My husband is annoying me. He is walking around the house mimicking Tarzan’s undulating jungle cry. Now he is starting to call me Jane.
Come night he shows me a scene from this 2016 movie, Legend of Tarzan, where Tarzan meets his friend a lion after years apart. I feign nonchalance, engrossed in my book in bed, but over the rim of my book my eyes connect with the touching scene. Okay. I’m hooked.
Next thing I know, I’m snuggling up to my husband and watching another scene where Jane is looking for Tarzan inside a hut. He is hiding but gives her clues to where he is. He mimics the mating sounds of different animals. With each sound, she whispers the animal associated to it and at each sound she draws closer to him.
Check out Kevin and our peacock Oliver competing on who can deliver the best Tarzan Jungle Cry
What if I tell you both the first scene with the lion and the second scene with the mating sounds are both just as romantic? You might say, “What? The second one is a husband courting his wife. I can understand that being romantic, but where is the romance in the first?”
The absence of this recognition is why so many romance books are so cliched, predictable and something you can flick through and finish in a few days or even a few hours. They do not leave a lasting impression.
To create lasting impressions you need to create powerful scenes and well fleshed out characters. Even if a series of scenes flow smoothly, have believable dialogue, interesting characters and raunchy love scenes, it is still only a quick fix…oops I mean, quick read. You want to create an indelible etching.
What emotions do the scene with the lion evoke? Firstly, you recognise it is not Tarzan but Lord Greystoke meeting the lion because he is dressed as Lord Greystoke in his aristocratic attire. This contrast against the majesty of the raw African terrain leaves us awe-struck.
When you create awe, you create expectation. Make sure you write a climax that surpasses that expectation. When Lord Greystoke crouches and faces the lion, he reaches out with his eyes alone for mutual recognition. The danger is apparent. You hold your breath. It is a game of chess. Now it is the lion’s move. How is our expectation met? The lion approaches. They gently butt heads, rub cheeks. They caress. Ahhhh! Our hearts are melting. Our expectation is met.
You have not only created a powerful scene but you have also subtly fleshed out Tarzan’s character, especially with the short vignette narrated by his wife. Now you have dialogue, character building and description working together.
Imagine how you would write another scene for these photos above. Why are these two photos incredibly romantic? Imagine Lord Greystoke and his wife seated at their dining table rather than on a branch of a tree. It would not have the same effect. If they were wearing different clothes, it would not have the same effect. The contrast of the flowing white dress and his noble English robe worn in the setting of something akin to a tree house is so appealing and don’t write it for the sake of that appeal alone. It will appear contrived and unrealistic. It has to keep to the theme of the story, which is me Tarzan and you Jane.
Romance is so much more than writing sex scenes. This kind of writing is as forgettable as what you had for breakfast this morning. Let’s take the popular movie which was based on a book, Fifty Shades of Grey. Look at the reviews yourself. Then let’s take Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Eighty years on and we still remember Gone With The Wind. One of the greatest romance novels and not a single sex scene in that book.
In conclusion, I leave you with a review worth reading on Gone With The Wind that gives an insight into what makes a memorable romance:
“I honestly do not know whether to give this book 5 stars for being one of the most completely engrossing, shocking, and emotionally absorbing pieces of literature ever written, or to give it 0 stars for being the most tragic, unendingly upsetting, disturbing book I’ve ever read. I read the last 50 pages or so literally with my mouth wide open, unable to believe that it was really going to be THAT tragically sad. When I finally finished, I walked downstairs in a daze, handed the book to my husband, and told him to burn it and never let me see it again. Throughout the book, I frantically kept reading, often until 2am or later, just to see when it would turn around and start getting happy, but there was never any redemption – it NEVER got happy or uplifting. It just kept spiraling down, down, into despair. Maybe after a few days I will be able to step back and give it a proper rating (I just finished it last night, and am still reeling from it)….
UPDATE: After about a week, I have decided to give this book a 5, because any piece of fiction that can have that strong an effect on a reader deserves the highest ranking possible! Besides, I’ve found that, no matter how tragic and sometimes unlikeable the chartacters were, I am still thinking about them days after I finished reading. I almost miss them! They have truly come alive for me. Besides, who doesn’t love a good emotional roller coaster every once in a while?!” — Eve Brown, goodreads.com; community review; Sept 29, 2007