Please give a warm welcome to romance suspense author, Jessica Lauryn!
Thanks so much for having me, Crystal! I’m thrilled to be guest blogging on Reading Between the Wines, and I just love the picture you have at the top of your page! It got me thinking about the significance that wine and other drinks play in romance novels. How much is too much? Do you like to see a glass of vodka in the hero’s hand…or would you prefer he be drinking something else? I can’t speak for other authors, (or readers for that matter!) but I can honestly say that I take careful time and consideration into when and where I place alcohol into my characters’ hand, aiming to create just the right mood at just the right time. There’s a reason aggressive heroes will compliment candlelight with a good bottle of wine…and there may be more to it than you think ;)
In my debut novel, Dangerous Ally, Lucas Ramone, diamond smuggling kingpin and all around bad-boy sets out to prevent New York Times Reporter Lilah Benson from exposing his criminal ways. And as any good hero would surmise, Lucas decides the best way of taming the savvy journalist is with a surefire seduction.
Fast forward to chapter six. Term coined by Lilah herself, Lucas has sets “candlelight dinner trap” into motion. Hero and heroine are dressed for a party of grand kings, in a gown and tux. They walk toward the table, and Lucas pulls back Lilah’s chair. His next move? He takes the bottle of wine from the ice bucket and pours it into their glasses. From minute one of our anticipatory evening, hero and heroine begin to drink. The tempo and mood of the scene are established as dark, anticipatory, mysterious, and of course, seductive. As wine has been known to have this effect…and the events of the evening later end in a passionate kiss, Lucas appears to have made the right drink selection.
Just as readers have their own opinions as to whether or not a scene works, sometimes authors need a little help in setting the tone…and selecting the right drink for their characters can be a big part of that. In my latest release, Dangerous Proposal, Lena Benson runs from her psychotic fiancé (Lucas, hero-to-reform in Dangerous Ally), only to find herself tangled up in the mess that is Alec Westwood, small town doctor and local heartthrob, who just happens to have a big secret of his own. Low and behold, Lena and Alec meet in a tavern, which means there’s a big time need for me, the author, to select the right drink. When I wrote the original version of the scene, Alec spotted Lena across the bar, her trembling hands wrapped around a bottle of Corona. (Already sounds a bit off, doesn’t it? Though to me, it sounded just fine, which is why at first I kept the detail as it was with no intention of changing it.)
So, one of my critique partners, who just happens to be a man, read this scene over. His reaction was as follows: “You can’t have her drinking a beer. It’s not feminine.” “But, why not?” I argued. “I know plenty of women who drink beer. Lena’s terrified. She’s fully expecting her fiancé to come charging through the door, throw her over his shoulder, then take her home and lock her in the basement, never again to see the light of day. She needs this Corona. It’s the absolute least she can do for herself in the middle of such a crisis.”
As I imagine most authors would agree, I don’t always take every bit of advice I get from my critique partners. But this particular bit of know-how got to me. I knew I couldn’t just forget about the suggestion without at least giving it a try. And so I switched out Lena’s Corona for a glass of wine. Not a big deal, right? It was a small change to make, but at least this way I could gauge how it work, see if my friend knew what the heck he was talking about ;)
So I implemented the change, and the sentence then read, “Her soft white finger, wrapped around a glass of wine, were trembling.” And the sentence following said, “She didn’t seem as if she’d sat in a place like this a night in her life.” Starting to get the picture? Lena’s an innocent, who’s probably never even been to a bar before. And it makes sense that she’d order something reflective of that innocence. Perhaps her parents, whom we learn from context are somewhat well-to-do, always had wine at the dinner table, and therefore this is a drink she is familiar with. Taking the suggestion made things click for me, and it made the scene click, too.
As a reader, I want to see the characters of a story drinking what it seems they ought to, heroes especially. Just as in real life, it seems to enhance a hero’s masculinity to see him drinking something that would be considered macho or tough—whiskey, bourbon, scotch, something that demonstrates his fearlessness as well as his strength. In turn, I’m betting most of us would probably be disappointed to see our heroes drinking “some fruity mixed drink,” which is something we typically expect to see in the hands of a woman.
On the other hand, maybe we’re reading/writing about a heroine who is tomboy. Personally, I doubt I’d write about a heroine who enjoys hard liquor (although you never know!!) So in this case, I think that beer would probably work nicely.
In real life, people can take offence to stereotypes, as they are generalizations assumed mainly for the purposes of trying to gauge a new person in a short amount of time. For this reason, some may overuse them, while others avoid using them altogether. Just as in real life, as a romance novelist, I believe that there is a right time as well as a wrong time to use stereotypes in stories.
And, my personal rule of thumb is as follows:
If your character is your typical man or woman, meaning if they are a man they exhibit traits and behaviors that are predominantly masculine, and if they are a woman they exhibit traits and behaviors that are predominantly feminine, choose your drink accordingly.
If your character isn’t typical, meaning they exhibit a mix of feminine and masculine traits, they exhibit mostly traits typically constituted as belonging to the opposite sex, or they’re just plain unique, give them a drink that you, the author, believe they’d go for. And know that characters of this type are often the most memorable, as well as the most fun!
Pay attention to what the hero, heroine and side characters in a story are drinking. It may tell you something about the characters you didn’t know, or perhaps it will even give you a hint of what’s to come later in the story. Isn’t that what we’re all reading for in the first place? ;)
For ten agonizing years, Alec Westwood has been keeping a secret from the world. At nineteen, he nearly committed the most horrific of crimes—murder in cold blood—and narrowly escaped the assigned task with his life. When a stunning young woman crosses his path wearing the insignia for the underground organization that recruited him, he vows not to let fate get a second chance. But when the enchantress gives him a kiss that leaves him spellbound, Alec realizes the power she holds is greater than all his strength and fortitude combined…