My forthcoming novel Ocean’s Lure has been read by half-a-dozen beta readers (thanks!), and I am reviewing the comments and making edits. On the whole, the comments were positive. It stood out that regular romance readers were generally more positive than non-regular romance readers, which I found reassuring, and no one suggested I was doing any of the terrible things men do when writing female characters.
One comment was that my hero makes a verbal declaration of love too soon. It’s a fair point, and I struggled with whether to include it when I wrote the draft. Verbal declarations of love are a delicate subject, and I am much influenced by a 1986 Vicki Hearne essay in the New Yorker, in which she wrote, among other things, “Cats do not declare love much, they enact it” (August 25, 1986). At the same time, I felt a verbal declaration was something my character would do. I should confess that I also felt readers might expect this – much as I do not want to ‘write to market,’ I also know such declarations are common in the genre, and perhaps expected by readers.
Fortunately, I can have my cake and eat it too, by making the question of whether a declaration of love is appropriate the character’s problem, not mine. Making a plot or character problem the character’s problem works for a variety of scenarios. Not sure how to get a character from A to B? That becomes something the character needs to solve. Not sure if a nickname makes sense? Let the character explain it. Timeline confusing? Someone can explain it to another character. Is this just a way to sneak in exposition and cover or acknowledge awkward plot or character points? Yes, but it can be effective. I call this the Palm Tree Solution.
Film director Richard Rush wanted a particular location for his 1980 film The Stunt Man (view trailer). The story concerns the making of a period film, set in northern Europe during World War I. However, the location Rush wanted had palm trees everywhere. As Rush explains in this interview (12:44 to 14:40), he solved his directing problem of the palm trees in his desired location by making it a problem for the director character in the film. Here’s how the scene he mentions appeared in the film (30 seconds at start of clip).
A bit of a cheat, perhaps, but my character will make his declaration of love, he’ll be unsure if that’s the right thing to do, and the heroine will suggest it’s too soon. This is in character for both, and he has the point of view at the time, so his hesitation is easy to add. My hesitation to include the declaration is addressed, those who’d like the hero to make such a declaration are satisfied, those who object are satisfied, and the story is improved. Thank you, beta readers.