Writing the Passionate character is exhilarating and scary and one of the funnest things about story telling. Readers understand passion; everyone is passionate about something or someone, even if they do not pursue the feeling. The yearning is there. It can connect them to your characters deeply and personally, whether they like them or not.
Passion’s bookends are excitement and madness. Convey too little urgency and characters disappear into the vague, recycled fog of “excitement”. Show too much obsession and they appear reckless, even insane. Hit the sweet spot between the two extremes and you’ve likely made a relatable character readers will be curious about, even if they don’t agree with their behavior.
I like to write passion one character has for another without using much physical contact. This is hard because one kiss can speak 1,000 words and a smoking hot sex scene can eliminate chapters of back story. But a risky gesture, sensitive thought or even silence can snatch your reader by the lapels and dangle them on hooks until you explain further. This is what I experiment with in fiction and I will always need to practice at it because it feels like speaking another language.
Below is a scene I wrote for a fan fiction story about my favorite family drama, “Dallas“, rebooted in 2012 from the original series airing 1978 – 1991. This scene features Harris Ryland, a frustrated man who still loves his ex-wife, Ann, now remarried to a wealthy oil man, Bobby. Complicating matters is Harris’ mother, Judith, who has a weird Jocasta complex and hates Ann, naturally. Ann and Harris’ daughter, Emma, is causing problems with Bobby. Ann has just left a short visit with Harris to discuss Emma and realizes she still misses him. Writing a romantic rendezvous for them would be believable but predictable. Instead, I sent him right up to the new husband’s front door to ask Ann to come back. That’s near crazy. Who does that? Wait for it…a passionate man.
“Ann! Annie?” Harris shouts to the back of her car as it glides down his long driveway and out of his life, the red rear lights glowing in the night, warning him to stop.
He whimpers slightly as she drives further away from him. The little warbled sound surprises him so much he puts his hand over his mouth. His neck prickles and he spins around, suddenly aware he is not alone with his anguish.
Judith is illuminated in the upstairs window like a holy ghost. Her teased blonde hair frames her pale face like a massive halo, the smoothly curled ends hugging her shoulders. Harris can see her bright red lips. They twist into a strange smile. She wags a finger motioning for him to come inside and turns around, not doubting he will.
Harris does take a step toward the house then wretches, disgusted with himself. He doubles over, his stomach rippling into cramps and his heart pounding so hard in his ears he can feel the blood rushing along the sides of his neck.
He turns back to the road, now pitch dark, Ann’s car long gone.
“What do you want!” Harris shouts into the sticky, moist night air. “What do you want?”
He holds his sweating head in both hands, drops of perspiration and tears drip off his face and down his forearms. He runs his tongue along his lips, trying to taste Annie from years ago.
“Mr. Ryland?” the security guard says from the porch. “Mr. Ryland are you alright?”
“Yeah, fine. I’m fine,” Harris says hoarsely, still bent over.
“Well Miss Judith is asking for you. Would you come inside please?”
Harris looks hard at this man intruding on his private moment.
“What?” Harris says, craning his neck forward.
“Uh, your mother, she….wants you to come inside….sir.”
Harris throws his head back and laughs a loud cackle straight up at the sky. The bright moon is full tonight and he howls at it.
The long, loud howl startles the guard and he grips the porch railing. He keeps glancing over his shoulder at the front door, afraid Judith will open it any second.
“Mr. Ryland? Are you….sir, are you high or…?”
Harris snaps around to face him.
“Mothers tell sons to come inside when they’re children,” Harris says, his eyes sparkling with clarity. “Do I look like a child to you?”
The guard stays silent.
“AM I A GODDAMN CHILD?”
“No. No, sir.”
“Tell my mother I went out.”
“Oh, uh, yes. Okay. But when…can I tell her when you’ll be back…approximately?”
“I might not come back,” he says without turning around.
He walks over to his car in long, springy strides, not once looking to the upstairs window where Judith has reappeared. He peels out of the drive, gravel scraping against his wide sports car tires. Judith grinds her teeth as she watches him speed away.
Ann pours a cup of hot tea in her kitchen. Distracted by thoughts of Harris, her wrist passes over the kettle spout and a tendril of steam scalds her skin.
“Ouch!” she says as Bobby walks in.
“What happened?” he says.
