Leave 'em laughing (and/or wanting more) is an old show biz maxim, probably stemming from vaudeville or burlesque.
A new Regency by Sarah MacLean, "Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake," came out at the end of March. Still haven't managed to get my hands on it but it's definitely on my TBR list. (My first couple of forays to B&N and Borders found their shelves depleted of romance and their staffers alphabetically challenged.)
One of the things that drew me to look for the book in the first place was a snippet of dialogue that kept appearing on various review sites. After the experimenting heroine expresses her satisfaction with a brief peck from the hero, he advises her that "Kisses should not leave you satisfied." [He then proceeds to demonstrate.] "They should leave you wanting."
The dialogue left me wanting to read more. But clever dialogue alone won't carry your story if the words don't help us to know who these characters are or what they want or why we should waste time over them. Or if it paints your heroic imaginary friends in an unsympathetic light. (If they are your villains, that's a different matter.)
I know all this in my head. I know it when I'm reading other people's stories. It's hard to remember, though, when I'm actually trying to execute.
I need to keep reminding myself why things don't work. That scenes should leave us in a state of page-turning anticipation, if not outright excitement. When our writing is going nowhere, that may be why. Sometimes we get all tangled in meandering briar patches of words, sometimes we repeat the same sentiment or chunk of backstory or exposition until the reader is rolling her eyes, sometimes it's all just hot sex.
Without emotion, hot sex cannot carry a story. Without emotion that's unattached to a three-dimensional character with wants and needs and goals and motives, we just don't care. We need to connect to the characters.
The scene has to be logical. It has to lead us from where we left off before to a new place, fraught with dilemma, conflict and anxiety, new challenges that must be overcome. By the same token, if the characters merely skurry about from place to place to place, without ever stopping to consider the velvet texture of a rose petal or the way the smell of bacon makes your appetite sit up and take notice, we also don't care. At least I don't.
Whenever I write myself into a corner, I try to remember this, with varying degrees of success. Let them do something. Something critical, something intriguing, something that advances the story, that takes the risk factor to a whole new level. And then let them react. So that the reader will. In a manner that keeps the pages turning.
Currently, I'm stymied by a scene in which I know, logically, that an exchange of information, and trust, has to occur. That the hero and heroine have to pull away from each other in one sense, while coming closer in another. As outside forces begin to close in.
They're not cooperating with me at all. They're casting smoldering looks at each other and flopping around in bubbles, completely ignoring me.
I'm so afraid they're about to get shot. Or that their hideaway will be blown to bits. While they're still in it.