Nancy: The Big Gesture


Several of us here at 8LW read and write romance, and with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I thought it would be a great time to talk a bit about writing love and romance. I also thought it would be a great idea to share something from my own WIP to demonstrate a point. The thing is, my current WIP isn’t a romance.  It’s a women’s fiction story and the main relationship developing is the friendship between the three protagonists. Still, I don’t think I could write a story with no romance in it, so there is something I can share after all.

When we discussed writing romantic arcs in our McDaniel classes, we talked about the importance of The Big Gesture. In a nutshell, this is when one of the lovers (for our purposes, let’s say the hero) makes a grand gesture to show the depth of emotion for his partner/love interest (let’s say the heroine). This is based on the premise that actions speak louder than words, so while saying those three little words are all fine and good, having our characters show that they mean those words is even better. And here’s the really important point about The Big Gesture: it can’t just be anything grand the hero feels like doing for the heroine. It has to be specific to the heroine, to her wants and needs, and bonus points if it directly ties to her main story goal.

In sharing an example of this from my WIP, I chose to use Mike and Maddie’s storyline. This is a little different in that this couple has been together for years, but a recurrence of Maddie’s cancer puts their lives and relationship on rocky ground. The normally tougher-than-nails Maddie is feeling vulnerable and  scared – emotions totally foreign to her – when, in the middle of her road-trip to Vegas with the girls, she learns test results have shown her prognosis is poor.  She has to hop on a flight and hightail it home to Virginia to start treatment. And that’s a real problem, because the only thing other than this cancer that has ever scared Maddie is the prospect of getting on an airplane. Knowing this, Mike makes a grand gesture. Here’s a snippet from the scene.

Five minutes later, Maddie’s face was dry, her mouth was pressed into a smirk, and her ratty red leather purse and pristine black high-tops were in a plastic bucket on a conveyor belt, ready to be cleared for takeoff. Maddie stepped through the metal detector without incident and met her belongings on the other side. She even found the energy to smile at the security guard, who inappropriately asked why such a sexy red-head was leaving Vegas alone.

“Hey, gorgeous!” Someone touched Maddie’s lower back and she jumped a foot into the air.

She whirled on her heel, ready to head-butt the asshole who was taking liberties she hadn’t offered. The lopsided grin and clear blue eyes stopped her cold. Mike had her in his arms and planted a kiss on her before she could even get her shoes and purse ff the conveyor belt.

“Sorry,” she mumbled to the people behind her when finally gave her a second to collect her things, but she wasn’t. She sat down in a nearby plastic chair to put on her sneakers, but she could barely take her eyes off him.

“Has really only been a week?” he asked. “It feels like I haven’t felt you pressed up against me in a year.”

“Good to hear you missed me, but what in the hell are you doing here?”

“Getting on a plane with a sexy redhead who shouldn’t be leaving Vegas all by herself.”

“Oh, you heard that?”

He took her hand and pulled her to her feet. “I shudder to think about the things I didn’t hear on this trip.”

She laughed. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But you still haven’t answered my question.”

“I have. I’m here to take you home,” he said as they reached their terminal.

“When did you get here?”

“About half an hour ago.”

“You flew all night Did Eileen know you were coming?”

“I will not incriminate your friends.”

“So Sarah knew, too? She’s getting good at keeping secrets. All that card counting is giving her one hell of a poker face.”

He lashed his arm around her waist and kissed her cheek. “Yeah, about that, you promised to tell me the story of how you got banned from the strip.”

“Technically, I didn’t get banned. That was Eileen and Sarah.” Feeling the exhaustion of a too-damn-early wake-up call, Maddie yawned. Mike hustled her into a seat.

“We’ll talk more on the plane,” he said.

She grabbed his fingers. “Seriously, Brewster, what the hell are you doing here?”

He sat down beside her, not breaking her gaze. “It’s probably not the best idea to drink yourself into a stupor to get through the flight, so I’m here to distract you.”

She blinked hard. The tears were determined to start again, but she was more determined to stop them.

He put his arm around her shoulders. “It’s you and me, kid. Always and forever.”

Just like that, those goddamned tears started rolling down her cheeks, and didn’t stop until their plane touched down in Dulles five hours later.

