Thursday, July 19, 2007

Making Intimacy Real

So, we've all seen the twelve steps of intimacy, right? We demonstrate how our character's romantic relationship moves from one physical level of intimacy to the next. If you haven't, Morgan Hawke has an in depth article on Making Romance Happen that lays it all out. And while the article is excellent, it's missing the emotional side of the equation, the when these steps should happen. So that's what I'm going to talk about today.

Let me tell you how I got here. Of the last 5 romance novels I've read, erotic or otherwise, guess how many had the hero and heroine getting emotionally tied up in knots over each other based on physical lust? Go on...guess. Yup, you got it, ALL 5. In one of them the infatuated couple had their first real conversation halfway through the book; I kid you not.

What is wrong with these authors? I might lust over someone because they have six-pack abs, maybe, but I certainly wouldn't hop in the sack with them or fancy myself in love with them. I don't know them. They might be dumber than a rock, or have a cruel streak a mile wide, or be allergic to my cat that I've had for 18 years.

How can you fall madly, deeply, in HEA love if you don't know what kind of integrity a person has? How do you know if you can TRUST that someone because he's big and brawny or she's narrow waisted with big gazumbas? The answer is you can't. You have to see the other person in action, in situations where their values are tested, or where you are getting to know each other. And trust me on this, this is the romance readers favorite part. They like these scenes even better than the sex scenes, these small moments of emotional intimacy that grow and make way for the physical intimacy.

But...but...but...I hear you cry, what are the levels of emotional intimacy how do I demonstrate them to my reader. Well aren't you glad I decided to blog today...cause I have the answer.

The 7 levels of emotional intimacy borrowed from Matthew Kelly.

The first level is the level of the cliche'.
We all know how this level goes. Hey, how are you? I'm fine. These are cliche's. Not a real question. Not a real answer. Courtesy.

The second level is the level of fact.
Now we know someone well enough to really ask and really answer. How are you? I have a cold and my sinus are killing me.

The third level is the level of opinion.
Now we know someone well enough to either seek or offer an opinion and find value in it. We care what they think. Does the this hat look good on me? I am reminded her of a scene in Gone with the Wind where Rhett brings Scarlett a new hat and she purposefully puts it on wrong. There was purpose to the scene outside of being cute. Scarlett tests Rhett. Does he think enough of me to not let me make a fool of myself.

The fourth level is the level of hope and dreams.
This is a very significant level of intimacy. This is the point where one might start feeling that love feeling. Think how freeing it is to be able to say :I fancy myself a writer." And how wonderful it is when your SO (significant other) says "Damn, straight you are." Or more how uncertain we feel when our loved one doesn't support our aspirations.

The fifth level is the level of feelings. This is, for many authors, the pinnacle of the relationship, that moment when the character let's their guard down in trust and says. I am vulnerable to you. I am reminded here of a description of love in a book I read when I was a kid. It said that when you truly loved someone you gave them the power to hurt and pain you in a way nothing else could. Think how much trust you must have in someone to say I am jealous of...I am sad because...I delighted because...I am...anything. Their words then could either lift you up or smash you like so much fine bone chine.

The sixth level is the level of faults, fears and failures.
You thought level five was it, didn't you? Nope. On this level of intimacy we must have courage. The fifth level might leave you vulnerable, but this level leaves you emotionally naked. Completely bare and defenseless. On this level, it's not enough to just admit that you have faults and fears and failures. Those are the duh factor. The part of this level that leaves you naked is that you must say. I have faults AND I need help. I am afraid, walk beside me in the darkness. There has been crap in my life AND I'm messed up, but I'm trying to do better. Celebrate my progress, expect my progress, remind me when I'm not being the person I want to be. That is a tall order to give and to live up to. And it requires even more trust that the person will hold these parts of you gently and not handle them or you roughly.

The seventh level is the level of legitimate needs.
In this level we look at the four aspects of living: the physical, the emotional, the intellectual and the spiritual. We each have needs in all these areas. The physical is the easiest to grasp. I think there are 6 or seven on maslow's list: air, food, water, shelter, warmth, sleep, sex. But the areas we have needs in as well when we trust completely we can share these with our loved one and they will support us because it's what we need. I need to be creative. I've chosen several aspects to express this need over my life, acting, dancing, writing. But the need is real and I couldn't be with anyone that didn't understand that. I can pursue what I need and be loved and appreciated for those. They make up who I am and it is the ultimate acceptance.

So get it straight. Lust is NOT enough to build a relationship on. Hard-bodies are great. Full, robust, dynamic relationships are better. This list is also great fodder for real relationship dynamics. I'm more than tired of the misunderstanding or the dearly held secret/painful past. Give me something real, substantial and most of all truly romantic.


Rhonda Stapleton said...

BRILLIANT! You nailed it...the most appealing stories to me are the ones that walk us through the deepening trust/relationship between h/h...well put!!

Morgan St. John said...

well said Jass, although, I really do like the sex scenes... I must be one of the shallower readers! LOL. The whole bit actually reminded be of the dreaded Hero's Journey [God, not that old chestnut!], but it's true if we see all of these elements in our manuscripts than we have succeeded in telling a well developed, emotionally satisfying story! Thanks for sharing...i'm copying and pasting right now!

Mima said...

i loved the list. i'm not into the checklist aspect of things tho. "you must hit all of these steps or it isn't believable". just don't agree. you can be aware of the span, and refer back to when it happened, maybe even in a flashback, but i think it's possible to start the book at level 4. reading this checklist made me think of robin schone's tutor book- she took the reader through every single step in segmented episodes of the heroine's sessions with her tutor. that book rocked.

Cold Potato said...

I too believe you don't have to hit all the steps in order. A story might even might be more believable if the steps are all mixed up and the characters have to work their way through the nature of their characters.

Ms Menozzi said...

I admit it - I'm pleased to read posts like these, because they reassure me. When I see things picked apart like this, I realize that I have done most - if not all - these things within my story.

I understand peoples' resistance to following a "checklist", but the fact of the matter (I believe) is if you've written well-developed, fleshed-out characters with a realistic base, you've done all of this already. It's just enlightening to see you have, and how you've done it.

One of the greatest rewards you'll reap is when people refer to your characters as though they're real people.

That's when you can sit back and breathe a sigh of relief. Job well done. ;)