“You said ‘ouch’. Annie? What’s the matter? You look like you’ve been caught red-handed,” he laughs.
She laughs also, louder than she meant to. Bobby regards his wife with a sideways look as she pours a long squeeze of honey into her tea mug. Her hands are shaking. He comes up behind her and kisses the nape of her neck. Her body tenses. Bobby sighs deeply.
The doorbell rings. Ann looks puzzled.
“Christopher must’ve forgotten his keys,” she says, walking to the door.
“Harris?” she says. “Harris?” she whispers, her eyes wide. “Is it Emma? What’s happened?”
Bobby appears in the doorway, staring at the man whose daughter has caused all this turmoil in his home. Harris smiles wide at both of them.
“What’s happened, Annie, is I’ve realized losing you was the biggest mistake of my life. I know I screwed up and I know it sounds cliché but you really are the queen of my heart. It turned to stone when you left and I’ve been miserable ever since, that’s the truth. I want you back. I want you and me and Emma to be a family again,” he says looking straight into her panicky eyes.
“What the hell are you saying?” Bobby yells. “What do you think you’re doing right here on my own porch?”
“As far as I’m concerned, you aren’t even here, Ewing. This conversation is between Ann and me,” Harris says. “Annie, give me another chance, please, I’ve learned how to be a better man.”
He leans in and kisses her gently on the mouth. She doesn’t pull away. Bobby breaks them apart.
“Are you kidding me?” he yells.
Sue Ellen looks out of her bedroom window in time to see Bobby punch Harris in the face. He staggers backwards. A second punch sends him reeling off the porch steps and down to the ground on his knees.
“Bobby! Stop it!” Ann says.
Harris turns his swollen, red face toward the voice that warms his soul and smiles a bloody grin. Bobby socks him hard in the chest and blood sprays out of Harris’ mouth onto Bobby’s jeans. Bobby breathes heavily, fists clenched as Harris rolls over and back onto his knees. He wobbles to his feet but keeps his hands at his sides.
“Go on,” he says, spitting a tooth out, “I’ll take it. I’ll take as much as you’ve got. She’s worth every punch.”
“Harris! Stop this,” Ann cries. “Bobby? Please, please stop. Go home Harris, please.”
“You kiss a man’s wife at his own front door?” Bobby shouts. “Don’t you have any honor at all? No shame?”
He punches Harris in the groin. He doubles over and staggers sideways until he runs into the pool gate. The iron rods stab his shoulder like banderillas in the bull. He falls to his knees again.
“I love you Annie!” Harris shouts and lets out a guttural moan that uncorks all the pain of his loneliness. “I love you! I’d rather die right here than keep that secret,” he says and slumps over onto the cold earth. Steamy vapor plumes off his sweaty, beaten body.
Ann cries on the porch at the sight of this man broken on the ground for her. She can’t wrap her mind around it. Harris who wins at all costs is shouting in agony about lost love, accepting a beating from her husband like he’s had it coming. Who is this man? She wants to go to him.
Bobby winds up for another punch.
“Don’t!” Ann begs. “Enough, Bobby, enough.”
Bobby’s fist hangs in the air, his bicep flexing and his face contorted in fury.
“Get off my land,” he says, his fist still poised to punch. “Get off my land and leave my wife alone you shameful son of a bitch.”
Bobby marches up the porch steps and turns Ann’s shoulders toward the door. She pulls away from him and looks back to Harris who writhes around in the dirt.
“Harris?” she says softly, still staying on the porch.
He slowly sits up, gasping for breath.
“I’m alright, Annie. I’m alright,” he says reaching his arm toward her.
“Harris, I can’t,” she says through tears. “I’m sorry…I can’t right now.”
She turns to go inside.
“Wait!” Harris says, holding his bruised ribs.
“Do you ever think of me, Annie? Do you ever?”
She pauses and slowly turns to face him.
“Yes,” she says, moonlight shining on her tears.
She blows him a kiss and shuts the door behind her. Through the peep-hole in the door she watches Harris slowly get to his feet and stumble to his car.
Sue Ellen comes down the stairs in the dark foyer. She hugs her friend around the shoulders.
“You know what you want to do, Ann,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to do it.”
What do you think of Harris? Does he have a chance? How have you shown characters’ passion with your writing?