HTH member Barbara Bettis was kind enough to prepare this summary of Damon Suede’s AGM speech. You can also access a full transcript of Damon’s presentation by clicking here.
If you’ve never heard Damon Suede speak, you’ve missed an inspiring, insightful, and thoroughly delightful experience. And dynamic. And entertaining. He shares incisive advice on what makes characters live, spring off the page, confront each other in their voids, and elicit emotion from readers. Eliciting emotion in readers is of major importance.
Suede discussed “Power Couples: Making Lovers” when he spoke at HHRW’s AGM meeting Wednesday morning, July 18, kicking off the RWA Conference for most members. His engaging presentation made two hours seem like ten minutes—and definitely left the audience frantically adding notes for their WIPs . Which makes him happy, he said. “I love it when people come away with something to use right away.”
While Suede touched on a variety of way to create memorable characters and stories, he focused on ways to power up a romantic pairing.
The first and last meetings of couples are important, especially to readers. Readers are pattern-finders. Certain kinds of patterns are present in certain kinds of storylines, and readers are sensitive to identifying them. People are ‘hardwired’ to recognize patterns, he said.
“Audiences crave patterns with meaning, resonance, and resolution,” he said. The first meeting of the couple sets the tone for the relationship and provides signals for what readers are to expect. The last helps readers find closure. And closure, Suede said, “is where we create story.” It’s what keeps readers on the page and helps them “fill in the gaps.”
Writers can energize a couple’s relationship by creating symbiosis, ensuring the elements of the characters align, and allowing them interaction within the other’s Void.
He defines Void as a “problematic emptiness,” something from a character’s past—a need, lack, injury, absence. The Void is persistent, but in the end, it is eased or lessened. A couple will “impact/affect” each other to help “fill/heal/solve each other’s Void.” But that healing will not be without conflict. The more action, the more conflict, the more energy. Put the characters in a position where it is impossible for them to be together (perhaps what motivates their separate Voids is diametrically opposed), yet other factors make it impossible for them to be apart. Contrast creates energy, which needs release.
These processes help generate emotions in the readers. People read for emotion—to be moved, to be surprised, he said. And it’s what people (characters) do that moves others.
In addition, he emphasized the importance of Verbalizing, or creating characters using verbs rather than adjectives or adverbs. Strong verbs carry action. Adjectives and adverbs don’t create a story; action and conflict carried through verbs do. Modifiers tell, while verbs show. And action is the root of the story. Conflict creates action (and action, conflict) and that creates energy. However, writers can’t show energy; we can show the effects of energy.
Relationships are illustrated by the effect characters have on each other. A spirited push-pull in their symbiotic connection creates action, tension, energy. (Remember the pushmi-pullyu from Dr. Doolittle?) If there is no effect, there is no relationship. So creating a power couple involves showing the ways they affect each other.
Often those ways involve elements of their respective Voids—the (usually negative) elements from their pasts that drive them individually—and keep them apart as a couple. The relationship between the two becomes smoother as the problems become resolved and the two become aligned with each other.
While the power couple was the focus of Suede’s presentation, he included many more points to help enliven and enrich writing. Those points can be found on the five-page handout, which he generously agreed could be posted. It can be found here: https://www.rwa.org/p/do/sd/sid=21932