Visit Michele Jaffe's website at www.michelejaffe.com
Most people's response upon hearing that I write romance novels is to glance furtively at my husband, lean close to me and whisper, "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer to that question is, of course, a professional secret, but the answer to the question that inevitably follows - "How do you do it?" - is not. For me, writing romance is enormously delightful and, at times, enormously difficult. In an effort to illustrate some of the gnarly dilemmas I encounter, I thought I would share some of the scenes that I wrote that did not make it in to my new book, The Water Nymph.
One of my constant struggles is to keep dialogue compelling, as this scene illustrates:
Crispin looked impatiently at the woman sprawled on the bed. "Come on, Sophie. we have work to do."
"Can't move," Sophie whispered, barely moving her lips. "Faint from hunger."
"You are not in a faint."
Sophie's eyelids fluttered and she gave a pitiful sigh. "Life...seeping...away..."
Crispin leaner over her, struggling to suppress a smile. "Sophie, you are not starving to death. you ate my entire breakfast."
"I did not!" Sophie's eyes snapped open, and color returned to her face.
"You did too."
Sophie sat up. "I did not!"
"Yes, you did."
"No I didn't. I barely got the crumbs." Sophie sucked in her cheeks and tried to look wan.
"Only the crumbs. Is that so?"
"That is so. You ate everything and left me only scraps."
"I did not."
I have set my books during the Renaissance because it is the period about which I know the most - I have studied it for over a dozen years - and because it is peopled with fascinating characters, like Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare. But as with writing a book set in any historical period, there are difficulties with the language. In order to make my books interesting to modern readers, I do not restrict myself to Elizabethan English, but I do try as much as possible to use words that would have been current during the 1580's, especially in my dialogue. This has, on occasion, proven to be more difficult that I imagined:
Sophie smiled at Crispin with her mouth full of her third biscuit, then frowned as she looked down at the object in her hand. "What are you going to do about this?"
"First, I am going to wipe the crumbs from your chin. Then I am going to eat my breakfas -- " Crispin reached for the platter formerly containing a steaming pile of biscuits, and found it barren. "My God, Sophie, when you said you were hungry, you were not
kidding (not introduced into English until 1811)
fooling (not in use in this sense until 1609)
jollying (1370, but sounds strange)
obfuscating (1650, plus it's a bit pedantic for the morning)
fantasticating (not a word)
masticating (not the right word)
jesting (1526! Hurrah! -- oops, not in use in English until 1798)
My years in the library were good training for poring over historic word lists, but nothing about my academic training prepared me for the stylistic freedom of being a romance novelist, a freedom which can still make me giddy. Sometimes, caught up in a scene, my metaphors will creep away from me, assuming a life of their own, generally reflecting whatever is in my mind at the time.
He swung round to face her, and when he spoke, his voice was
sharp like a freezing wind
sharp like an Arctic (1391) wind
sharp like the wind off the Pyrenees (1555)
sharp like the knives wielded by the peasants of the Pyrenees
sharp like the whetstone used by peasants to sharpen their knives wielded by the peasants of the Pyrenees
hard like the whetstone used by peasants to sharpen their knives
hard like the whetstone of his cook
hard like the crust of his cook's bread
warm like the crust of his cook's bread
warm like the crust of his cook's chicken and mushroom pie
warm like the crust of his cook's apple pie with a dollop of caramel (1725) or rather, sweet cream, on it
warm like apple pie with iced cream on it...
The pleasure I get from writing is due in great measure to the challenges it poses for me. By far the largest of these is having to leave out some of the scenes that make me like my characters the most, scenes that they seem to write themselves.
Sophie pushed herself up on one elbow and looked down at Crispin as he slept. Moonlight played over his features, catching in his light hair, making shadows of the planed of his face. His beauty made Sophie's heart pound.
"Crispin," she whispered. He did not move.
"Crispin," she said again, this time louder. "Crispin," she pushed on his shoulder. "Crispin, are you awake?"
Slowly, as if being dragged from a great depth, Crispin sat up. His eyes were stil closed as he murmured groggily, "I know, I know. More biscuits. I will be right back." He moved to swing his legs off the bed but Sophie stopped him.
"No," she said softly. "I am not hungry."
Crispin, vaguely awake now, opened one eye and looked at her. "Not hungry? Didn't you just wake up?"
Sophie smiled shyly. "Yes, but it was not to ask for biscuits."
Crispin gave an uncomprehending frown as he resettled himself amongst the bedding. "It wasn't?"
"No. I...I just wanted to say 'hi.'" (1475, possibly)
"Yes," Sophie paused, then rushed on. "And that I love you."
Crispin pulled her to his chest and held her as tightly as he could. "I love you too, Sophie."