Write Byte

Creating Chemistry that Sizzles

(April 6, 1998)


Debra Dier's Scoundrel had some of the most intense chemistry between a hero and heroine I've ever encountered. You know the intensity - it's when you feel it down to your toes. I've been hearing good buzz about her most recent release, Devil's Honor, as well. I caught up with Debra recently and asked her how she creates the type of chemistry we romance readers crave. Here's what she had to say:

Chemistry is that hard to define sizzle between a man and a woman. It's like bringing together the exposed ends of two live electrical wires and watching the sparks fly. The key to creating and sustaining chemistry is in bringing together the right characters.

I always strive to create characters that live in a reader's mind. Since my romances always deliver the promise of happily ever after, the reader must first believe these characters are worthy of an ever lasting love. It's also important for the reader to believe the hero and heroine deserve one another. In some way I must demonstrate both are worthy individuals, with qualities that compliment each other. When creating the hero and heroine, I often think of two halves seeking to become whole. Even if it isn't clear to the characters that they are meant for one another, the reader must think they are perfect for one another. Think of an invisible tether, connecting one to the other. The hero and heroine may fight against the pull, but we hope they won't win. Slowly, over the course of the book, they are drawn to one another.

Bring together two sympathetic characters who in another time and place would fall instantly into each other's arms, add a conflict strong enough to build barriers between them, watch how they manage to overcome those barriers, and you have the ingredients for a chemical reaction. In Scoundrel, I brought together a woman terrified of being humiliated again by a fortune hunter, and a man who presents himself as an opportunist after money and position. The heroine, Emily, is confronted with the man of her dreams only to discover he is her worst nightmare. At least on the surface he is. Still, in spite of her best efforts to despise him, she sees in him qualities she admires in a man, and she cannot deny an overwhelming attraction to him. The hero, of course is not what he appears. He is indeed an admirable man, a secret agent working to unmask a traitor who just might be her father. Conflict in all directions. Yet they manage to forge a path to happily ever after.

For a reader to care about a character they must understand the character's motivations and goals. The reader must understand what has shaped these people. For Emily in Scoundrel, she had once been engaged to a man who turned out to be a real fortune hunter. It colored her feelings toward the hero and strengthened the conflict.

The readers must also see admirable qualities in the hero and the heroine. In some way the characters must earn the sympathy of the readers. In my most recent release, Devil's Honor, the hero, Justin Trevleyan, at first appears arrogant, amoral, harsh, a reprobate beyond redemption. Once we switch viewpoints and the reader gets a chance to hear Justin's thoughts, they also see his vulnerabilities, his uncertainty. It soon becomes apparent his brash facade hides a wounded soul, a man who doesn't believe in his own self worth, a man who has built walls around himself to survive. His need to protect the heroine Isabel and her sisters becomes apparent early in the novel when he risks his life to save Isabel's youngest sister, revealing his true nature. The reader begins to appreciate the man behind the harsh mask. The reader also learns about Isabel. She is a strong willed woman, willing to sacrifice her future for the sake of her sisters. Both characters possess admirable qualities, including honor, loyalty, honesty, and compassion. For chemistry to work, a reader must care about what happens to these people.

Conflict is an important factor in creating chemistry in a romance. Basically conflict is created by obstacles that stand between these two people finding happiness with one another. The conflict can be internal, meaning something in a character's thoughts or value system has erected a defense against the other person, external, or both. In Devil's Honor, the conflict is mainly internal. Justin at first doesn't feel he is worthy of Isabel. Isabel thinks he wants too little from a relationship. He is satisfied with lust. It's safe. She wants an everlasting love. He doubts it exists. Still, there is an undeniable attraction between them, that tether drawing one to the other. She wants to believe he is the man she has glimpsed behind his harsh mask, a compassionate, honorable gentleman. He wants to change for her, but doubts he can. The reader however, knows he is capable of more than he believes possible. In any romance, for chemistry to sizzle, the readers must root for the hero and heroine to find a way to be together.

Tension is important in sustaining chemistry. Will the hero and heroine ever come together? In Devil's Honor, while Justin struggles with his doubts and pride, Isabel is making a successful debut into society. Other men are interested in winning her hand. Although he fears he is beyond redemption, Justin still cannot let go of her. Although she fears he will make her miserable, Isabel can't let go of him. The tension draws one toward the other. In any of my stories, I want the reader to think the joining of hero and heroine is inevitable. Justin and Isabel, or any of my other heroes and heroines, must succumb to the attraction simmering between them. They cannot break the tether binding one to the other. Their union is destined. Fate cannot be denied. True chemistry is forged when the reader feels the hero and heroine belong to one another. Only to one another.

Debra Dier

E-mail Debra
Read an AAR Review of Debra's Beyond Forever
Read an AAR Review of Debra's Dangerous
Read an AAR Review of Debra's MacKenzie's Magic
Read an AAR Review of Debra's Saint's Temptation
Read an LLB/TRR Review of Debra's Scoundrel