Writing a sweet, romantic moment is probably one of the hardest things to do in fiction. Seriously. I can’t claim to excel at that kind of scene, and that’s why in my novels love stories take a bit of a backseat and become subplots (excepting perhaps “The Magic Council.” But I consider that one even more of a coming of age tale than an out-and-out love story.)
However, I have recognized through some failed “sweet” (read “sickly sweet”) romantic moments I tried to write in my unpublished novels that when my tender moments go wrong, it tends to be for one of a limited set of reasons. I’d like to share those just for reference and to ask if you’ve found this same thing happening in your writing.
When romance feels off, somehow in my writing:
- Things are too cliche.
We’re talking knight in shining armor, “You had me from hello,” “Not only would I die for you: I just did!” kind of cliche. It’s not only trite, though that’s a major concern. Such moments also tend to be:
- Way, way overdone. It’s just too much.
A moment that’s meant to be sweet doesn’t have to be cliche to be overkill. Maybe things are just too perfect. Or too melodramatic. Maybe a character overacts to a small gesture of affection.
Or maybe the balance of a relationship subplot is out of whack with the rest of your story (assuming your genre isn’t romance.) Maybe the scene is just too bloated and needs to be cut down… Whatever the case, too much is too much. Personally, I prefer to err on the side of too little and TRY to do that, if err I must.
- Tone is off
What do I mean by that? I’m talking about when I can tell that my scene reads as though I’m trying too hard. Rather than coming across as natural and sweet and romantic, a passage reads as though I’m TRYING to write something romantic. This is one effect cliches can have.
- Too much focus on romance
I find that the best romantic scenes I’ve written are scenes where romance is kind of side effect. It’s not the focus. It’s not the main point. It’s more of a byproduct of someone naturally responding to a situation, or trying to do something kind for someone else.
Maybe the main point of the scene is encouragement. Or consolation. Maybe it’s try to help someone recognize his or her worth.
Maybe the main goal is facing one’s fears, or escaping with one’s life from a real and present danger. Whatever the case, I find that my scenes (and my characters) are most romantic when they have no real thought about whether they’re being romantic. When they’re just doing something they feel needs to be done.
And isn’t that how the best romance works in real life? I think it so. I’ve never felt it’s romantic to try too hard and fall into cliches. It’s not truly romantic to be OBVIOUSLY striving to hit a romantic chord. What’s romantic is being romantic without meaning to be. Perhaps without even knowing that’s what happening.
So, what ruins a romantic moment in a book for you as a reader? What do you find romantic and sweet without going over the top? Do you struggle with this as much as I do as writer, finding that balance to strike the right chord?
Victoria Grefer is the author the Herezoth trilogy, which begins with “The Crimson League” and has new editions coming out this Fall. She also has a writer’s handbook out, titled “Writing for You: A Novelist’s Guide to the Craft of Fiction.”
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