You possibly recognize that title as a song by Leslie and the Ly’s about zombies. It’s on a playlist in the car so I hear it a few times a week. For the last few days, that song has been an earworm but luckily one I enjoy. Then it hit me.
Great novels shoot right to your brains! Your nerves tingle, your nucleus accumbens twitches with joy, your heart beats faster, and you want to read another book just like that one! The same reaction as when you fall in love or order a lava cake with chocolate caramel ice cream.
Perfect, now we know our objective. But how do we hone our prose so that it has this sharp, penetrating tip? You make your characters believable and sympathetic. Let me give you some examples.
In Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie Bennet receives quite the insult from Darcy, only sheltered by the fact that he apparently does not realize she can hear him. Maybe he doesn’t care if she does hear him. Early in the book, he’s rude and obnoxious. Our sympathy goes to Lizzie because most likely we have been in that situation or heard something later. (I found out that a roommate wanted to kill me because I was so depressed. Sure glad I didn’t know that at the time!) And as Lizzie falls in love with Darcy, sadly after he proposed to her, we begin to see his good side and can excuse his flaws as she does.
Our characters should be real, multidimensional, and have flaws like listening to others when they are talking about them. Plus the character needs to be able to grow. Sometimes to the point of no longer seeking the thing that started the quest of the story.
Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series features two main characters to start who are sympathetic and flawed. Claire’s objective when we first join her beyond the stones is to go back through them to the modern world, her husband, and her life as a nurse. When she finally has the chance to go through, she has changed so much that she no longer wants to leave Jamie and the past.
One of my favorite books is Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale The opening lines were used in a Romance Writers of America class on what grabs a reader. “He liked radical politics and had a fondness for chocolate.” Yes, I’d marry him! But soon, he suffers a medical emergency and loses the power of speech as well as some ability to think clearly. Oh, so sympathetic to him! Luckily for us, he retains his sex drive and when a sweet Quaker woman decides to help him in his recovery, she fights off his advances while fighting for his sanity. The setting is Regency England when medical help could hardly be counted on to improve things. We are all engrossed in these challenges before very long.
A few years back, NPR compiled a list of 100 Swoon-Worth Romances. See how many of these you have read, and then recall why you liked them or why not.
Good advice on writing sympathetic characters in a historical setting that is not very appealing to modern readers.
Finally some rules for Science Fiction and Fantasy novels that might apply to Romance.
Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday