Monday, 3 October 2011

Romance Writers Words to Live By: Newton's Third Law of Motion

(Continuing with my Science of Romance Writing Theme)

Years ago I read a story where the hero came to Australia to tell the heroine that the grandmother who had raised her was dying. The hero and heroine had quite a history and she’d left the country several years earlier. There were some great emotions when he first saw her and then when she first saw him. But when he explained that she must return to see her dying grandmother, she broke down and told him there was a three and a half year old child. And I braced myself for the huge reaction from him. Instead he went into pragmatic mode and started making plans about adding the child to her mother’s passport and the practicalities of travelling with a young child. At this stage the author lost me.

What could be more emotional than finding out that you have a daughter with the woman you once loved?

So we have: Newton's Third Law of Motion:

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Looking at a similar scene, let’s say we have a hero, Carl and the heroine, Grace. If we’re in the hero’s point of view, we expect to feel what Carl is feeling and see what he sees. e.g.

Carl watched as Grace wrung her hands together, bit her lip just like she used to all those years ago. Why is she so nervous? It must have been a shock to hear about her beloved grandma, though she hadn’t been back to see Helene since she left London four years ago.

She hadn’t been back to see him, either.

Though they hadn’t parted on the best of terms and he could have followed if he hadn’t been so damn proud.

Grace looked amazing. Her slim body was a little rounder in all the right places. Her hair, still wild and spiky, now barely touched her collar. He sensed something different in her. Time did that to a person. She looked him in the eye but then turned her face to gaze out the window at the quiet street.  “I can’t just leave.”

 “Helene is waiting. She is hanging on just for you.” Perhaps there was a man in her life that she couldn’t leave. Something shifted inside him. 

Tears threatened to flood her eyes but she blinked them back. “I want to go but I can’t. I have... responsibilities.”

What could be more important than her responsibility to the woman who raised her from age five? It’s not like she was a high fallutin’ corporate leader. Surely she could take a few days out of her busy schedule at the jewellery shop.

He moved closer to her. The sunshine freshness of her perfume swirled around him but he refused to let it taunt him.

She pulled back slightly, still blinking hard.  “I have a child.”

Surprise siphoned through him. A child? So there was a man in her life.

“She can come with you—”

“Carl, we have a daughter.”

Carl’s world suddenly tilted on its axis. His gut tightened, his heart beat fast and loud, thumping in his ears. Of all the scenarios he’d been through on the flight to Melbourne, he hadn’t given thought to anything like this. His mind buzzed with the news. He had child. A daughter. He started to pace back and forth.

“How? When?” He knew how. His mind tripped back to that last month together. Those long, lazy nights. The frenzied moments during the day. He stopped in front of her. They’d been careful every time.

Almost every time.

“And it didn’t occur to you to tell me.” He heard the sarcasm dripping from his own words. “A child, Grace. My child!” The blood surged through his veins and exploded in his head.

“Carl, I—”

“You what, Grace? You forgot?” His voice raised a few decibels. “You were too busy?”

“I know how you must feel.” Her face grew pale, her eyes wide and watery.

“Do you? How do I feel, Grace?” He wanted to grab her and shake her and make the last four years disappear. “Tell me how I feel!” He realized he was shouting and tried to reel in his anger. “Explain to me how I feel.”

She suddenly seemed quite frail. He refused to feel sorry for her.


Now if this scene were written in the heroine’s point of view, we would be privy to her emotions and what she sees.

As an exercise, why not write the scene from in Grace’s POV?



  1. Exercise answer: Carl is the one with the most emotional stake in the scene. Grace already knows her secret. Here, Carl is just learning and thus the scene is more powerful in his PoV. Great post!

  2. Hi Kay,
    Yes, you're right, in this scene, Carl has a lot more at stake than Grace. Still, it could be a worthwhile exercise to write the scene in Grace's point of view to work out the different emotions she would feel. Thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment :)

  3. Hi Serena,
    Great post. It's always good to remember those reactions!!! Something I need reminding about quite a lot :-)

  4. Hi Louise,
    I think it's great that physics can help romance writers :) And I know that you write some fabulous emotions/reactions! Thanks for coming in!

  5. Hi Serena,
    You just hit on something I'm grappling with right now -- my hero's reaction to something that happened a long time ago that he didn't know about. It was really helpful to read through your example!

  6. Hi Emmie,
    Oh that's great feedback. So glad you found it helpful :) Thanks for stopping by.

  7. I love your scientific take on romance!

    Mind you, sometimes guys do go into automatic 'fix it' mode in a crisis, which can drive women insane! hehehehehe.

    I do love this though. I also agree with Kay - I think this scene needs to be in Carl's POV because he's the one getting the bigger shock.

    If it was from Grace's POV, she'd hate herself for withholding the information and fear how Carl would react . . . but I don't think it would be as powerful. Then again, maybe I'm biased because I read this example and love it.

  8. Hi Ebs,
    Thanks for your input. I do agree with both you and Kay that Carl has so much more at stake in that he has been handed a life-changing shock. And while some men might just want to be logical about it and look at the practicalities, I think any man would be shocked to the core. Plus htis is fiction ;-P
    Thanks for dropping in.

  9. Serena, putting this advice in conjunction with Newton's quote makes it even easier to remember to follow; thank you! It was great seeing you at Bird's-eye View today.

  10. Hi Michelle,
    Thanks for your kind words :) And I enjoyed your blog and intend to return. Thanks for coming in and saying hi.