Stephen King on writing:
"If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."
He also said: “No one likes a clown at midnight,” and there are no truer words.
So, since I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the relationships among characters as I write the second book of The Immortal Descendants series, I’ve also been doing a lot of reading. A lot. Like 42 books so far this year. No mysteries. I’m done with mysteries. Too many years spent as a private investigator to buy into the glamour of the job. But peppered among the urban fantasy and Elizabethan history books on my iPad are romances.
The romance reading is new. With the exception of Outlander, which is always mistakenly shelved in the romance section when it should be in time travel fantasy, I’ve never found a romance book of which my pride would let me read more than a couple chapters.
But there’s a whole new crop of romance books for the new adult audience (the characters are in their twenties, are finding their first true loves and having, or thinking about having, incredibly graphically-written sex). I think Fifty Shades of Grey must have been the mainstream turning point in what’s acceptable to admit to having read. For the record, I haven’t read Fifty Shades. I’ve heard the writing isn’t great and no amount of heat can override bad writing.
But I’ve read some pretty steamy NA (new adult) romances - each of which cost less than a double café Americano at Starbucks. Besides the, you know… steam, the thing that resonates most with me about these books and all the very enthusiastic reviews they get is how much people want to lust.
I don’t just mean lust as a concept. I think people want to lust - to desire, to want, to wish for or fantasize about. And the flip side of that is that people want to be lusted after. Now, granted, I’m speaking from the female perspective, but the idea of being the object of someone else’s desire is definitely high on the list of things that make life entertaining.
One of my favorite terms I’ve learned since reading NA romances is “swoon-worthy.” Since most of the reviewers are women, it is most often used to describe male love interests, and is a great litmus test to apply to characters. Is he swoon-worthy? Would I, as a married woman, well out of my twenties, ever wonder what it was like to be wanted by a man like him? It’s an interesting question to ponder – what is the really satisfying thing about reading romances: to want, or to be wanted by? To lust, or to be lusted for?
To me, the most swoon-worthy characters are the ones who want the other person so much that they go well outside their own comfort zones to seek them. It’s not just about lusting, it’s about risking themselves, about putting something real on the line in pursuit of fulfilling the fantasy. And then there’s the object of that desire. Is she a better person because he wants her? Does she feel confident and interesting and beautiful because he thinks she is?
(Yes, I know, the really confident women aren’t that way because a man wants her, but I’m talking about romances here).
Of course steam is the most visceral way to experience lust, and the one most often pandered to in the NA romances. But I think the characters who get the greatest response from readers, who are the most swoon-worthy, are the ones who make the objects of their lust feel as confident, beautiful, sexy, and interesting as every woman wants to feel in real life.
And as I explore the lives of Saira and Archer in Tempting Fate, I'm enjoying infusing a little swoon-worthiness into their story.