Impatient as I can be, when it comes to books I love anticipation.
Not for nothing Michael Bay movies put me to sleep and I’ll shamelessly read Persuasion three times a year. Austen can milk tension out of a glance, and Michael Bay can’t make supermodels and bombs and robots interesting no matter how much money he throws at them.
Modern culture is pretty bad at delayed gratification. One of the side effects of the mass market is that consumers have little interest in waiting for anything. They want what they want when they want it…and of course the moment they get it, they want something else. There’s always a brand new flavor with turbocharged extras.
Anticipation is practically naked into the act of reading, because turning squiggles on a page into pictures in your head and heat in your heart doesn’t happen quickly or automatically. On the flip side, zoning out to the boob tube takes minimal attention, and for that reason film and TV struggle like hell to make romance work unless it has other ingredients: comedy, paranormal, action, angst.
More than almost any other genre, Romance loves delay…probably because the core story is so simple: a powerful relationship with an optimistic outcome. Love stories need a certain amount of tease and stall or otherwise every book would skip right to the good stuff: Once upon a time…they lived happily ever after.
Yeah, no. Give me a lingering glance, a smile in a whisper, a secret promise, the brush of hands, the words you can’t say, that endless, anxious moment before you take the plunge into everything ever after. That’s the stuff that knocks me down.
Tension is what makes flirting work; it’s what separates foreplay and fucking. As one of the oldest showbiz maxims dictates: make them laugh make them cry, make them wait. Oh sure, we all want things and resent having to wait for work for them, but every payoff feels so much better after the build-up. If you can make me want to hold out and get me worked up by degrees, I’m gonna be a wet mess when the time comes.
As cover designer Kim Killion says, the most popular pose for every romance cover for almost a century has inevitably been the “almost kiss”… the moment when two characters hover right on the verge of intimacy. Swoons, clinches, and lusty gazes. Anticipation made visible, languor that lingers… All that suspended emotion generates maximum tension, maximum drama, and maximum visual impact. The open question of “will they or won’t they?” tugs at our monkey minds.
When I decided I wanted to write a romantic suspense, I knew that half the battle would be playing with the things that kept my lovers apart while forcing them together. Everything bent towards friction: bodyguard/billionaire, brute/suit, brawn/brain. The longer I could keep their desire and emotion bottled up, while shaking things like a hot soda. Between all that pressure and the penthouse location, Pent Up named itself a week after I started. For me the romance needed the suspense and vice versa.
The way I figure…in genre fiction, timing is critical. A romance cannot begin with its happy ending, a joke cannot start with a punchline. We all know when dialogue crackles and when a sex scene falls flat. My favorite books keep me happy waiting and worked up, until I have literary blueballs.
This explains why we’re terrified by killers creeping up on unsuspecting victims from shadows, why all jokes require a setup to payoff, and why we remember Juliet on her balcony with Romeo pining below. The spaces between two fascinating characters appeals to our emotional curiosity at the gut level. The pregnant delay creates tension and tension keeps us on the hook, turning pages or not blinking.
The anticipation is everything…both wanting to dive into a story and trying to make it last as long as possible. Sometimes I think what defines different subgenres (and their audiences) is the type and tone of the suspense involved. The word suspense comes from the Latin suspendere meaning “to hang up” and/or “to interrupt.” A story which doesn’t keep us hanging is no story at all. In a world of open questions, we crave closure and that anticipation grabs us by the heart and squeezes.
And that’s why I can always go back and reread the books I love. I already know where they’re heading, but every time I pick them up again, I’m held fast, dangling between possibilities, so in love with the characters that I can’t remember how it turns out, as if the pages might change under my hands. I always come back to those keepers because they know how to keep me in the state of almost.
Almost always. 🙂
by Damon Suede
Released: November 20th 2015
Published by Dreamspinner Press
PENT UP: Mix business with pleasure and take cover.
Ruben Oso moves to Manhattan to start his life over as a low-rent bodyguard and stumbles into a gig in a swanky Park Avenue penthouse. What begins as executive protection turns personal working for a debonair zillionaire who makes Ruben question everything about himself.
Watching over financial hotshot Andy Bauer puts Ruben in an impossible position. He knows zero about shady trading and his cocky boss lives barricaded in a glass tower with wall-to-wall secrets and hot-and-cold-running paranoia. Can the danger be real? Is Andy for real?
What’s a bullet catcher to do? Ruben knows his emotions are out of control even as he races to untangle a high-priced conspiracy and his crazy feelings before somebody gets dead. If his suspicions are right, Andy will pay a price neither can afford, and Ruben may discover there’s no way to guard a heart.