New book preview: one scene, two ways

This week instead of analyzing some aspect of romance as I usually do, I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at my current royal romance work-in-progress. The narrative is “broken” (as they say in the screenwriting biz), meaning all the beats have been plotted, and now I’m just putting the story into prose. But sometimes, even when a narrative is fully outlined in advance, the characters can take me in unexpected directions.

As I was writing a scene in which our two eventual lovers are on a private jet heading to the royal one’s micro-country, the characters started getting a lot more passionate than I had anticipated. (Honestly, for a second, I began writing erotica instead of the sweet romance I have dedicated myself to!) They flew out of Boston, where they were both regular old graduate students. In our fictional country, Remy, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them/their pronouns, is heir to the throne and bound by traditions like marrying to protect the royal line. The other, Sam, is an unknown American commoner. Time on the airplane is precious; one the plane lands, they know their lives will change. But they haven’t yet admitted their feelings for each other. They’re still figuring out what their antagonistic meeting says about their friendship or any possible romance.

Now here’s the question of the scene: as they begin to grow more passionate, should it be Sam who admits she’s in love or Remy? Currently, Remy’s made the first move, putting them in the position of vulnerability and giving Sam the power to reject or accept their advances. But if Sam tells Remy her feelings, she leaves herself exposed because, really, their feelings are immaterial to the reality that Remy is expected to marry someone else. (Don’t worry, gentle reader. This is a romance novel, and it’ll get sorted out, and they will end up together. We know that. But they don’t!)

Let’s look at the scene as I first wrote it:

After an eternity, Remy pulled away from her mouth and put their foreheads together. They were still holding hands. “I want you so badly,” they whispered, their breath hot on Sam’s face. “I’ve wanted you since the first time I saw you.”

Sam didn’t know how to respond. It was the declaration she had been waiting for. Confirmation that she hadn’t imagined all the tension between them and that Remy wasn’t just using her and didn’t just see her as a source of unconditional support. As a lower class plaything. And although their first meeting had been a mess, their dinner together had been a dream. Breakfast together – was it only yesterday? – had felt so intimate, like they were old friends and lovers catching up on secrets they wouldn’t share with anyone else.

“I want you too.” Her words came out in a breath, and she clutched tighter to Remy.

“You can have me,” they said, but their voice was tinged with sadness. “Whenever you want, you can have me.”

Sam pulled back enough to get a good look at them and gave her own wistful smile back.

“But I can’t,” she admitted. “Because you have to marry Genevieve.”

She shook her head. Was it better to know that Remy shared her feelings? Had something changed between them now? Or was knowing worse because she couldn’t have them, and this just another one of the disappointments she’d experienced since she’d met them? No, not another disappointment. The worst one imaginable.

“Oh, Remy,” she said, feeling tears spill over. “You have just ruined me. Every time I think I can trust you, there’s always one really big hitch.”

Although Remy puts Sam in the position of power by pledging that she can be the one who decides when they will kiss, have sex, date, whatever “have me” means, Sam realizes their words may be emotionally true, but they aren’t going to be a physical reality. Sam might get to sleep with Remy on the flight if she wants to, but she’s never going to “have” Remy. Someone else will. Although she’s hurt at the end of the scene, she at least has the power to not sleep with Remy, to not allow herself to be hurt, because she knows Remy’s going to marry someone else in the long run.

Now let’s look at the second version of this scene:

After an eternity, Remy pulled away from her mouth and put their foreheads together. They were still holding hands. “I want you so badly,” they whispered, their breath hot on Sam’s face. “I’ve wanted you since the first time I saw you.”

Sam didn’t know how to respond. It was the declaration she had been waiting for. Confirmation that she hadn’t imagined all the tension between them and that Remy wasn’t just using her and didn’t just see her as unconditional support for their gender. As a lower class plaything. And although their first meeting was a mess, their dinner together had been a dream. Breakfast together – was it only yesterday? – had felt so intimate, like they were old friends and lovers catching up on secrets they wouldn’t share with anyone else.

She wanted to their kiss to carry them away. To tumble to the couch together before the plane landed and everything changed. She wanted to see and touch their body. To show them it was beautiful, however it was made. She wanted to let them watch her come undone in the most private way. And she wanted to be responsible for making them come undone, to see, finally, behind their shields.

“You can have me.” Her words came out in a breath, and she clutched tighter to Remy. “Whenever you want, you can have me.”

“But I can’t,” Remy admitted. “Because I have to marry Genevieve.”

Sam jerked away from them. Since they’d met, she’d kept her cool and protected herself from their nonchalance. Had something changed between them now that she’d admitted she desired Remy too? Or was it worse because now she’d made herself vulnerable and felt the sting of rejection? Was she this just another one of the disappointments she’d experienced since she’d met them? No, not another disappointment. The worst one imaginable.

“Oh, Remy,” she said, feeling tears spill over. “You have just ruined me. Every time I think I can trust you, there’s always one really big hitch.”

As in the previous scene, Remy tries to give Sam power by admitting their desire for her and letting Sam decide if she wants to admit hers back. In this version, she does. She pledges herself to Remy, and it’s Remy who shatters her hope with the reality that they can’t really be together. This version has more emotional sting, but it also has the uncomfortable reiteration of their power dynamic: Remy/royal/wealthy/powerful vs. Sam/commoner/poor/vulnerable.

Which version will make it into the final manuscript, and how will they get out of the mess of Remy’s forced marriage to Genevieve? You’ll have to wait and see!

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