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Techniques to Make
Your Romance Zing
By Cynthia VanRooy
One reason why romance fiction is so popular
is because it is emotionally engaging. To make your story
zing, to make it emotionally engaging without leaning
toward melodrama, there are a number of tricks you can
1. Every word carries
memories for the reader, every word comes with emotional
baggage, but the emotional associations are so rapid they
happen below the readers conscious awareness. To
manipulate the readers emotions choose words
synchronized with the overall mood of the scene and
direction of the plot. Below are two descriptions of the
same river, but they use very different, emotionally
charged words and convey very different kinds of scenes:
The water boiled over the rocks that stabbed through the
b. The water bubbled over the rocks that peeked through
Be aware of the vocabulary youre using. Dont
use words randomly. Choose them for their specific
2. I touched on this
next technique in an earlier column on sensual writing,
but it bears repeating. Insure zing by using at least
three of the five senses in a scene, but again,
consciously choose details that further the plot and
emotional ambiance of your story. Think of the difference
between dank and moist, sweet
and cloying, slick and slimy.
3. Another feature
not normally thought of as a sense, but one you can use
to inject life in a scene is movement. An animals
existence depends on either being able to hunt prey or
avoid becoming prey. The sensing of movement is of
paramount importance. Humans are animals and as such, we
are patterned to track movement. You automatically snag a
readers attention when you incorporate movement of
some kind in a scene.
The following paragraph is from my book Fools
Paradise. The hero wasnt doing much but drinking a
glass of wine and thinking. I needed to make the scene a
little more interesting.
frowned at the inoffensive white moth fluttering around
the garden lantern and took another sip from the glass of
wine he had poured himself after Kailani left.
The moth doesnt have anything to do with the plot,
but its movement jazzes up the scene a little.
Color adds real punch. Use it often. Look
for synonyms for the standard red, yellow, and blue that
echo the mood. Daffodil, curry, topaz, puma, and saffron
are all yellow. Blood, cranberry, claret, cinnabar, and
barn are shades of red. Army, pickle, slime, celery,
malachite and honeydew are green. Be discerning. For
instance, dont use robins egg blue to
describe the color of a car at the scene of an accident.
The emotions associated with that particular choice of
words is too benign (unless youre a fan of
Hitchcocks The Birds). Choose a word that
carries more weight.
5. Tie similes,
metaphors, descriptions, and analogies to place to
immerse your reader in the story world. The following
examples are all from Fools Paradise, set in
Hawaii. I use these only because Im more familiar
with my own work and could find them in a hurry. I wanted
to convey a slightly exotic, Pacific Rim feeling.
She caught the faint aroma of sandalwood in his
I could have used any fragrance like woodsy or spicy, but
it wouldnt have conveyed the exotic note I was
Shed probably erupt with a fury to rival Kilauea.
Kilauea is a famous volcano in Hawaii
Her scent, as exotic as night-blooming orchids, rose
6. To add
interest-provoking sensory detail when the viewpoint
character cant experience what you want to
describe, have him or her remember or imagine the scene:
couldnt see the rumpled bed in the darkened room,
but in his minds eye Kailani still lay asleep, her
smooth shoulders glowing warm against the sheets, her
hair spread around her like dark water.
Dont try to handle all these different techniques
during the initial writing. Youll only slow
yourself down and risk losing that wonderful flow that
happens when the story details are pouring out almost
faster than you can type. Take care of story first. These
tricks are for the revisions, when you can play with
layering them in, enriching what youve already
written--making your romance zing!
Copyright Cynthia VanRooy. All Rights Reserved.
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