This is the sixth of six observations on writing craft

This thought is a new one, but I’m finding it a powerful tool in my writing, and in critiquing. I’ve been noticing what creates a moment of emotional shift.

We all know that in romance the characters should start in one place emotionally and through the journey of falling in love, they should grow and change and end up in a new emotional place. But where do those moments of change happen? Something new or different has to occur – otherwise the character would simply continue on as they have been.

So what creates the environment for an emotional shift to happen?

My feeling is that nine times out of ten it’s vulnerability. Vulnerability opens up this tiny space, this suspension of all the usual crap, and in that space anything could happen next.

That one moment allows something new to begin.

This is what allowed the nuanced conversation between Lauren and Hannah in The Split which I discussed in the previous post. Hannah realised Lauren was looking around for her ex, and being caught in the act made Lauren feel vulnerable, like Hannah had seen something she maybe didn’t want her to see. Instead of pressing her advantage, Hannah used the shift between them to be kind.

When I’m not moved, emotionally, by a kissing scene or a sex scene, it’s often because there’s no vulnerability. I see a lot of sex positivity and characters responding with enthusiasm and arousal, but that doesn’t give me a sense of what it means to them, to be touching this person and be touched by them. I don’t feel like anything has changed because of the kiss.

This goes back to my notion that complex characters feel multiple things at once. Kissing someone you want for the first time is arousing, but it’s also strange and terrifying – because of what you’re admitting by kissing, because of how much you want it, because it’s a sudden shift in intimacy.

The stimulus doesn’t have to be as obvious as a kiss, though. Maybe the characters are talking about something really ordinary, and suddenly one of them realises how much this person means to them – this specific person – and it’s terrifying, and they probably respond in the last way you’d expect (or at least the fifth, or eighth). As soon as you want something, you have something to lose.

The romance lives in those emotional responses.

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