A few years ago, in company with a Very Distinguished Author Friend, I ran a session at
the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference on The Romantic Scene.
It was a delight.
We had a ball.
Our participants were enthusiastic, completely engaged. They enjoyed it and talked about it for ages afterwards. Yet it had been one of the most thought-provoking tasks I’ve ever tackled.
Not as Planned
Originally we were asked to run a workshop. For a while, we both thought we could do it. My fellow author wrote some of the best romantic scenes on the planet.
Even I had managed a couple I wasn’t ashamed of.
Should have been a piece of cake.
But every time we got together to plan it, we ended up talking about favourite scenes from other people’s books.
To be honest, I suspect neither of us wanted to look too closely at our own best romantic scenes, just in case the magic got the hump and pushed off permanently.
What do we mean by The Romantic Scene?
For the purposes of our discussion, we defined it as the romantic scene.
- It encapsulates that moment in the love story that everyone remembers, no matter what else may happen in the story.
- It’s the scene people always talk about when they discuss a romantic novel.
- You know that book on your Keeper Shelf that always makes your heart melt? It’s the place where it falls open.
Above all, it’s a scene of intense emotion. Honest, open, intense emotion. From the reader’s point of view, we are talking hurricane-force energy. The chances of it not ending well are at least 50%.
Why not a workshop on the Romantic Scene?
We did try, honest. First of all, we exchanged our favourite scenes. (There were a surprising number in common.) We analysed six or seven. It was huge fun.
But … they were all so different. One was slow and voluptuous. The next was turbo-charged. Another was clipped and repressed. Yet another was the solution to a mystery, with all the feelings in the subtext. One was so cosy it was nearly a cliché.
Not a common quality among them.
Except they were all unforgettable.
So we realised that we were in absolute accord. There was only one possible message.
There are no rules
Share and Care
Still, we’d promised and we had to do our best. So we described our favourite scenes. Unsurprisingly, they had a lot of other fans among our participants as well. After that we tried to see why they worked. And we came up with one observation and perhaps one useful discovery.
We observed that The Romantic Scene, at its best, is where the author speaks out in his or her most personally individual voice. Utterly truthful. Beyond argument. Breathtaking.
And our discovery?
Our conclusion was that the big love scenes are very concentrated. That tends to mean less is more. And that in turn tends to make choice of pace and vocabulary very important.
By the time you get to one of the Big Moments, it feels as if you’re almost writing a poem.
Because that’s how your reader will read them. Slowly. With Heart and Brain engaged. Again and again.
I do so agree that there are no rules to what makes a romantic scene, except that it must be from the heart. And poetry is very good for that. Perhaps, Sophie, you might consider re-running that session at another RNA Conference one day……
From the heart is exactly right, Melinda. Happy to run that session again any time – as long as nobody expects me to have any answers!
But what an interesting discussion!
Love this and so agree. I find romantic lines as well as scenes make a book memorable for me. In the Georgette Heyer appreciation group, I’m among the few who love April Lady, but for me the whole romance of the book is encapsulated in Cardross’s line: “No, come back! I didn’t mean it, Nell! I didn’t mean it!” with the last italicised. Just breaks my heart every time!
I know exactly what you mean, Liz. He sounds desperate, doesn’t he? You feel he’s never been that far out on the emotional sea before. He can handle anything but that.
I too am a fan of April Lady.
I love the dull civil servant who loves Letty and, albeit embarrassed, steps up to make the big declaration and state his support for her “no matter what she has done”. It silences all of them: cool, sophisticated, Cardross; wilful, careless Letty; and shy, loyal, loving and super-controlled Nell. They’re all aristocrats, with the confidence of their class and a tacit acceptance that Letty’s Jeremy is just a bit short on everything that an eligible suitor should have. And yet they just shut up and listen when they recognise true feeling. It’s an extraordinary moment.
Yes, so true. That’s another great moment. I love Nell as a character, mature beyond her years but hopelessly naive too and so much in love with Cardross that it hurts. True romance for me there.