Of all the genres of novels I’ve edited, I most enjoy Westerns and mysteries, but the one in which I’ve the most experience is romance. Therefore, a person might be forgiven for thinking I might be able to easily incorporate romantic scenes into my own stories.
No. No, not without much cursing and gnashing of teeth.
And when one of my alpha readers squinches her eyes and purses her mouth and shakes her head — despite her best efforts at remaining courteously noncommittal — I know I’ve failed.
(spoiler warning for those who have not yet read Dragon’s Rook)
There is a reunion scene in Dragon’s Bane in which a couple meets again after he thought she had died. Each being of a reticent nature and possessing a painful past, they have never declared themselves, so the scene required the showing of deep affection but also deep restraint:
He embraced her, and through the fabric he felt the ridged scars on her back. She turned her face into the hollow of his shoulder.
Nay, lass, do not hide.
If you knew the truth—
He drew a deep breath. What can you say, Maggie Finney, to change my mind?
She grabbed handfuls of his tunic, pressing her fists against his lower back.
In earlier drafts, the pair talked about what happened after her “death”, and of the events that brought him back to the outlaw camp to find her grave, but it was boring, anticlimactic, cliched, and lacked the trueness I sought.
Several paragraphs were rewritten and rearranged and finally cut until only this one remains:
Maggie had fallen asleep standing up. Kieran guided her to the ground. She slumped against him and he eased her down, grabbed the blanket, then lay on his side, pulling her to him with an arm around her waist. She sighed. He tucked his knees behind hers, felt her heartbeat through her back, smelled the warmth of her neck. He had neither the wherewithal nor the desire to move. No matter the roof over his head, this was home.
It says everything I wanted to say, and in far fewer words than were written in effort to achieve it. Sometimes I need to blurp hundreds, maybe even thousands, of words onto the page before I know which ones I don’t need.
Brevity, as the bard said, is the soul of wit. Sometimes, brevity is also the soul of an entire scene.