I wrote this post for the Fourth of July last year on Teatime Romance. Even though we’re several month off from blowing things up for fun and patriotism, I’m in the middle of writing a romance and thought it would be fun to share.
One of my favorite things about the Fourth of July is fireworks. Currently I live in Montana and these folks take their fireworks seriously. Like my fellow Montanans, I, too, am a fireworks fan. I’ve been to my share of sporting events with Big Bang shows after and theme parks aplenty. I’ve seen the various fireworks shows at Disneyland often enough that I know them by heart. Fireworks, quite frankly, are awesome.
Which brings me to romance. ‘Cause it’s all about the fireworks. That’s one of the main reasons we read romance, we’ve bought our tickets and we want to see stuff explode in a myriad of pretty colors. When writing romance there are lessons we can learn from the real gunpowder-based fireworks about how our fictional fireworks show should go off.
Here are my top four:
(Please note that when I’m talking about fictional fireworks I am not necessarily talking about sex, or even kissing, but the way characters react to each other when they’re in like/love. There can (and should be) fireworks in the tamest romance about two Amish characters. This disclaimer brought to you by me.)
Anticipation. We all know the fireworks are coming. We’ve amassed in front of Sleeping Beauty’s (or Cinderella’s) castle for a reason. The lights have gone down and we are waiting with baited breath. I mean, yeah it’s fun to be driving down the freeway and see some random yahoo launching fireworks into the sky…but it’s more of a “oh hey, look at that,” moment as opposed to an “I can’t wait for this!” moment. Just the fact that we’ve put our book in the “romance” genre means that we’ve promised our readers some kind of fireworks (please see above disclaimer). And the whole first part of our story capitalizes on that same anticipation. This is why some erotica is different from romance in my mind. It’s more like driving by the side-of-the-freeway-fireworks. I’m not saying, it can’t be entertaining, there’s just less anticipation. And anticipation is a good thing!
The Right Mix. You need to have the right mix of elements that will react to create dazzling fireworks. In the case of actual fireworks that’s gunpowder, oxidizer, and colorants…and even more gunpowder in the first stage to launch it up into the sky. (If you’re nerdy like me, check out this article and this article to read about how fireworks work. It’s cool.) In the case of romance, you need characters, plot, and tension. Very few people want to read a story that consists of “two people met, went on a few dates, fell in love, the end.” You need characters that readers care about, a realistic plot, and the tension to provide the spark that sets it all off. My favorite line from the chemistry.about.com article says about gunpowder: “The materials will react with each other when enough heat is applied.”
Yes. Yes, they will.
Now, I’m not saying this is easy – and notice I’m giving you no writing tips to help you along, because I’m helpful like that. I just want you to know that if you’re feeling like this is a hard task, you’re right. If you’re feeling like it could blow up in your face or fizzle out at any moment, you’re right. Wow. Not only am I super helpful, I’m also super uplifting. My point is: this isn’t easy. I feel your pain. Don’t throw your computer out the window. We’ve all been there. Solidarity.
Timing. It’s all about timing. If the firework exploded before it got launched into the air it would not be cool. People might even die. Luckily, you’re not gonna kill anyone if your timing sucks! Yay! But with the right timing, fireworks are awe-inducing. And if you’re super fancy you can coordinate with music and inspire patriotism and sometimes (if you’re lucky) tears and kids holding their hands over their ears and screaming in terror. Good times. Here again is where the line between romance and erotica gets drawn in my mind – erotica is all about the bang (yes, I did), and romance is more about the artfully choreographed show.
In romance the timing is about giving your readers time enough to care about the characters and the characters time enough to care about (or at least be attracted to) each other…and then…
Construction. This is quite possibly the most important element of fireworks. Much like with the timing issue, a poorly constructed firework can also lead to death…and maiming. Or it can just refuse to go off and no matter how hard you hit it with a hammer it will continue to lay impotently in the middle of the street (side note: this is an actual story from my childhood during which we had family friends that constructed their own fireworks. I do not condone hitting unexploded fireworks with a hammer.) Aerial fireworks are shells that are packed with black powder, a bursting charge, and “stars” which are like their own little sparklers. There are even multibreak shells which are more complicated and break in several phases. They way the stars are packed determine what kind of visual display you will get. Here’s a tip: most romances should consist of a multibreak shell – sometimes it’s that breath between explosions that make them even more awesome – and the stars should be really bright, colorful, and fizzy.
I’d like to tell you there’s a magic formula for creating fictional fireworks, that you can follow instructions and get it right every time. Unfortunately, that’s not true. And that’s part of the reason why I haven’t included helpful tips for achieving the right levels of anticipation, or told you just the right way to mix the proper elements…there’s no right way. Every author is going to find a different way to do it – and probably a different way to approach it with every story. No two stories are the same and each deserves it’s very own fireworks show!
What are your favorite kind of fireworks (fictional or otherwise)?