This was one of the rare (for me) scenes that wasn’t actually planned before I wrote it. Mike – silently strong, kind, history professor Mike – surprised me when he showed up in the Vegas airport. But as soon as I got the scene on the page, I realized it was entirely necessary to foreshadow how he will be there when Maddie needs him, without her even needing to ask him, and that will allow Maddie to break down when she needs to as the story progresses. But it’s also important because it shows the reader what has held this couple together for all these years, and it gives the reader hope that they can get through this terrible time and earn their ‘happily ever after’.

So what Big Gesture have you written for lovers in your WIP? And what grand gestures from romances you’ve read stand out in your mind?

13 thoughts on “Nancy: The Big Gesture

  1. Oh jeez, Nancy! What a great scene! I can’t wait to read the rest.

    My grand gestures: I don’t have any. You’ve brought up the most excellent point that I need one (or two). I’ll have to think about that.

    One of my favorite grand gestures is from Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer’s “Agnes and the Hitman” where Shane buys Agnes an air conditioner. We talked about that in class (I remember now), but I still think that was the sweetest thing he could have done for her.

    • The air conditioner was a good one, and so specific to what Agnes needed. And it’s not always easy to recognize what the ‘right’ grand gesture would be in the foray draft, so now that you are in revisions, you can look for the right thing and the right place for it :).

      • I love that air conditioner, and the way Shane knows exactly what Agnes needs most and gets it for her – no fanfare, no fuss, just makes it happen. It’s genius.

        I like your scene, Nancy. Mike sounds wonderful!

      • I was thinking a lot about this today (and dreaming about it last night, and I NEVER dream about my book)…something that would be great for Nate to do for Susannah is to buy books to replace the ones her uncle sold from the family library. Bonus if he can dig up some that actually used to be her father’s. To have Nate hone in on that and try to help her rebuild it would be great, I think.

        • That’s great that you dreamt about your book! Going to sleep with a specific book issue on your mind can allow the Girls a chance to come up with good stuff. You should definitely write the scene (or scenes) and see how it works!

        • This sounds like a great idea! And I’ll tell you, digging up the original books may not be so far-fetched. My grandmother had a falling out with her brothers, and they did some terrible things to the things she was supposed to inherit (left them out in the rain, etc.). But years later, she did find some old family photos in a garage sale, so a little bit of the past was restored. I bet those books may not have gone far . . . and I love having a library be the “air conditioner moment.”

          (-: And of course, a lot of old books have a lot of secrets — letters tucked into the back, money, false insides. I am such a sucker for those Nancy Drew tactics (-:. In the course of buying and moving those books, what if something fell out? LOL, ymmv.

  2. So far Reed makes one big gesture: he finds a way to give Cheyenne the classic Chevelle he inherited from Rose after her own car is totaled in a wreck. This will mean less time with her (he’s driving her everywhere) but he does it anyway because he knows that cars = freedom to Cheyenne

    Also (and I’m not sure this meets the definition of the huge gesture but its romantic as all hell): After Reed finds out that Cheyenne has an irrational fear of scorpions (something Hawk instilled in her), Reed gives her a small black light on a keychain so she can readily see them which means more to her than a garden full of roses (Thanks to Justine for this).

    • Thank you:). The scene is still in draft form, but I was happy with it as a starting point.

      To get an idea for a grand gesture, you could start by making a list of the heroine’s wants, needs, even fears ( see Kat’s great example above), and work it from that angle, seeing what the hero could do to address one of those issues. Of course, the heroine can make grand gestures, too, but for a primarily female audience, I think the hero grand gesture really cements it that he is good enough for our girl.

  3. Love this grand gesture. And the thing is, the giver often thinks it’s as simple as pie, just a logical thing, and s/he doesn’t even think of the sacrifice. But, for the receiver, it’s huge. Whatever block that prevented him/her from doing/buying the thing has suddenly been removed, and that dizzying feeling of being off-balance is awfully close to the dizzying feeling of falling in love (-:.

    (-: My husband made the grand gesture of coming to Tokyo and taking me to Hokkaido by ferry the first time I came to Japan. At the time, I thought it was sweet, but only after years of living with him and his family and business did I really realize what a big deal it should have been to him — no time off on a dairy farm, it’s very expensive to leave the island, etc. etc. The things we do for love!

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