Words that paint a passionate picture…mostly Jilly Cooper.

Around Valentine’s Day I posted lots of examples of really good screen kisses that made my heart beat that little bit faster, but after seeing these glorious animated gifs from the recent Old Vic production of The Crucible, I decided that I should do another post on  moments of passion. I am, after all, a #ruralmance writer!

As an English teacher, I’m forever either asking students to analyse texts so that they can understand a deeper meaning of the way writers use language to construct meaning, or I’m asking them to create their own writing that uses and explores language in certain ways. While the amount of actual creative writing in the classroom is getting less and less these days, students need to understand how to interpret texts and consider the importance of the language used to construct them.

So what are the best descriptions of character I’ve read? Well, let’s start with Jilly Cooper, to whose books I return again and again. The thing about Jilly is that she rarely  says ‘and he kissed her’ – she describes mouths, lips, tongues, sensations, and puts the reader right in the moment. In fact, she tends to only use the word ‘kiss’ when the kiss is chaste, ironic or reluctant. When her characters are in the moment, are, indeed, kissing passionately, there’s not a ‘kiss’ in sight. Having said that, she does use it in this example, but not before an awful lot of very evocative sensory description:

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There’s something about the use of dialogue, the ‘pounding of his heart’, the ‘beautiful mouth’ that really evokes the passion of the moment. This is a kiss that comes after hundreds of pages of verbal foreplay, and is the payoff the reader craves. The use of the word ‘wilful’ hints at trouble to come, and sums up the male main character Hengist’s capricious nature, but his caprice isn’t insincere; he really does love Janna in that moment, despite his other commitments.

And it’s not just where lips lock that a passionate description can paint a potent picture. Take this snippet from Cooper’s Polo, for example:

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Yet another brooding, dark haired hero in this one, but this time he’s an international polo player by the name of Ricky France Lynch. That heart-thumpingly evocative description of the details of his face, with the ‘suspicion of black stubble,’ ‘the grim intransigent mouth’ and then the real killer, the ‘fierce, yet desperately wounded dark eyes,’ all combine to show a character whose tortured relationship with his ex-wife Chessie (upon whom he is looking at that moment in the text), is expressed physically in his facial features. It’s the eyes that get me, every time, in this quote. The juxtaposition of ‘fierce’ with ‘wounded’ puts the reader in mind of some injured, yet still fighting, wild animal; untamed, feral but desperate to find peace.

 And, to choose another example from Polo to end on, here’s saintly Luke Alderton’s first impression of Rupert Campbell Black in the very divine flesh:

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That listing is characteristic of Cooper – ‘the angles…the long dark blue eyes, the casual elegance of the body, the exquisite shape of the sleek, blond head’. Those adjectives are deceptively simple, but create a potent picture of a charismatic and effortlessly in command character. That the description comes from another male character is another strength of Cooper’s prose; there is no sentimentality in this description, as might be the case if Rupert had been described by a female character at this point. Luke is a thoughtful, erudite angel, ‘a passionate admirer of beauty’ whose appreciation for Rupert is along deeply artistic lines. He appreciates him as an artist would, with no sentimentality but an eye for the detail. The determiner preceding each clause again suggests Luke’s slight detachment in observation, and, while Cooper makes no secret of Luke Alderton’s poetic soul at other points in the novel, this is a moment of objective appreciation by him of a thing of beauty. Contrast this with Luke’s state of mind as he observes Perdita MacCleod, the object of his desire, a few pages later, and that reticence, that detachment, is spectacularly stripped away:

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This is not the artist’s appreciation of Perdita’s beauty; this is the appreciation of Perdita by Luke as her potential lover, and the way Cooper focuses the reader’s attention on the feminine lines of Perdita’s body, the frank, yet sexy description on her breasts, thighs and bottom, all contrast with Luke’s earlier contemplation of Rupert. Cooper paints Luke’s desire for Perdita in stark contrast to his observations of Rupert, and, once again, proves she has a mastery of passionate description. If I ever manage to emulate this, even in a small way, I will be one very happy ruralmance writer!

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3 thoughts on “Words that paint a passionate picture…mostly Jilly Cooper.

  1. Good luck with the submissions, Faye! It’s a long and frustrating process, as I know. And yet here I am, about to get back on the same trail again. Fingers crossed it all goes well for you xx

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