Rewriting Valentines Day
By Leslie Lehr
Every Valentines Day is a love story, from the year you received three bouquets of roses (including the one from your dad), to the year you made pink oatmeal and drew hearts on your children’s cheeks, to the year your husband called cross country only to find out if his phone was working while you watched The Vagina Monologues alone in bed.
The story is the part that matters. So why not write your own? You can set the scene with sparkling champagne, fancy appetizers and a roaring fire to create page-turning suspense about what will happen next. Internal conflict may arise from nerves about your new lingerie; external conflict from kids opening school valentines in the next room. When you take control (even if that means buying your own damn flowers), the celebration can reveal your character and move your life forward, by answering a question about today and raising a larger one about the future.
Writing fiction works the same way.
Romance novels often follow a pattern: the first kiss, the first dance, then the proposal. Heaving bosoms and modern sex scenes can develop characters and add conflict by raising immediate questions of what will happen next. We know the lovers will unite at the end, so your love scenes serve to add spice to the larger question: how?
With dramatic fiction, the love story is a subplot that must serve the main story. Writing love scenes can slow down the narrative drive, so sex is often used as shorthand. But don’t shorthand your sex scenes. Just as you don’t want gratuitous sex on Valentines Day - okay, sometimes you do - in a novel, gratuitous sex tends to do little more than reveal character. If the scene doesn’t add new information, then it won’t move the story forward. If your reader can skip it, so should you. Worse, you are missing a great storytelling opportunity. Determine what needs to happen, then add the sex.
In my new novel, What A Mother Knows, there is plenty of romance and two actual sex scenes. One shows how far apart the couple has grown and inspires the protagonist to make a plan. The other is a surprise, and shows how she is literally taking control of her life. The seduction is descriptive enough that I’ll be embarrassed if my daughters read it, but it has every important story element: it strengthens character, adds new information, answers an immediate question, and raises a new one, driving the narrative forward.
Last night, I planned Valentines Day with my new husband (see the story here?) like a proper romantic scene: sparkling champagne, fancy appetizers, and a roaring fire. As luck would have it, there were some last minute revisions. I was too sick to drink, the appetizers burned, and we ran out of logs. But it still made a good love story, especially as a subplot of life. It answered the question of how we endure when romance eludes us, and raised the question of what happens next.
Are you ready to rewrite Valentines Day? On paper or in real life, you have all the elements for a great story.
What A Mother Knows is available for preorder at your favorite bookstore and at www.leslielehr.com
Check out Bachelor Sean wishing me well on my chemo journey at www.facebook.com/authorleslielehr (and to paraphrase Sally Field, please Like me). Are you on Twitter? I’m @leslielehr1