A while back I wrote a post about the way Susan Elizabeth Phillips is right up front with her characters’ motivations. You meet a character and you learn very quickly what’s happened in their past to make them the way they are.
I was very interested to realise this, because I’d always assumed anything about your character should be below-the-surface, slow-reveal kind of stuff. But SEP makes it work. Big time. I think also in the romance genre you find this method a lot.
So I had decided to take the lesson on board and have my character motivations well-explained. Until my writing teacher pointed out that if my character is unaware of why he’s chosen his particular bride until it’s too late, the tension and drama are much better served.
Luckily I came across Julie Anne Long. Whilst I raved about her book The Perils of Pleasure I left out the most perfect detail from it.
*spoiler alert* ish
Normally when a romance heroine has been married before there are two options: 1. it was an amazing marriage and she struggles with her guilt over finding love again (plus the new love normally gives her slightly better orgasms than the old one did) or 2. it was awful and her new love is a revelation – though possibly she can’t trust it at first.
JAL’s heroine has been married before, as we find out in snippets. But she never, in the entire book, does a big reveal about that marriage. We get this detail, though: the heroine still carries around her dead husband’s pistol, which has mermaids on the handle. The hero thinks “She’s just the kind of woman who would marry a man with mermaids on his pistol.”
And isn’t there just a whole world in there, that you would pop by trying to describe it more closely?
I think both methods are effective, but I feel like there’s the next level of craft to be learnt by JAL’s very clever reveal. As my writing teacher’s always trying to drum into us: Reading is only enjoyable when the reader is productive.