Talking at Cross Purposes

Aspiring authors are told to write about life, about real people in real situations. Let your hero and heroine meet in a cute way. Let them be ordinary. Whatever you write, do not let your plot hinge on miscommunication.

To that I say “hogwash.”

Most of life’s problems swirl around communication—what we thought, what we heard (or misheard), what we said (or didn’t say).

How many relationships have ended because the partners couldn’t talk to each other? How many have succeeded because the partners could?

I had an employee once who had a phrase that told me something was bothering him. He’d say, “let’s throw the skunk on the table.” I knew the air was about to be cleared and after a good heart to heart talk, it usually was.

In my most successful book, Scandal’s Child, the hero and the heroine each think the other played them and left them with no explanation. Why? Because that’s what someone told them. They didn’t need to talk (they thought). They did try—twice—but each “heard” something else based on their fundamental beliefs.

This manuscript, by the way, was rejected by one editor because a book can’t survive when a single conversation would clear things up. The book was then picked up by another publishing house. That editor knew real life doesn’t always work the way it should. In the end, my characters decide they don’t care about the past. (This is a romance novel and all romance novels have happy endings.)

When I look over my other titles I realize communication figures prominently in more than one. In my upcoming book, Scandal’s Bride, the characters come together for mutual benefit, but each has a core belief about the other that is wrong. Do they skirt the issue early? Yes. Do they ever come out and discuss it? In this book they do, and that becomes a turning point.

Let’s be clear. When I say “communication” I’m not talking about secrets. Secrets are bits of information purposely withheld and when revealed are usually turning points themselves. Secrets abound in romance novel plots. In A Pinot for Your Thoughts my heroine is hiding her late grandmother’s gambling addiction and the hero is hiding his fear of water after nearly drowning. Both eventually come clean and that’s when the romance takes off.

Last example. When a national politician talks, each of us hears the same words, but based on our beliefs, we absorb the information in different ways. He’s communicating, but we’re either beaming with pleasure or gasping in outrage.

I rest my case.

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