And no, I’m not talking about sex.
I recently read a blog post by Connie Brockway talking about her new release, So Enchanting, over at Romance Novel TV. The hero and heroine of her story go at each other in such a way as to really make the chemistry smoke. It’s a fantastic book, their battles so much fun to read, you can’t put it down till you turn the last page. So I was officially on a Brockway high, just having finished it, until she threw out this pearl of wisdom in the comments section:
Alpha male and alpha females spend a lot of time snarling at each other—the trick is to make the reader see the attraction beneath the snarling and make sure nothing they say sounds too petty or mean-spirited at the same time as it’s direct and incisive.
My heart fell as I read this. You see, I’m hip deep in the middle of my own alpha male/female story. My characters are pit against each other to compete for his inheritance and tend to thunder away in most conversations. He loathes the fact that she’s doing everything she can to bring him to his knees; she’s infuriated every time she looks at his wispy golden locks (the cobbled muscles of his stomach)—because he once humiliated her. So they fight at every turn, but how much is too much?
My story is an historical romance. Historicals, by nature, require a little restraint, but so too am I writing for a modern audience. I doubt very much (and you may debate me on this later) modern audiences would buy a Jane Austen-esque romance were it to debut in 2009. Not if it was marketed as a romance novel. We read her as a classic, a classic romance, yes, but as straight romance? Nuh uh. There are too many “affables”, “rathers”, and “upon my words” in every single sentence to mow through her in one afternoon. As modern readers, we tend to be an impatient lot, I think. If this weren’t true, then why do I keep hearing editors say, “I give a manuscript 1-3 pages to hook me.”
1-3 pages? Oy.
I pick up Austen and since I know it’s Austen I give it, well, the whole book to hook me. But it’s Austen. Who of us doesn’t adore Austen (and please don’t say if you don’t love her as I doubt I could stomach such blasphemy this early in the morning)?
I, however, am not Austen. But it does take a dose of restraint to make the verbal skirmishes between a strong hero and heroine work in today’s historical romance. A hint of moderation, if you will. A little subtlety. Brockway achieves this in spades with her latest, her characters’ snarling wildly entertaining while never crossing over into the annoying. As for me, I’m worried. I’m not Connie Brockway (wish I were). I don’t ever wear subtlety. Moderation is not in my vocabulary and I never inherited restraint as it doesn’t exist in any of the branches of my family tree.
So what do I do? Brockway says be sure nothing sounds too petty and mean-spirited, but what does a writer, who is rather bulldozerish in spirit, do when she may not be able to detect the difference between mean-spirited jousting and just, say, passionate sparring? Is there a difference? What is it?
(And can someone please pass me my tranquillizers now?)