Posted in books, characters, reading, romance, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Creating memorable Meet-Cutes

One of my favorite meet-cutes is from You’ve Got Mail when the main characters meet Meg Ryan’s bookstore and Tom Hanks is explaining his complicated family situation. It leads so well into Meg Ryan realizing who he is and that his mega chain bookstore is going to put her out of business.

What is a Meet-Cute and how they can best be developed and utilized in romance?

The meet-cute is when a future romantic couple meets for the first time.

The purpose of a meet-cute is to set up a burgeoning relationship.

Meet-cutes often use awkwardness, embarrassment, or hostility and should hint at potential conflicts or barriers to the relationship as well as show the nature of the relationship. The meet-cute should also set the tone for the story.

Forms of meet-cutes include:

Bad first impression: sparks embarrassment, hostility, misunderstanding, etc. This provides immediate conflict, dislike, or intrigue.

The twist: gives one character the upper hand and presents a conflict.

The odd couple: presents differences that could be either complimentary or antagonistic depending on the situation.

While it’s okay to use a tried-and-true meet-cute (i.e. literally bumping into each other), it’s important to make it unique.

Try a unique location (car accident, painting class, etc.)

Have one character do something unexpected (doesn’t help the other up after a fall)

Involve a unique item (onions cascade off a grocery store display and hit the other’s foot)

Force the characters to interact in an unusual way (assigned seating at a movie separates one from a group due to buying tickets too late)

Bring them together during an emergency (fire alarm, witnessing a mugging, etc.)

For a little meet-cute inspiration for future projects, check out these real life stories!

Posted in books, publishing, reading, romance, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

What exactly does “steamy” mean when it comes to romance?

When a reader says they want a “steamy” book, what does that mean? What does “sweet” or “clean” mean? Well, these often means a lot of different things to different people.

When trying to find the line between steam levels in different romance subgenres, it’s helpful to break down what each level means and which subgenres use each most often. Of course, there are books that cross, blur, or nudge the lines, but it’s good to have a firm basis to start with.

Hands Holding HeartsSweet

Low-level sexual tension, focused more on emotional elements than physical, limited to kissing and embraces. Stories often end with a proposal or strong HEA. Think G-rated movie.

Most often used in Regencies and some historicals, middle and younger YA, religious/spiritual/inspirational fiction, and sweet/clean contemporary romances.

Subtle

8a7998ee-211a-4316-9e7f-999a6df97905No explicit sensuality, kissing and touching is okay but physical descriptions are limited to general terms or are only implied. Physical acts should be focused on the emotional elements rather than explicit description. Off-screen sex is alluded to and left to the reader’s imagination. Think PG-rated movie.

Most often used in YA, mild contemporary romance, some historical romances, and spiritual/religious/inspirational.

Warm/Medium

sunset-691995_1920Moderate explicit content and sensuality. Sex is described, but not in graphic detail. The emphasis stays on the “lovemaking” and emotions, not the act. Euphemisms are more common and many details are left to the reader’s imagination. Sexual tension is used throughout, with more touching and some undressing involved, and there are usually only one or two sexual scenes in the whole book. Think PG-13 rated movie.

Common in single-title romances, upper YA, mild NA, some historicals, milder/teen paranormal/fantasy/sci-fi, and some romantic suspense/thriller/mysteries where the focus is more on the crime than the relationship.

Hot

Romantic couple in a hotel roomVery explicit sensuality and a deeper focus on sexual feelings, desire, and physical sensations. Sex scenes are longer and may have 2-3 in the book. Character thoughts are focused more on sexual urges and desires and sex is graphically described with specific body part words used and strong euphamisms. There may be light exploration of less-traditional sexual activities. The emotional aspect of sex is still important and should be balanced with the physical sensations. Sex scenes should further the story, not overtake it. Think R-rated movie.

Includes the majority of contemporary romances today, romantic suspense, most NA, some Apha/mafia subgenres, and most paranormal/fantasy/sci-fi.

Erotic

Marriage couple in the hotelExtremely explicit sensuality and descriptions with a strong focus on sexual thoughts, desires, and needs. Sex may be the primary focus of the story, but it still has a full-arc storyline and strong emotional elements. Sex often includes non-traditional elements such as light BDSM, use of sex toys, ménage or other forms of “kink.” Profanity is more common and graphic language is used in descriptions. There are usually multiple sex scenes throughout the book. These stories can’t be told adequately without the sexual content. Think NC-17-rated movies.

Erotic romance

***Always consider consent and the line between abuse and dominance. Characters must retain a choice on whether to participate and there needs to be a minimum level of respect between partners to keep it out of the realm of an abusive relationship.

Posted in characters, contemporary romance, creative writing, romance, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

HEA, HFN, and Realism

In most romance subgenres, happily ever after endings are a requirement. What exactly is an HEA ending, and how does it differ from an HFN or happy for now ending?

HEA and HFN both end happily. The main differences between them are for how long and on what terms will the characters be or remain happy?

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HEA’s simplest definition is that everything turns out for the best for the protagonists and any side characters. If there is an antagonist, they get what they deserved. HEA leaves the reader confident the happiness will continue long term with no major roadblocks or disasters.

HFN is often consider a more realistic type of ending. Not everything is perfect, but it’s pretty good for the moment and the circumstances. The protagonists’ lives have improved to a satisfying level, even if it isn’t the end goal and may not be permanent.

