Part 1: Damn Good Romances
Part II: Romantic Tension
Part III: Romantic Conflict
Part IV: Emotional Intensity
Part V: Heart-Stopping Moments
Part VI: Uncertainty of Outcome
Part VII: Moment of Ultimate Vulnerability
Part VIII: Happy Ever After…For Now
Heart stopping moments in romance novels are for me, one of the reasons I’m so addicted to romance novels, and to certain authors in particular, who seem to be able to deliver heart-stoppers one or twice or more per novel like clockwork.
What is a heart stopping moment?
Heart-stopping moments almost invariably involve (one of) the hero(es), but they don’t have to. And they nearly always are moments where you, the reader, and perhaps the heroine catch a glimpse of the hero’s true, hot and hard feelings for the heroine.
They’re the moments when you catch your breath as a reader and if the heroine is aware of the moment at all, she comes to a full stop, too.
You get heart stoppers in movies, too, but film as a medium has more ways to deliver heart-stoppers: a searing glance from the hero, a touch or near-touch. One of the best recent examples I can think of in film is from the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen and involved nothing more than the touch of hands. Darcy helped Elizabeth up into the carriage, which is what a gentleman does. But it startles her, and the touch of their hands is a genuine heart-stopping moment for both the audience and for Elizabeth…and for Darcy, for there is a close-up of his hand as he walks away from the carriage, and he flexes it, like he’s recovering from electric shock.
If you’re a romance lover, you can’t watch that scene without your pulse lifting.
But that’s film, and what film doesn’t get to do is dip into the hearts and minds of the characters, which is where romance novels excel. We get to see the wholesale chaos and emotional turmoil such moments cause. And that’s what makes them so delicious.
Another classic moment, this one from a novel, is from Gone With the Wind. It’s a single line that reverses the entire scene’s meaning. When Scarlett goes to visit Rhett in jail, wearing her mother’s curtains, to borrow the money to pay the taxes on Tara, she fails because Rhett can move any of his money or the Yankees will seize it. In the movie, most of the desparate emotion of this scene has been stripped out, and the scene is reduced down to witty badinage between Rhett and Scarlett. But in the book, the scene is a high stakes one where Scarlett literally offers her body and soul before Rhett turns her down, immensely pleased by the moment of entertainment she has provided.
Just at the end of the scene as she’s leaving, completely defeated, Rhett offers Scarlett some advice.
“You are well enough, I see. Then, tell me this. Was I the only iron you had in the fire?” His eyes were keen and alert, watching every change in her face.
“What do you mean?”
“Was I the only man you were going to try this on?”
“Is that any of your business?”
“More than you realize. Are there any other men on your string? Tell me!”
“Incredible. I can’t imagine you without five or six in reserve. Surely someone will turn up to accept your interesting proposition. I feel so sure of it that I want to give you a little advice.”
“I don’t want your advice.”
“Nevertheless I will give it. Advice seems to be the only thing I can give you at present. Listen to it, for it’s good advice. When you are trying to get something out of a man, don’t blurt it out as you did to me. Do try to be more subtle, more seductive. It gets better results. You used to know how, to perfection. But just now when you offered me your—er—collateral for my money you looked as hard as nails. I’ve seen eyes like yours above a dueling pistol twenty paces from me and they aren’t a pleasant sight. They evoke no ardor in the male breast. That’s no way to handle men, my dear. You are forgetting your early training.”
“I don’t need you to tell me how to behave,” she said and wearily put on her bonnet. She wondered how he could jest so blithely with a rope about his neck and her pitiful circumstances before him. She did not even notice that his hands were jammed in his pockets in hard fists as if he were straining at his own impotence.
Margaret Mitchell – Gone With The Wind
It’s that last sentence that is the tell, the giveaway. It’s the heart-stopping moment that turns the entire meaning of the scene around. The movie skipped over it altogether.
Really good romances will have one or two of these heart-stopping moments in them, and it is these moments that you’ll remember the most when you think about the story. They’re encapsulated, one screen-shot images full of emotion, emotional conflict, romantic tension, character tension…the lot.
For that reason, a good author will very closely stage-manage their heart-stopping moments for maximum drama and impact.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll already be familiar with the idea of heart-stopping moments. I show case some of the best in film, novels and television drama as “Pulse Pause Moments.” And there have been some doozies!
Here’s another one:
She leaned down closer to Luke. “Could I speak to you outside for a moment? Please?”
His eyes narrowed a little and she saw his gaze flick across the other three men. “Sure,” he murmured, standing up.
She walked back out of the room and shut the door behind Luke as he emerged.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“I was…” She could feel panic gripping her chest. It was just like at the Christmas party. Her heart was starting to pound. “I was wondering about…whether…you…” She had to stop for a breath.
Luke was watching her, letting her battle it alone. Not helping her out. Well, she hadn’t said anything, yet. He had no idea what she was going to say. Or did he?
She knew she had to spit it out, no matter what agonies it caused her. “Come over for coffee tonight,” she said, the first inane idea to show itself.
“Coffee.” His eyes narrowed a little.
“Coffee and…” She shrugged, trying to make it look casual despite her clammy hands.
“Oh, coffee and. Yes, I’m acquainted with coffee and.” He folded his arms and leaned against the wall. “What are you serving? Cappuccino? Latte?” He smiled. “Or double double decaf…all froth and no substance?”
“Macciata,” she answered, irritation flaring.
“Macc— Okay, I’ll bite. What’s that?”
She swallowed. “Long. Long espresso…with a dash.”
“Long…” His expression was thoughtful, almost dreamy.
“Double strength,” she added. “It’ll keep you up all night.”
She realized the double meaning the instant she’d spoken and braced herself for Luke’s comeback. He would not spare her over such a slip.
But he leaned closer to her, his voice dropping low. “I don’t need espresso for that, Lynds. I just need you.”
She could feel the same breathless, floor-dropping sensation envelope her but this time it was anything but unpleasant. She was staring into his black eyes, lost there, floating weightless in a maelstrom of hot need.
She yearned for him to lean that little bit further and kiss her and take her into his arms and run his hands over her body, peeling aside all her clothes, which suddenly felt tight, restrictive—almost claustrophobic.
She wanted to be plundered just like all the heroines she’d read about. She had dismissed the idea as silly, vapid, until this moment. Now she understood it and wanted it, with every fiber of her soul.
She heard her breath push past her open lips with an unsteady rush.
And that’s when he moved away.
He straightened, like a soldier snapping to attention when caught off-guard by his superior officer. His expression resembled a man caught by surprise too.
He straightened his cuffs with a sharp tug. “I can’t come over tonight,” he said crisply. “I have a prior engagement.”
Lucifer’s Lover (c) 2012
What are the heart-stopping moments in your favourite romances?
Next: Uncertainty of Outcome