Like most writers aspiring to be published, I attend a few courses and conferences throughout the year. Some are, of course, better than others but, when the opportunity arose to spend a day with Anne Gracie at the New South Wales Writer’s Centre I knew I’d be mad not to take it. Even if it meant I had to get up rather early after spending the night with Adele.
Seriously, Adele’s Sydney concert was amazing and I’m wishing I’d got tickets for night two. Instead I’m listening to the Adele Sydney set list as I write this post… and I’m side-tracking myself!
Anne is an award-winning author of some fabulous historical romances and an all-around fabulous woman (the Anne Gracie stand-ups was one of the most memorable moments of my first RWA conference in 2015). Her course, appropriately called ‘Romancing the Page,’ started from the premise that readers want four things: a compelling story; characters to care about; conflict (tension on the page); and an emotional and entertaining experience.
Seems obvious, right? But pulling all that together in a single package is hard! So, after today’s course I thought I’d pull my top three takeaways:
Make ‘em laugh. Make ‘em cry. Make ‘em worry. Make ‘em wait.
This one’s getting printed out and posted on the edge of my monitor as an always there reminder (and strictly speaking, it belongs to Charles Reade not Anne Gracie… Anne says she just added the worry). If you can do this, you’ve met all the above criteria.
It’s strange to say but it’s hard to make your characters suffer. Really hard. They talk to you all the time and you know they’re good people so you don’t want to make their life difficult. You want to give them sunshine and roses and chocolate and sex (lots of sex!). And you can… right after you make them work for it! You can make ‘em laugh along the way (and who doesn’t like a good laugh). But you must make ‘em cry and worry and wait before you give them (and your reader) the payoff.
For me, Christina Lauren are masters at this, at making you feel every emotion the characters are experiencing (and I’ve even written about my book induced anxiety here).
Concentrate on the five senses
This was more of a reminder for me – but it’s worth adding to my list as it’s important and can often be overlooked when trying to get through writing the plot. Writing romance is all about emotions and what better way is there to demonstrate feelings than by concentrating on the tickle of cold night air trailing over bare skin, the smooth taste of a decadent chocolate dessert (see picture for one of my favourite chocolate desserts!) or the fresh scent of freshly cut grass beneath you(r main character!). Or what about the sight of someone you love putting their hands on your skin (is that cheating… could be touch too, I suppose!) or the sound of the love song your man (or woman) sings out of tune in your ear.
I’m certain my writing can benefit from me slowing down some when I’m writing and focusing on what my characters are touching, tasting, hearing, seeing and smelling.
Nora Roberts is my go to here. She clearly doesn’t write at my preferred heat end of the spectrum. She’s a bit above the midpoint but she’s certainly no writer of explicit sex. And yet there’s still heat and passion and feeling every time her characters are together (in bed or out of it). I’m currently ‘re-reading’ (via Audible) her Bride Quartet series and remembering why it’s one of my favourite series.
Give yourself permission to write as yourself
Yes, we’re all driving towards publication and yes, a publisher is going to ask you where you see yourself in a market but you have to write as you first. If you don’t everything you write will (probably) be shit (and, I should note that’s me saying that, not Anne). I know when I’m trying to write something I don’t feel it appears on the page as stilted and dull.
This is also a timely reminder for me. I’ve been working on a manuscript for a while and taken a lot of advice on it – all of which has been really helpful in some respects. But I need to commit to telling my version of the story and stop trying to tell everyone else’s version of it. Because if I keep trying to tell everyone else’s version of it, it’ll never get told at all! I think I’ve done about three drafts of about two-thirds of the book and I’ve yet to write the magic words (a.k.a. ‘The End’).
And, on that note, I’m going to write (well, I will be, after I get a coffee!) but if you get the chance to take this course with Anne – do it! Well worth the investment of time and money for both knowledge and inspiration.