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ON WRITING: THE DANCE

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   .  . 

FIRST PRINTED IN THE ROMANCE WRITERS OF AUSTRALIA MAGAZINE, HEARTS TALK

I like to think that my stories exist in a kind of hyper-reality. Realism with a healthy sprinkling of pixie dust.  My heroes and heroines could actually exist, they’re just a little prettier, have a mite more disposable income, are a smidge less time-poor, a tad more self-aware, and boy are they able to come up with the kind of zingers, on the spot, that we only wish we could spit out!

In other words, romantic fantasy.

While the fantasy part plays a big part in what makes our kinds of stories so beloved, so heart-warming, so whisk-you-away-somewhere-magical, I believe there is something more grounded, more regular, more day to day that can truly elevate a romance to the next level. 

Today I am going to introduce you to one of my favourite bits of writing the stories we write – The Dance.

Fabulous screenwriting coach Alexandra Sokoloff introduced me to the concept during her workshop at a Romance Writers of Australia conference, no less.  And it was one of those moments here everything turns super bright – like a light bulb…on the sun.

In Alexandra’s words: “In a love story, there is always a specific scene that you might call The Dance, where we see for the first time that the two lovers are perfect for each other (this is often some witty exchange of dialogue when the two seem to be finishing each other’s sentences, or maybe they end up forced to sing karaoke together and bring down the house…).”

Since that day I have condensed that thought into the idea that The Dance is the point in a story when the fantasy drops away.  When - amidst the delicious push and pull, the gripping sexual tension, the exciting ups and downs of the story - and the hero and heroine have a moment, a scene, an interaction, in which you see what life could actually be life after the happily ever after.

This is when you know, right deep down inside, once real life sets in these two will last.

In other words, romantic reality.

As above, it can be banter so beautifully choreographed they are clearly on the same wavelength. Perhaps he washes the dishes and she dries (or perhaps for some that would still be considered romantic fantasy ;)).  It can even be an actual dance!  Whatever the situation, the our lovely couple finally shed pretence, pride, and fear until they appear to us, and one another, vulnerable and real.

 Here are a few examples of when my couples have enjoyed their Dance.

WORKING TOGETHER

In my novel LOVE ME TENDER Serafina appears a gangly, shy, computer geek – a thinker.  Murdoch’s a big burly builder – a doer. Polar opposites, stuck working in the same house, they trip over one another constantly until Murdoch finds himself stuck and in need of help from the indoor girl…

“What else can I do?” Serafina asked.

“That was it.”

She looked around at the array of tools Murdoch had scattered over the workspace, then back to his white tipped fingers. And held her arms out wide. “I’m here now. Might as well use me.”

Murdoch frowned down at his steel capped boots and prayed for patience as he tried not to take that literally.

Once he found a semblance of control, he angled his head towards the wall. “Nudge a shoe under the panel, right by mine. I’ll tell you when to stop.”

She bumped up against the wall with her hip and nudged her boot near his, as instructed. Her scent drifted to him - simple, clean, sweet, and a far cry from the hordes of sweaty men who usually made up his work mates. He found himself licking his damn lips.

The bubble on his phone slowly settled into the centre. He grabbed the nail gun, plugging the panel into place.

They eased away from the wall as one. Looked at their handiwork. Silver painted wall above, sleek shiny panel below. All so pretty Murdoch’s manhood hurt.

While Sera looked wholly satisfied at having done a little hard labour.

The image of Sera being wholly satisfied had his manhood hurting in a whole new way.

Turns out Serafina learnt plenty about manual labour from her mechanic father, she loves working on her own muscle car and she and Murdoch have more in common than he’d have ever allowed.  Until The Dance.

SMALL KINDNESSES

An author would never say they had a favourite book, but I can say that one of my most popular – by way of sales, reviews, awards and reader feedback is THE MAGNATE’S INDECENT PROPOSAL.  So naturally I have wracked my brain as to why that is.  What did I do in that book that made it shine so bright?  I’ve come to the conclusion that while that story is full to the brim with my usual rollicking romantic fantasy, it’s the moments of romantic reality that really connected.

Picture a man heartbreakingly handsome, perfectly cut suits, expensive haircut, clean shaven, not a spec of dust would dare mar his glorious perfection and you’ll get close to my Damien.  Early on in their courtship he arrives at Chelsea’s, flowers in hand, to find her in “baggy clothes and her hair sprouting from a messy ponytail atop her head”.  We have a nice moment of romantic fantasy – if I do say so myself – when Damien thinks, “She looked warm and ruffled and ready for bed.”  But then Chelsea darts past in “a blur of tartan flannelette and bare feet” and the next thing he hears is her upchucking in some distant room.  Again and again and again.  Alas! Overcome by food poisoning.

