Getting the characters’ internal dialogue right is one of the finer balancing acts in a romance. I fall into the trap of over-explaining their thoughts and feelings, which is not only boring, but it takes the tension out of the scene. The power of books is that the reader is not a passive consumer. The reader is a participant in the story. The writer’s job is to convince the reader that they are inside the minds of the characters. The surprise is that the most effective way to do that is not to spell out what is going on in those minds.
The trick is not to tell the reader what those feelings are, but to make the reader feel them. Instead of spelling out what the character thinks, the reader needs to think it. How to achieve this is a matter of technique (learned) and individual style.
Compare these two:
- He was six foot two of muscled perfection with simmering brown eyes and a hint of curl in his hair. His shoulders were broad and muscular, his hands big and capable. With that crooked smile he was probably used to charming the panties off anyone he liked – and probably those he didn’t like.
There’s nothing really wrong with it, but it’s a bit boring and descriptions always have a tendency towards cliche. It’s difficult to skirt cliches in romance.
- Sonja was right he was handsome, but it was never going to happen. He was chatting to Helen – or rather, listening to Helen talk. Those huge hands gripped his beer and made the cords of muscle in his arms stand out. Was that messy hair on purpose or was he just a slob? And those shoulders either meant he was a lumberjack or a gym junky. Helen leaned into him in a classic invitation to observe her cleavage, which he accepted with some enthusiasm. His brown eyes strayed down her legs and he shot her a crooked smile.
Nearly all of the same traits are covered, but with action in the passage to disguise the description. It’s also leading the reader to conclusions regarding both the hero and the heroine without banging on about it.
I use a lot of dialogue. I like to let my characters tell the story as much as possible. Sometimes that makes my writing quite sparse, which I’m not always sure works, but I would prefer to err on the side of brevity and simplicity than knock my readers over the head with barrages of words.