Writing Romance Part Two
By Kathy Lipscomb
The spark. If you read romances of any kind, you know immediately what I’m talking about. I think the quick infatuation between two people can work in a romance, but only if it’s done well. You’ve probably seen the spark in your own history of romance and crushes.
It certainly played a big role in my life.
When I was in kindergarten, I sat next to a girl and across from two boys. I remember one of the boys had brought in a handful of rocks, and the other boy told him that he should put them back outside. That one comment of responsibility and standing up for what he thought was right sparked something in my tiny heart. Now, I was only five and didn’t understand the flirting thing, so I bat my eyelashes at him. And that’s all I did thankfully. It sounds silly, no? I totally laugh when I think of this point in my life, but I was five. It was the start of the spark.
In junior high, the spark started to mean more to me. I walked to a class by taking the shortcut outside (way less students = so much faster), and two boys were rough housing along the way. One of them got shoved right into me, and that moment happened—his face was maybe, maybe six inches from mine. We both froze, and his gorgeous blue eyes went from startled to a smile. I was so shocked that I side-stepped and hauled it to class. But, oh man, a spark ignited. Only since I was now older, that spark stayed lit for a long time. I had a crush on him for a few years, keeping the flame going by seeing him, talking to him, eventually flirting with him (awkwardly at first). Nothing ever happened, but that spark was there waiting for the possibility.
The third spark that has meant the most to me happened in high school (Why yes, I’m comparing these to all the different age groups, which we use as writers of children’s fiction). I was a social butterfly and a huge flirt. It was around Christmas time, so I’d made a list of eighty friends to give a treat too (Yeah, it was excessive). Anyway, I was rummaging through my list, alone for the moment in the hallway, and a boy I knew (we had two classes together) but didn’t really pay much attention to, came up to me. I smiled and said hi, but was shocked when he gave me a tiny box of chocolates. I happened to know this kid didn’t hand out a lot of treats, only to really close friends, and as I thanked him, I panicked. Here, on my eighty list of friends, he hadn’t made the cut, and he was handing me one of his precious few boxes of chocolates. I handed him an extra candy cane.
I’ll admit that moment didn’t ignite the spark, but it got me to notice him, to pay more attention. A few weeks later, I was really upset over something personal. I smiled at school, pretending everything was fine, but I was really hurting. My friends, my best friends, didn’t notice. But this boy from before came up to me in the hall later and asked if I was okay. I lied, said that I was, but I was stunned again. This kid had seen through my façade when no one else had or cared. He paid attention and took action when he needed to. This started a spark in my heart that led to me getting to know this boy, to dating when we were sixteen, and when he came back from his mission, I married him.
Sparks can work in fiction. We know this, because it works in real life.
I’ve given several stages of sparks throughout children’s fiction. In elementary school, the spark is small and maybe as a grown up the reason for the spark seems silly, but it all makes sense to the kid. And the spark doesn’t really get tested. It’s innocent. In junior high, the spark happens more suddenly, with confusing emotions, and could be tested or could be left to slowly burn for years to come. In high school the spark can still catch someone by surprise (as is the sparks nature), and it could ignite the first time or maybe it takes a few ties. This one gets tested a lot. I had a lot of drama with the boy who I married in later life—our spark was certainly tested.
Now you all know that I’m a fan of conflict in stories. Conflict drives a plot. An author at a writer’s conference told us to put your favorite characters in a tree and throw rocks at them. So when a spark does not work is when you throw too big or the wrong kind of boulder at your characters.
Let’s play with some examples.
Let’s say two teens feel a spark, but one of them is a “bad boy” and is supposed to kill the girl (no joke, I’ve read this book). He even tries but then at the last minute, the last possible second, can’t. This is supposed to make him redeemable in the reader’s and girl’s eyes, right? It is unlikely that the girl’s flame would still be lit after such an incident, even if the boy didn’t go through with the murder. If this girl hadn’t been so pretty and interesting, the boy would’ve killed her. How can someone’s spark survive that? It’s too much.
It doesn’t have to be this extreme. Maybe there’s a spark when two people meet and have a great date—maybe the perfect date. Then one of these people is in an accident and has to be taken care of, and becomes grumpy and rude. After so little time together, this spark would not last. There’s nothing solid enough to hold onto.
This being said, there are many conflicts that can make a spark grow. Use something where the couple has to work together, where the conflict attacks them both. Set the scene beforehand so we really believe the spark has ignited and it ignites in your readers hearts too.