Writing a Romance Novel AKA…What is UST anyway?
Writing a contemporary romance novel is a tough gig. In the twenty-first century, couples who have reached the age of consent (and many who haven’t) have few reasons NOT to leap into the sexual arena as soon as they’ve acknowledged their mutual attraction. This poses problems for the writer who wants to explore a developing relationship that doesn’t rely on frequent and graphic descriptions of copulation.
This was the dilemma I faced in the fall of 2009 when I first started to write The Weight of Words. I wanted to write a romance, in one of the truest senses of the word—a story in which the female protagonist is “courted” by her male love interest, a man who, while not immune to the physical attributes of the woman he desires, is forced to first win her heart.
What I set out to do was to write a realistic tale of a contemporary couple who must try to remain apart physically, even while they’re bonding intellectually and emotionally. Since I was eager to revisit my own university days, my alma mater, the University of Toronto was a natural choice for a setting. The site of some of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in the city, U of T provided many perfect locations for the romance between Daniel and Aubrey to bloom. Once I’d decided on an academic setting, Shakespeare’s universal themes seemed a perfect way to pursue the motif of a forbidden romance.
It wasn’t until I’d written the scene in the Hart House reading room, in which my lead characters engage in a heated “texting” session, that I fully comprehended how readers were responding to the story. I kept hearing the term “UST.” Having no clue what the acronym meant, I sought clarification from a friend, only to discover that people were really enjoying the unresolved sexual tension between my romantic leads. I’d set out to write a romance in which characters resort to something other than sex to secure the affection of the one they desire, but in the process, apparently I was creating some kickass UST. Who knew?
Qualities such as wit and intelligence are the weapons of choice for my characters as they try to bring down each other’s defenses. A heated gaze, a slight touch, a knee tap—these small exchanges become of paramount importance in developing the chemistry between them. Once Daniel begins to woo Aubrey in earnest, hauling out the Shakespeare, buying her small tokens of affection and writing her love letters, all bets are off.
I’m a sucker for a good old-fashioned romance. To watch this sort of relationship flourish in a contemporary setting is the icing on the cake.
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