Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Last month I was guest blogger on the Australian Romance Readers’ Association (ARRA) site, enjoying talking directly to readers. As I wrote, I got that the same changes currently affecting readers also apply to writers, so I’m sharing much of that blog with you here.
I’d been thinking about how touching has become off-limits and what that might mean for relationships, both in everyday life and in our stories.
In my new book, 34 Million Bookspart memoir and part writing guide—I confess I didn’t learn to hug until my teens. My late husband was a wonderful hugger, sweeping my sisters into brotherly hugs whenever we visited.
Like our British-born parents, they were uncomfortable with such open displays of affection. One day he didn’t hug my older sister and she asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to attack me?’ Evidently she had learned to enjoy being hugged, as I had.
In my romance novels, touch is as essential to a relationship as it is in real life. There’s even a name for being deprived of touching—skin hunger.
We now know that orphaned babies whose basic needs are met but who aren’t held, can go on to develop anxiety, depression and mental health problems.
This is because gentle touching releases oxytocin, known as the love hormone, with benefits from reduced heart rate to lower blood pressure. By contrast, lack of being touched produces cortisol, the hormone making us feel stressed and anxious.
In my romance novels I like to focus on sensations like touch as much as on sexual intimacy. As the song says, you can’t have one without the other. Over the years I found the more I got in touch with my own emotions, the more clearly I could see where I needed to go in my books.
In times of social distancing, the task becomes more challenging but must still be addressed, even if you show them struggling with these issues and taking care of each other in ways we haven’t had to think about before.
It’s vital to show how the characters really feel. The author may tell us in various ways, but we aren’t in there having the experience for ourselves.
Our readers need to feel as if the story is about them. They suffer through the pangs of falling in love and being frustrated by the problems keeping the characters apart. Showing how they feel involves going deep inside the main characters, using the five senses: sight, sound, smell taste and touch.
While nothing beats being touched and held by a person who matters to us, we (and your characters) need to experience pleasurable touching within the “new normal” limitations.
What’s needed for ourselves and our characters is the feel of deep-contact pressure; this may be why weighted blankets are so popular lately. Sleeping under one can feel a lot like being hugged. Cuddling a pet has a similar effect, perhaps explaining the surge in pet adoptions during the last few months.
You can also try crossing your arms over your chest and pressing a hand firmly to each shoulder. Stay like this for a short time, close your eyes and imagine being held by someone you love.
This is a good way to explore how your characters feel. The fewer emotional barriers you have personally, the more ways you can show your characters responding to their feelings in rich sensory detail.
While being filmed by a television crew in my home, I mentioned how I sometimes test-drive scenes from my books in a similar way. Of course they wanted me to demonstrate for national TV, surprised when I politely declined.
Is the sense of touch important to you in your everyday life? In your romance novels? Please share your thoughts below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,
34 Million Books: Australia’s Queen of Romance
shares her life and writing tips

Buy now in print and ebook
You can find Valerie here: Website | Facebook | Twitter

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