Have any of you discovered that the more you learn about writing, the harder it is to find a book to lose yourself in? Reading for pleasure isn’t as easy as it used to be. Mainly because I can’t fall into the pages of scenes like I used to because I’m now qualified to see them as exactly that–scenes. Scenes peopled with heroes and heroines, GMC’s, character arcs and turning points.
Recently, however, I found one those special books we all love to stumble upon. I remembered the author and her workshop at RWA National Conference in Dallas. Remembered how she’d impressed me with her talk on revising, and then impressed me even more the next day when I stood in line during one of the massive book signings and she actually remembered me and where I’d sat in the front row amongst a good hundred other people. I’d never read her books before but I had agreed with her points on revising and thought I’d give her work a try. What did I have to lose, the books were free.
The chance to read her work didn’t come until recently when I struggled through the head cold from *ell and grabbed one of her books from my to-be-read pile, wanting to see if the author had what it took to hook me. I expected to read a few pages, close my eyes and let my cold medicine kick in. Instead, I read half the book and endured the befuddled glances of my husband as I sobbed over the words.
How could I have missed her books all this time?
I ached, but it wasn’t from my stupid cold or body aches that went along with it, but from the knowledge that only in my dreams will I ever be as good a writer as the author I’d never read. This was romance.
After crying myself into an exhausted sleep, book in hand, I got up the next morning and blamed my weepiness on all the germs attacking my body. No way could a book be that good. I mean, come on, do you have any idea how long it’s been since a novel has made me tear up in the slightest (much less cry from a broken heart that belonged to the hero and not myself)?
I took more medicine, eventually began to feel human again and then had to catch up on all the housework that had accumulated while I was in a drug-induced, couch-bound fog. I also distanced myself from the book even though I was curious as to whether or not I’d feel the same about it without the cold medicine making me loopy.
Could it have actually been THAT good or was my overly medicated mind to blame for me turning the pages as fast as I could read them? Sighing, smiling, crying over them?
I convinced myself it was the medicine.
Later, my cold a horrible memory and an outrageously expensive doctor bill, IT caught my eye. Next thing I knew, the book was lying open to my tear-soaked, dog-eared page and I was reading. And reading.
It WAS that good. A wonderful romance, a heart-wrenching drama. Family and love and all the good and bad that can, and often does, go along with those innocently simplistic words.
As I wiped away tears of heartache, joy and satisfaction that all ended exactly as it should have, I hated reading the last page. Hated letting go of the characters who’d touched my heart like nothing in print had for a long, long time. And as I sat there staring at the book and wondering if my husband was right and I was really losing it, I realized I’d just read the exact style of book I want to write. Books with emotional ups and downs, drama and excitement, and packed full of little things that may seem unimportant or trivial to critique partners and contest judges, but mean the world to the story. Essential little things missing from all those books I’ve been able to put down without shedding a tear or caring whether I ever finish reading them.
Some may disagree, but I believe a story should make an impact regardless of how serious, sexy or lighthearted. Our stories should make us think about things on a broader scale. Romance on a broader scale. This book did that for me. It reinforced the fact love is more than simultaneous orgasms or the heat of the chase, more than suspense or danger. Don’t get me wrong, I like reading those books as well, but only if the magic is there. Magic represented by the little things that are so often overlooked.
Romance novelists have to understand that ‘romance’ in a word encompasses an entire realm of women’s fantasies, and not just the kind commercially advertised in magazines and on television. So now comes a new question: How do we as story tellers make our books appeal to that broad a spectrum of what women think of as romance?
That’s when I studied the book closer. Reread all the passages and made note of the techniques the author used to reel me in. Things most every woman already has in her life. Unappreciated details lost in the rush of daily living. The touch of the heroine’s hand over her child’s head, a silly costume donned at the crack of dawn due to excitement over Halloween. A special phrase used to entice her husband to bed. Inconsequential things which made the heroine appeal to me as a woman and a reader.
In print, romance is more than the words we use, but the way we make our readers feel. It’s everything. It’s little things. Like how a book made me cry when I read about those ordinary, everyday, hum-drum things because I identified with them. Daughter, wife, mother, helper, homemaker, businesswoman. As individuals, each of us bring something to the book while we read it, but it’s our job as writers to recognize that, respect it, and play on it.
Some say romance novels are written for mindless enjoyment of bored housewives and under-educated women, but I’m a college graduate/housewife who says romance novels are for anyone who relishes the reminders only romance novels bring to the fiction market. We write about love, yes, but if we’re really good, as this author is, we also write about pain, loss, hope, faith, successes and disappointments. All aspects of romance, and all little things that make a huge impact on our daily lives and those who read our stories.
If you’re still reading this article and I haven’t bored you with my ‘ah-ha’ moment, this is my request for all of you writers out there, struggling as I am, or published as I will one day be–when you sit down to write, please, please, please remember to give me the little things. Make me fall in love, not only with the hero, but with every aspect of your story. Quality is much more important than quantity, and if you’re spitting out manuscript after manuscript, book after book, and not getting where you want to be, go back and take a long, hard look at your work. Find the details . . . the romance… the little things.
Get them–and you’ve got me.
Note: After several attempts to contact the author of the book referenced above and receiving no reply, I’ve decided to go ahead and post the title/author due to the amount of email received in regard to this book and my overwhelmingly positive response to it. So, here it is <g> My ‘ah-ha’ book is Angel Falls by Kristin Hannah. A definite must-read. Enjoy—but keep a box of Kleenex handy. 🙂