Because most of us here on the blog write (and read!) a lot of romance, the week of Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to talk about that core component of a romance story: love. More specifically, believable, happily ever after (HEA) love.
I thought about HEA love this past week when Maria V. Snyder posted on her FB page about the need for Valentine’s Day cards for 25+-year relationships, cards along the lines of “you annoy me and drive me crazy but I’m still willing to put up with it” or “we worked hard to mesh and I don’t want to train anyone else”. Yeah, those aren’t quite the messages we tend to read or write in our romance novels, but they are tongue-in-cheek reminders that there are real-life HEAs.
Back in the fiction world, though, that ‘believable HEA’ part isn’t always easy to write, and doesn’t always resonate with readers. For example, there was a book we eight ladies (and classmates) read as part of our McDaniel writing program that had some of us saying, ‘Nope, I don’t believe they’ll make it, doesn’t work for me’. I won’t publicly call out the book, but as one of the people in the ‘nope’ camp, I can tell you that something the hero did to the heroine in the third act – humiliating her in public – made me think those two people just wouldn’t make it long-term. They didn’t have each others’ backs when it mattered. And that killed the romance of the entire story for me. Because although the stories in romances typically focus on the falling in love part of the relationship, for most romance readers, believing the couple will remain in love seals the deal.
The way the romance story ends is important to creating the expectation of the couple’s long-term success, but savvy readers have their antennae raised to detect signals throughout the story that each person is growing and changing, and earning his or her right to the happy ending. One of those indicators is the ‘air conditioner moment‘. This is in reference to the scene from Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer when the hero, Shane, brings Agnes an air conditioner, not because she asked for it, not because it was the goal she was trying to achieve, but because it was something she needed and he wanted to meet that need for her.
That gift of the air conditioner resonates not because it brings creature comfort or makes a cute scene. It resonates because it tells us the hero sees our heroine, sees what she needs, and is willing to provide it without her asking. Yes, this is the kind of thing that can drive real-life lovers mad: the expectation that one should have the ability to know what the other needs without having to discuss it. (And I highly recommend that if you need your significant other to pick up an air conditioner for you, by all means, have that discussion!)
But again, back in fiction world, where we only have limited hours of the reader’s time, we need to short-hand the sign posts that say these people are connected, they are paying attention to each other and valuing each others’ needs. They show us the couple is developing the skill set that will get them to the point – after infatuation fades – of still wanting to put up with each other through the day-to-day annoyances and the much bigger, harder struggles life will inevitably throw their way.
The air conditioner moment is one of my favorites in a romance story, so I always try to include it in my writing. However, as I’ve revised book 1 of my Victorian Romance series, I’ve realized that while I have my hero providing something the heroine needs but does not request (or even realize she needs), I don’t have her reciprocating. That’s not unusual; in fact, after a quick perusal of some of the recent romances I’ve read, it seems we expect more from our heroes on that score than from our heroines.
Now that I’ve realized it, I’m not happy about it. I want my heroine proving her love and attentiveness in a similar fashion. That means going back to the drawing board to figure out something the hero needs, which he might or might not even realize, that the heroine can give him. (And no, despite our recent discussions on the blog, it will not be something sexual. That’s in a different chapter.)
If you have any ideas, or maybe some real-life inspiration from your own love life, please share freely in the comments! Happy Valentine’s Day, and whether or not you are in a romantic relationship, take some time this week to share some love and happiness, real-world style.