After last week, I felt that there was more to be said on this topic. But first, a brief history:
Before she married my father, my mother was a dancer. (She still dances. She is still taking ballet classes today.) When I was young, she shared with me an observation she had made about dancers. She said that some of the great dancers were born that way. They just arrived equipped to dazzle with the beauty of their dance. They were limber and graceful from the very start.
But the best dancers of all, the ones who outshone all the rest, most often were not the ones to whom dance came naturally. They were the ones who had slaved, who had suffered, to get where they were. Because they had both grace and control, while the first group, who had so much natural talent, often never bothered to do the extra work necessary for them to gain the same level of perfect control.
This has always given me hope, because I did not arrive as a natural storyteller. I only arrived loving stories.
When I got out of college and sat down to start writing seriously, all I had was a love of storytelling and a talent for writing dialogue. Everything else—description, emotion, action, body language, etc—was outside my grasp.
Slowly, painstakingly, I have taught myself one area of storytelling after another. Description was so hard for me. I spent years trying to learn to write even simple descriptions. I would copy by hand passages in books by authors I liked. I would sit and describe the same thing over and over. Sometimes, I wonder if none of the descriptions I write for the rest of my life will be quite as nice as the ones in Prospero Lost…because I polished them over and over and over again. I’ll never have that kind of time again for that. Luckily, nowadays, I can write at least a decent description in much less time.
It is still work, though. My first drafts always just have a spot where the word “description” stands by itself, reminding me to go back and add what something looks/smells/sounds like. Etc.
Then, I worked on action scenes (still a work in progress) and plotting, and more recently, I have been struggling with body language –putting across emotion through actions. I find this devilishly hard—so hard I am almost daunted. But I keep recalling that my mom says that I made a huge fuss when I had to write my first sentence and, later, my first paragraph—those things got easier, so I live with the perpetual hope that this will get easier, too.
As I said last week, the next mountain on my writing radar is: Romance. Now, I have not written much romance, but I LOVE romance. The pursuit of woman by man and visa versa just enchants and delights me. I have loved this since the moment of my birth, when—according to my sainted mother—I smiled at the doctors who had helped birth me. According to Mom, I took off after boys as soon as I could crawl and never stopped (until I got one!)
(My mom tells a funny story about two-year-old me and boys. I had a friend named Carl whom I used to follow around. Carl was an older man. He was four. Carl would run about with his dump truck, chanting: “Truck, truck truck.” I would toddle after him, imitating him.
Only, I could not say “th”, so I said “f”.
My very proper grandmother came upon us one day and exclaimed in horror, “My they are starting young!”)
Enough historical aside. Back to romance.
One of my favorite things about reading romances—either the genre called romance or the romantic plot in any other kind of story—is the moments that zing. By zing, I mean the moments when that jolt me like I have received a shock, or in a really good book, a lightning bolt. The moments that leap off the page.
First kiss is often a zing moment. But more recently, I began to study these moments more careful, to realize that there were quite a number of potential zing moments and that many authors do not make as good use of them as they could.
A zing moment is the moment when we the reader feel the electricity between the characters. They are the moments when the relationship between the two lovers is intensified…when they realize or admit another step of attraction.
Kissing is one such step, but so is the moment the girl realizes she likes this man better than her other beaux; the moment when he realizes he cannot stop thinking about her; the moment she realizes that she is in love. These are the game changing moments, and the more of them the author stops to highlight, the more enjoyable the story.
Zing moments mainly take place between the lovers, but they can take place from a third person’s point of view: a family member or close friend, a member of the community, and, especially, a rival. The moment these folks become aware of the attraction between the unlikely pair (romance is almost always between ‘unlikely pairs’) often really stands out.
Here is my favorite zing moment, from another person’s point of view, of all time. I am writing it out in full. Next week, I will say more about zing moments and my ongoing attempt to list them.
From where he sat at the card table [Pierre] he could see Natasha, and was struck by the curious change that had come over her since the night of the ball. She scarcely spoke, and not only was she less pretty than she had been at the ball, but she would have looked positively plain had it not been for her look of benign indifference to everything around her.
“What is the matter with her?” Pierre wondered, glancing at her.
…Pierre, hearing greetings and the sound of someone entering the room, again glanced at Natasha as he picked up his tricks.
“What has happened to her?” he asked himself, till more amazed.
Prince Andrei was standing before her, saying something to her with a look of guarded tenderness. She had raised her head and was looking at him, blushing and visibly trying to control her rapid breathing. And the radiance of some inner fire that before had been extinguished glowed anew in her. She was transformed: from a plain girl she had again become what she had been at the ball.
Prince Andrei went up to Pierre, and Pierre noticed a new and youthful expression in his friend’s face.
Pierre changed places several times in the course of the game, sitting now with his back to Natasha, now facing her, and in the course of six rubbers he played continued o observer her and his friend.
“There is something very serious happening between them,” thought Pierre, and his mixed feelings of joy and bitterness so agitated him that they made him neglect his game.
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Let me know your favorite zing moments in romance. If they are not already in my list, I will add them!