as she forked up the last bite, “but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make a pie this good.” She dabbed the edges of her mouth with a napkin then took another drink of coffee.
The action drew his gaze to plump, strawberry-colored lips, still moist from her drink. She has no idea how beautiful she is. “So, when do you plan on moving in?”
“Saturday. If I work a little each night this week, I’ll have all my things put away, get the pantry stocked from the store, and be ready to move. I could probably go before then, but if I wait until Saturday, I can sleep in on Sunday.”
The small talk continued until they were the only two people seated in the dining room.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d enjoyed the company of a woman so much. She was unpretentious, open, and honest, with a keen sense of humor, and didn’t mind laughing at herself.
When she barely covered a second yawn, he knew the evening must end. He pushed his cup aside. “You have had a busy day, Miss Lockhart, and I have selfishly kept you too long.”
“Bea,” she said hurriedly, “my friends call me Bea.”
It pleased him she would allow this degree of familiarity, and he smiled in response. “Bea…I have enjoyed our evening immensely. And I hope to have the pleasure of your company again. Soon.”
The blush returned to her cheeks. “I’d like that, too.”
He stood and held her chair as she joined him. The subtle fragrance of roses touched his nose as they walked toward the hotel. At the foot of the stairs, she turned and graced him with a smile.
“I seem to be saying this a lot today, but thank you, Luc, for…this evening. For everything.”
He allowed his gaze to drift from her eyes to her lips. “It is nothing, Chère.”
A quick intake of breath said she noticed his bold move. But she did not object.
“Maybe to you. But to me, well, it made today special.”
He doubted she realized how sensual her quivering voice sounded. When he looked up to find her staring at his mouth, a sudden flash of desire swept through him. And with it came a powerful urge to see if her lips tasted like apple pie or coffee.
Thank you for joining me here today. I hope you enjoyed the show and learned something useful in the process. As always, if you have a topic you’d like me to cover, just drop a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and mention podcast idea in the subject line.
All of my books are available at your favorite online retailer in both print and eBook formats. You can also order signed copies through my website, danawayne.com and be sure to follow me on social media, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Thanks again for listening. Until next