When Chelsea begs him to leave he could rightly have done just that.  Did he?  Let’s see…

Chelsea awoke with the thin morning sun teasing pink and pretty through the gauzy curtains of her bedroom window.

Her head felt like a bag of sand – dry, coarse and far too heavy to lift.  Her mouth tasted like she hadn’t cleaned her teeth in a week.  She put a shaky hand over her eyes and sat up.

When she opened them she saw a folded newspaper on her bedside table.  A plate of dry crackers and crumbs proving some of them had been eaten during the night.  A single perfect orange tulip in a water filled spaghetti jar.  And just like that her night came swimming back to her.

Damien.

While she’d spent most of the night sleeping on the couch or with her head over the toilet bowl, he’d been there.  Not hovering, not mothering, just there.  Watching TV.  Reading a magazine by the window with the blinds open and the city view painting its golden light upon his gorgeous profile.  And had he really made her toast with vegemite, cooked himself dinner from the pathetic contents of her fridge and loaded her dishwasher?

She pulled herself from her bed, and realised she had no idea how she’d ended up there and in a frilly sleeveless neck to knee white cotton nightie she hadn’t worn in years.

She grabbed her plush cream robe from the knob on the side of her cheval mirror, wrapped herself in it, tight, and then headed out into the lounge room.

But all was quiet.

And her kitchen was clean.

I mean, come on!  Pretty darned fabulous, right?  And vulnerable and real.  Not only does the scene give him major hero points, it proves that this man who appears a mile out of her league has the chops to be a real human person, living a real human life.

ACCEPTING HELP

I actually wrote a book about dancing itself once – THE DANCE OFF.  The heroine, Nadia, is a  dance teacher, the hero, Ryder, is a strapping, Alpha architect, unwillingly taking lessons so that he might dance with his little sister at her upcoming wedding.  The lucky couple dance, a lot, and it’s hot, sexy, intense. And the zingers could light the block! But the dance scenes are pure romantic fantasy.

The moment of romantic reality comes when Nadia - a seriously stubborn, doggedly independent soul – chooses to swallow her pride and accept Ryder’s help as he teaches her how to drive.

“Okay,” she said. “Tell me what I have to do?”

“Foot on the clutch,” he said. “Gear into first. Key’s in the ignition. Turn it right, wait till the engine hums and let go.”

Sweat prickling down her back, Nadia followed Ryder’s instructions as best she could. And the car bunny-hopped a few feet before wobbling to an ignominious stop. Heat landed in her cheeks with a humiliating thud. “I totally suck.”

“Nobody gets the waltz right first go.”

“I did.”

“And I’ve never stalled. Duck to water.”

At that she laughed; shocked blissful laughter that shaved the sharpest edges off her agitation. With a slow breath out, she resettled herself, went to that quiet place she went before a routine: darkness, silence. Not discounting the natural fear, harnessing it.

In the quiet she heard Ryder’s litany of instructions, and, after a few more false starts, the directions began to blend from one move to the next, until it all seemed to click and she was easing out onto the road proper, rural scenery sliding past the window.

“I’m driving!”

“Yes, you are.”

“It’s easy!”

“Look at the road. Not me.”

She swung back to face the road to find herself veering. She nudged the car straight, her eyes on the horizon as he’d taught her. She pressed a little harder on the accelerator, adrenalin spiking as she was pressed back in the seat. “How far can I go?”

“Do you have a learners’ permit?”

“What?” Nadia said, her hands flinging off the wheel and feet off the pedals in panic. “Of course not.”

The engine stalled and with an oath, Ryder grabbed the wheel and shifted it a fraction so they could ease off the side of the road where he yanked the parking brake. “Then we’d better stay away from town. And schools, and police, and people in general.”

His voice was rough, but when she looked at him he was smiling.

The sexual chemistry between them is out of this world from the moment they meet – but the romance, the love affair, the path to happily ever after hinges on this moment where both appear vulnerable, open and connected in a private, real, lasting way.

If you feel like you’re missing that special something that will give your readers goose bumps, happy sighs and the best feeling after they close the pages of our books, try popping your characters together on the page, and simply watch them dance.

MORE ARTICLES ON WRITING HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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