Now, let’s discuss making HEAs a little less predictable and, let’s admit it, less cheesy.

Make the characters work HARD for their HEA.

No quick resolutions or easy forgiveness. Leave the reader doubting it will happen right up to the last second. The “work” may be external or internal.

External work might be distance, others who keep them apart, lies or mistrust, etc. Internal work is a character overcoming internal issues, such as past hurts, commitment phobias, or held secrets.

Whatever type of work a character must do to reach their HEA, give them roadblocks and roller coaster ups and downs. Any time it starts to feel like things are getting to easy for them, hit them with another one that pushes them back a few steps.

Put a twist on a trope.

Romance has plenty of tropes to chose from. The difficulty is often making them unique and not just another Disney ending. HEA doesn’t always have to end with a kiss, sex, or a proposal.

What else signifies commitment? Exchanging house/apartment keys, adopting a pet, meeting family, etc.

The important thing to remember here is that the twist has to make sense and be relevant to the character’s arc. If a character is open and welcoming by nature, introducing her new love to her family at the end isn’t much of a twist, or very exciting. However, for a character who’s had to work through major issues with her domineering mother and has trouble opening her private life to people, introducing a new love to her mother would be a big step that showed trust and commitment.

Try unique situation and settings.

Very few real relationships reach the HEA moment over a candle-lit dinner or during a grand romantic gesture. Take a page out of reality and spice up a conversation over pizza or taking a walk and falling in love with a house listed for sale. Look for everyday moments that can be made special.

I love the scene from The Office when Jim proposes to Pam at a gas station. It’s a powerful moment, not only because it’s unexpected, but because his previous attempts at a grand gesture kept getting messed up and he simply couldn’t wait to start his life with her any longer.

Make the reader wait.

Whether this is a planned meeting that gets held up and makes a character doubt, a tough decision that is held off until the last moment, a sacrifice the reader isn’t sure a character will make, or something else, a pause before the HEA can up the reader’s anticipation.

In most romances, the reader knows there will be an HEA, but they don’t know how it will happen. If you’ve developed a strong story arc, every time the MCs get close, they’re pushed back apart, making the reader doubt their ideas of how it will all play out. Keep this up until the big moment. Then you can follow it up with a glimpse of what their HEA looks like long term.

One last note…

Make sure each character has their OWN happy ending before their relationship gets a happy ending. HEAs are even more unrealistic when the characters haven’t shown enough development for a reader to believe “true love” will last forever.

This doesn’t mean they have to be perfect, but they DO have to be capable of sustaining a long-term, committed relationship. Each character should have their own development arc and need to reach the climax of that arc before the story/relationship arc can reach it’s own climax.

Sensual attractive couple

Posted in books, contemporary romance, romance, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Things to consider when writing intimate scenes

Writing intimate scenes, whether they involve a first kiss or sex, should be natural and progress with both the character’s nature and the overall storyline. These types of scenes should impact the characters in some way. If it doesn’t change anything, it either needs to be rewritten, moved, or gotten rid of entirely.

Romantic couple in a hotel room

The intensity of intimate scenes should not detract from the storyline. Take care to lead the reader into the scene with a building intensity, then guide them back down to the main focus of the storyline. If readers only care about the intimate scenes and skim the bulk of the story, either the story is too weak or the intimate scenes are too overpowering.

When describing what takes place during intimate scenes, especially in sex scenes, sometimes less is more and it’s best to let the reader fill in the details. That doesn’t mean you should skimp on the details, particularly sensory details, but give the reader room to craft an intimate scene to their own preferences by not being overly descriptive of every second.

Many writers find it challenge to find new ways or words to use when writing intimate scenes. It is key that these scenes not feel like they were copied and pasted from an earlier scene. Ways to accomplish this is often more about the details surrounding the scene than the actual act. Choose different settings so the description and sensory information is more varied. Change how a couple progresses toward an intimate scene. A kiss or sex after a romantic dinner is going to be much different than right after a soul-bearing admission or a fight. This gives new opportunities for internal dialogue and emotion.

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When it comes to word choice, don’t be afraid to use standard terminology. Getting too creative with euphemisms can be distracting for readers. Instead, focus on motions and actions involved, and the characters’ responses. Describing where an arm or leg is isn’t what gets most readers attention. The response to where that kiss or finger is placed is what readers pay attention to and want more of. The reader wants to feel what the characters feel much more than they want a diagram of what went where.

Incorporate agency into these scenes to avoid objectifying either sex or treating characters as passive bystanders. In most cases, both characters should be responding to the other’s needs and actions rather than expressing themselves “at” the other person. There should be a give and take in both physical action and mental/emotional responses.

Structure an intimate scene just a you would any other story or scene: foreplay, action, climax, wind down. Whether the characters move through this arc quickly or slowly depends on the circumstances. Regardless, it’s important to hit all points of the arc. Lead into the moment as slowly as is fitting to buildup the reader’s anticipation. Begin the action and capture the characters’ thoughts and reactions to each action. Hit the climax on multiple levels, not just physical. Slowly bring the reader back to the storyline as the scenes concludes with a hint or lead-in to what’s coming next or the repercussions of what just happened.

Keep the focus of intimate scenes on what they mean to the characters and how it impacts them more so than just description of what went where.

Sensual attractive couple