One of my favourite scenes in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is the scene directly before the Beast giving Belle the library – when he says he wants to make a romantic gesture and the suggestion is made for flowers, chocolates, and meaningless gestures. The Beast of course opts for something much more in line with Belle’s sensibilities and desires. And it is wonderfully romantic.
I got to thinking about this in conjunction with Valentine’s Day. My daughter who is 25 and very single told me that she didn’t like the day because of the grand meaningless gestures. And if anyone ever proposed to her on that day, she’d rejected them out of hand for lacking in imagination. I personally think grand gestures are fine, but they have to be filled with meaning for the recipient are fine. And for me as a writer of romance, it is all about finding that meaning.
And for each of my characters, I like to think — what’s your library, what is the one thing a character can give which says I get you and more than that I understand what makes you tick. In other words, I love you without saying the words out loud. Obviously it is not the same for every character and sometimes it can be difficult to determine because not every character is forthcoming as one would like.
When I was writing The Warrior’s Viking Bride, for example, it was not immediately clear to me what Dagmar wanted. Because of the way she’d been raised by her mother, I had initially considered that she truly wanted to be a warrior. But in the course of writing the novel, I came to realise what she truly wanted was to have a place of refuge, a place where she could be herself, find peace and belong. And the gift that Aedan mac Connall initially gives her – the glimpse of a life beyond warfare – is something which is immeasurably important and helps her reconcile the various parts of her personality. It is when I wrote the following passage where the seed is planted in Dagmar’s brain that she can have more that I truly began to understand what made my characters tick and why they were falling in love with each other.
‘No, it is the perfect spot to rest without fear of being attacked.’ She leant forward. ‘Getting the best ground possible is the first requirement to winning a battle. Although sometimes you have to make the best of what you have.’
‘Do you ever think of things beyond warfare?’
‘Is there something wrong with that? It is how I have lived my life.’ She tilted her chin. ‘It saves me having to think about the past or the future.’
‘Life is more than such things. Life is about enjoying sunsets over crystal clear bays, finding the first buds of spring after a hard winter, and a good meal with fresh clothes on your back with a solid roof over your head and a roaring fire in the hearth. It is about being with the ones you love and knowing that they love you back.’
‘You are a man of simple tastes.’
‘Try it. Try talking about something which isn’t war or strategy.’
Dagmar was silent for a long heartbeat. ‘My belly aches from hunger. We neglected breakfast.’
She bent her head and he could see the long sweep of her neck. She was daintily boned. It seemed almost impossible that someone who was so exquisite would be a deadly killing machine whose sole interest appeared to be the art of warfare. He blamed her mother who had trained her that there was no other way to survive except as a sell-sword. She had kept Dagmar as a tightly closed bud rather than allowing her to flower and develop as a woman and Aedan loathed her for it.
When I was writing Sent as the Viking’s Bride, I realised that Gunnar had finally understood what Ragn needed when he made her look at her face in a pond and asked why did she persist in thinking she was ordinary when she was extraordinary? His gift to her was helping her regain the self-confidence she had lost. It is what she needed at that moment.
I could go through my other books and find the moment because it is a point that I like to have. My characters have to fall in love and therefore show that they do love the other person through a meaningful gesture.
And should my daughter ever encounter the right person. Hopefully she will say yes whether or not she is asked on Valentine’s Day.
Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance in a wide range of time periods including Viking, Regency, early Victorian, and the Roman world. Born and raised near San Francisco, California, Michelle currently lives a few miles south of Hadrian's Wall with her husband, three children and menagerie of pets. An avid reader, she became hooked on historical romance when she discovered Georgette Heyer, Anya Seton and Victoria Holt in her school's library. Her website can be found at www.michellestyles.co.uk
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