Developing Romantic Tension | Pelican Book Group Official Blog

I read a really good story premise today. Sadly, it was rejected.

Hero and heroine were together pretty quick. For nearly 20 pages, she was unconscious or barely coherent (car accident victim). Oh, they talked. She remembered nothing the next day. So basically, everything written was a non-event and not necessary to the progression of the developing relationship. I’ve decided to create a list of rules for that first meeting of the hero and heroine.

1. They must be sane, sober, conscious and in their right minds. If they are unconscious or nearly so, this is not “keeping the hero and heroine together.” When your common sense is compromisd, the relationship isn’t real. The decisions and judgment of the character is off-kilter. The hero and heroine, by their very definition, must choose a partner wisely, and well.

2. They must feel the awareness of each other as a potential partner in marriage – it can be off-hand, such as her noticing his shoulder is just the right height to lean on, or him noticing that she smiles at babies in strollers. This awareness should be played up each time they meet. It is romantic tension. By using their senses, actions and thoughts, the author can build a terrific couple whom the reader will want to get to know.

3. No instant anger upon meeting. I have no idea why this is so popular. When a heroine is instantly angry upon meeting a man, the reader’s subconscious hackles go up, thinking this is the villain. That negative connotation immediately puts the reader, who is identifying deeply with the character, on the defensive. “That man might be the bad guy, I’m not trusting him until he proves otherwise.” In a mystery or an intrigue, this might be a good conflict, in Christian fiction, it must be handled carefully. I’m not saying you can’t write edgy Christian stories, simply be careful about painting your hero or heroine with negative emotions right at the start of the story. The reader does not warm up and begin rooting for this couple to make it…which leads that reader to find something else to read if the author doesn’t hold their interest.

4. Spending 15 pages describing the heroine’s fear, terror, pain, screaming, shock, repeated prayers to God, horror, etc. is too graphic for most romance readers. They are exposed to reality on the nightly news and sometimes in their daily lives. Most people read to escape for a little while. Romance allows them to feel good, and know that happy endings can lighten a burden. A few paragraphs will suffice in explaining the heroine or hero’s horrible plight.

Now that we’ve covered some basic rules, let’s move to the burning question in every author’s mind. How do I create romantic tension?

Use their senses. Use their thoughts. Use their actions. Blend these elements into the hero and heroine.

Jane reached for the door just as it swung open. The man holding the handle smiled. “After you.” He pulled the door wider, making the bells tinkle.
A young boy charged out before Jane could take a step.
“Thanks, Dad!” the child said, as he skidded to a stop at the edge of the curb.
“My son,” the man said wryly. “Someday, I may even be able to teach him some manners.”
“Mommy was teaching me manners before she went to heaven!” The boy swung around to look at his father and Jane. “I learned to say please and thank you. And to wash my hands.”
“Those are good manners,” Jane said, smiling.
“Thank you,” the man murmured.
“No, thank you, for showing your son that politeness counts.” Jane felt warmth creeping into her heart. Maybe today would be a good day after all.
“Would you like to have ice cream with us? I can show you some more manners. I’m Chase and Daddy’s name is John and now we’re not strangers anymore, either.”
“I’m sorry…he doesn’t know…” The man began.
“Oh, please, Daddy?”
Jane saw a flash of sorrow in the man’s eyes and knew he was having difficulty saying no to the boy.
“I’d love to have some ice cream.” She hoped the man caught her understanding look. “And I’m Jane.”
He stared at her for a moment and then flashed a grateful smile.
The boy looked at his father and gave a loud whoop. “Yeah! We’re gonna have ice cream with the pretty lady!”
“Daddy, is this a date?”

Jane and John are reacting to each other. They’re communicating through the child, but the looks, the implied understanding is pure adult. The child is a foil, a way for the hero and heroine to continue talking. In most cases, a secondary character should only act as such, not truly relating to either one. The nuance is between the two older characters. The reader feels Jane’s understanding, her cares slide away, and her empathy with the man. The reader feels the man’s politeness, his love for the child, his awareness that the child only has him and his acceptance of the child’s plea. And if that’s not enough, the cliffhanger, the clincher and the surprise is the child’s last statement.

The reader now KNOWS who the hero will be. The reader understands that Jane has had a tense day. The man is out and about with his child (one loving relationship already in place). The child acts with confidence. And two people who would’ve otherwise simply passed each other through a door, are suddenly together. What will happen? I have no idea. You, the author, will need to build that romantic tension to a satisfactory conclusion.

I’m waiting for a good book. And so are your future fans.

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