Writing Wrongs

March 27, 2005

So Iím reading Romancing the Blog this morning, and to quote Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally, ďYes, yes, yes!Ē

This is a start, the writer comes close to voicing one of my major complaints about what Iíve been seeing in the romance genre and in many contest entries Iíve judged. I know writers wonder why people admire romantic elements in mainstream type offerings while dismissing the romance genre. Sexual tension is one of the major reasons for that.

And youíd think, of anything, romance writers could write sexual tension. Iíve found more often than not, they canít. Whatís odd is in romance contests, I almost always score low in that regard. In mainstream contests, I score high.

I have one manuscript that illustrates this better than others. Even when mainstream readers didnít like the story, they all commented on how the main characterís love for his ex-wife was tangible. I entered it in a romance contest and received the following comment:

I canít tell how the main character feels about his ex-wife because you didnít describe her in detail.

It left me scratching my head, because I figured if I got everything else wrong in that story, I nailed the part about the main characterís (obsessive) love for his ex-wife. And since heís a ghost (itís a weird story), itís not about her physical qualities.

I think what happens is the word sexual in the phrase sexual tension confuses a lot of writers. It isnít sexual or physical at all. In fact, Iím a firm believer in that you should be able to remove the sexual from the tension between two characters and still have tension. Romance writers could learn a lot from studying successful buddy movies and stories. Itís all about chemistry.

Look at the classic Casablanca. Sure, thereís tension between Rick and Ilsa. But what about the wonderful chemistry between Rick and Captain Louis Renault? The movie wouldnít be half as good if that didnít exist.

For me, the tension needs to be subtle. Itís the subtext beneath the surface. Itís not (and Iíve seen this far too often) one character thinking about the other in the shower. Okay, that might work if youíre a sixteen-year-old boy and youíre conjuring ways to spy on the girlsí locker-room. If weíre considering why two people fall in love, or donít, itís not the shower scenes.

Okay, I concede that the physical may add to the tension later in the story. For me, two people meeting and immediately thinking of each other in the shower (and yes, Iíve read this, unfortunately more than once, in different stories) doesnít provide tension. In fact, I donít find it the least bit sexy. Done wrong, and itís kind of creepy. Itís like the author is desperately worried that the reader wonít ďgetĒ that these two people are attracted to each other.

Just remember, itís all about chemistry. To quote Semisonic:

So when I find myself alone and unworthy

I think about all of the things I learned from the fine fine women with nothing but good intentions and a Bad tendency to get burned

All about chemistry

Won't you show me everything you've learned

I'll memorize everything you do to me so I can teach it when it comes my turn

Charity Tahmaseb wrote at 9:26 a.m.