Last weekend, the family did the annual ice skating at Somerset House. We’ve been skating for almost a decade now. It’s fun, festive and a bit of a challenge.
So odds were eventually one of us would get hurt. That’s what happened to my son as he happily zipped around the ice. A misstep and he fell back with enough force to send us to hospital. All’s fine now. But when asked if the injury gave him pause about skating again, he answered with a one shouldered shrug and a curt nod.
His affirmative answer surprised me. If I hadn’t been looking at him, I would have missed it. Hours of fun and one painful shock had him wary of the festivities in the years ahead.
Yet, I also understood his wariness. In fact, I’m wary when writing about pain. Something I noticed when editing the last manuscript.
As my fearless heroine acknowledged and discussed her personal pain, she suddenly sounded timid. It was so subtle. If I hadn’t been editing, I wouldn’t have caught that it wasn’t the heroine, who was wary. It was me. So enters: Active versus Passive Voice.
I’ll not mention transitive verbs (shudder). Writers need to write: ‘She stabbed him.’ Not write: ‘The man was stabbed by her.’ That’s clear enough.
But for the life of me, I couldn’t edit my passive voice during the painful scenes. At first, I was sympathetic. After all, I heaped plenty of past agonies and current conflict on the heroine. I could barely write about it; how could I expect her to talk about it? Except…every time she did, she didn’t sound like herself. The passive voice had to go.
So where did I find an example of a heroine, who acknowledges vulnerability, wariness, pain and yet remains strong? Julia Roberts.
It’s been my theory Julia Roberts got the role in Pretty Woman because she delivers similar lines in Mystic Pizza. Yes, she tells Gere at the elevator: ‘You hurt me. Don’t do it again.’ But previously, she told Storke: ‘You lied to me. Don’t do it again.’
Julia displays her pain with active voice. ‘You hurt me.’ Not ‘I was hurt by you’. But visually she reveals her vulnerability: trapped tears, eyes looking everywhere else, fidgeting, repeating sentences, slight speech hesitations, etc.
I knew what I had to do. Keep my heroine’s thoughts and actions vulnerable, but keep her speech strong.
Even knowing what to do, I can’t say it was easy. There was a lot of hurt to write about. But on the next story, I’ll look for that subtle shoulder shrug and curt nod of wariness in my writing and address it.
Because I want my son to zip freely again when he skates. Just as much as I want my characters to stay true to themselves. After all, there’s years of fun, festivity and happily ever afters in the years ahead.
Do you like to see vulnerability in your romance heroines and heroes? Join the discussion with Nicole in the comments.
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