What his mind can't remember, her heart can't forget...
Welcome to the next Deadly Sin! This week we take a look at a much graver sin, Inaccuracy. A duel sin, Inaccuracy is more than a lack of research,–although that is definitely a strong reason why manuscripts are returned–rather it is a lack of verity in either your facts OR your emotion.
For some beginners out there, they approach Romance as a “simpler” opportunity to break into publishing. They see a surface list of elements to writing it–introduction, sex, break up, happy ending–and most important to them, they don’t think that very much research is required to make a book believable. They take the “write what you know” rule to generous extremes, and either write literally about their own lives hidden in a character or write about things they “sort of” know about. Looking up a word or two to make sure you’ve got it “right” happens frequently.
However, as anyone knows, any time you write about something you’ve not precisely experienced, your prose will lack certain depths of reality. Granted, authors don’t go flinging themselves into war zones to find out how to be a war hero, but that’s where the research comes in. Romance is like any other genre and depending on what you write, research serves as lifeblood. Historical authors can often double has historians or librarians. Military authors might not be able to actually fly a plane or take a gun apart in twenty seconds, but they know how it needs to be done and what order is involved. Contemporary authors often conduct interviews with people in the field they’d like for their characters and do exhaustive internet research on the cities they use as well as the demands of a job.
Knowing your topic–and your characters–is paramount in Romance. You will need to have a solid understanding of what they do, the world they inhabit, the social circles they swim in. And when you understand it–via interview, internet or book reading–you also need to be able to represent that in more than a factual way. You need to include emotion.
First off, let’s take a look at what constitutes a lack of truthful emotion. People in general are emotional creatures. Even a character who is resolute and stoic will feel and be motivated by those feelings. A lack of truthful emotion would be allowing our characters to become two-dimensional and not find a way to express those emotions. That same stoic character, when hurt, might walk with a stiffer gait. Might completely blank his face and turn away rather than deal. Or his composure might crumble under a staggering loss, filling him with shame and resentment. It is our job to be accurate about how our plot decisions effect our characters and how they would react to them.
All this beggars the question, how can you tell if something isn’t ringing true? There is a litmus test or two.
Initial Logic: When you re-read the description or dialogue, weigh the strength of emotions one would expect against the time spent dealing with it. Would a hero who just lost his wife only think about her for a few moments. Claim to miss her in one paragraph and never mention her again? How important is what they feel to the reasoning behind their decisions? How much space have you used expressing that? While word count is always a priority, where you choose to spend your words is a higher one. Never be a spendthrift when it comes to revealing the emotion of you characters.
Reading Aloud: If the emotion is urgency, you would most likely see short sentences and brief descriptions. Pain or guilt may well be expressed with longer, slower lines, as a character grinds themselved into the mortar for their believed crimes. Listen to yourself as you read these and try to sense if tone throughout the scene matches the emotion you want to be felt (Does the POV character’s sense of setting change as their mood does? Is the dialogue stilted? Would it be formal or broken, depending on the emotion you need to convey?) If at anytime the emotion you require the reader to connect to is simply told to them in one line or two, it doesn’t ring true. All emotion needs to resonate through the scene, or you won’t reach your reader.
Pace Matching: Pace is a very important tool of showing truthful emotion. If you want your characters emotions to show, take a look at your sentence length and structure. How long is their dialogue? Does it match the scene you’re depicting? What about their thoughts? What might be important description to you might feel like filler to your reader if placed improperly.
For example, are your characters running for their lives…while making mental notations to themselves at the exotic beauty of the gardens through which they speed? Are they in a hospital ward, waiting with tension as the long minutes and hours go by, speaking desperately–if not perhaps melodramtically–in stacatto beats. Perhaps this long period might be better filled with a characters fears being thought out in their minds or hearts while they wait for relief that is seemingly not coming. Whether the time the scene takes is long or short for them…use that pace to express what your character is going through.
Elements can be hard to layer together, we all understand. But once you’re able to identify where your emotion and your research can strengthen your writing, you’ll find that your stories have a richer sense of depth and can be taken far more seriously by a reading editor.