A to Z Challenge 2014 · How to write Romantic Comedy · Romcom Alphabet Soup

That Romcom Kiss

KOnce upon a time—and I’m dating myself here—there were two television shows, each charged with sparkling banter, charm, and sexual attraction. You might remember them: Moonlighting and Remmington Steele. Week after week they were consistently delightful.

That the male and female leads were attracted we knew, but somehow they never quite connected. Oh, how we hoped they would! We were glued to our screens, waiting, watching, sighing. And both shows had the ratings to prove it.

And then, each show faltered and died a whimpering death. Shocking! How could this happen? The reason is because the relationships were consummated. The zip and zing went out of the banter, and the mundane settled in. With the story lines flat, viewers quickly lost interest. The screenwriters made a grave mistake: they gave the audience what they wanted. Alas, these writers should have known better. Even a hit show is not immune to the perils of storytelling.

For a romantic story to work, you’ve got to keep the sexual tension in play. Don’t consummate the relationship unless you can dish out powerful—and realistic—problems to part the couple, and then you must get them back together in a believable (not fake) way. Most writers of romance do not do this well. In my books, I work hard to keep that effortless snap and crackle of attraction, but I avoid consummation for several reasons. First, because I want women of all ages to enjoy my books. Second, because in the historical era in which I write, sex with a single woman was risky. (More often men pursued beautiful married women, a practice that makes us cringe.) And third, because consummation can do a “Moonlighting Job” and kill my story.

So you must manage the tension and cadence of growing intimacy carefully, and this includes The Kiss. Keep the long arc of your story in mind, and don’t spill the cookies on the doorstep. The kiss takes the relationship to another level, and it’s best to delay it. Keep those readers turning pages.

Some might say that I write “sweet romances” … but there’s WAY too much snark and backchat for that label! But I do realize that readers like kissing scenes. So every once in a while, I toss them a bone. But in true snark form, the bone I offer is not the one they expect, ha.

In today’s excerpt I have a kiss, but do you trust me? (I’m not giving away ALL the best scenes in my books—you might want to read them sometime.) My heroine has calmly decided to marry for money, and she has a young fellow in mind. He’s extremely wealthy, though not the sharpest knife in the drawer—and she sees this as a point in her favor. Ha, but I call Elizabeth’s Frog Prince bluff! Marrying for money only sounds easy.

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But although she was accustomed to dealing with unwanted attention, she had trouble finding enough gracious excuses to satisfy the puppyish Mr Rushworth. She was now grateful for the ugly mask, for it concealed her growing disdain. At last, fatigued and overwhelmed by the overheated, stifling air of the ballroom, Elizabeth sent him away to procure a glass of punch with the promise of a private interview on the portico.

It was all so disappointing. She had plotted and connived and lied to be here and in the end, it was not worth the trouble. And now she must face a tender tryst with Mr Rushworth. With all her heart, Elizabeth prayed that the portico would be crowded, as were the other public rooms of the mansion. Unfortunately, it was not. Those who lingered there kept to the shadows.

Elizabeth wandered between the columns, pressing gloved hands to her flaming cheeks. After the vile mix of odors in the ballroom, the fresh air was delicious. But even here there was no peace. As she began to recover her composure, the strains of an old country dance drifted out to mock her. Elizabeth must wince, for she knew the tune by heart: Dissembling Love.

“James,” she said, after they had finished their punch, “you must return to the ballroom. Your mother would be most displeased if she were to see—”

“My mother be hanged!” he protested. “I’ve held off all evening from you, save that one dance. Burn it, I’ll not be denied my rightful—”

“Mr Rushworth, please!” Elizabeth cried, aghast. “Lower your voice, for heaven’s sake!” With her prettiest smile, she added, “This is the first event of the Season. We don’t wish to provide grist for the gossip mill, now do we? Gossip can be very hurtful, as well you may recall…”

“Curst gossipy snoops!” He pulled out his handkerchief to mop the sweat from his brow. “And curse this blasted mask! Dashed uncomfortable things, masks!” He began to pull at its strings.

“Mr Ru–James! What are you doing?” cried Elizabeth. He flung his mask aside and reached to loosen the strings of hers. “Have you gone mad?” she said. “We must wait for the unmasking!”

“But how will I kiss you?” His face was awash with love and admiration.

“Kiss me?” The mask fell away from her face, but that was not the worst of it. She felt his arms come round her, pulling her close against his sweaty person. There was no shyness in his manner now.

As his face came nearer to hers, Elizabeth realized she had no choice but to submit. Were they not practically engaged? Closing her eyes, she saw a fleeting image of the prodigal son, reduced to eating pig-slop. Prodigal daughters, she now realized, had to kiss the pigs.

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Poor, stupid Elizabeth! For Monday, we’ll have a look at Life Lessons, Romcom’s powerhouse ingredient.

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[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: So Rough A Course by Laura Hile, 2009]

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