~ By Cheryl O’Donovan
When I was a college freshman, I was the roommate of a glamorous sorority girl who happened to be wonderful. She was older than me and much-sought after by young swains.
This included one particular Southern drawlin’ womanizer who would call her in the middle of the night.
Once he called at two o’clock in the morning and I’d had it. I blasted the guy with several sarcastic lines.
Rather than being thin-skinned or bristling, he laughed uproariously. He said something even more outrageous to get me riled. And I tried to blister him with a scathing remark. He laughed harder. He had a sexy southern drawl, and he was confident, unshaken by my comebacks.
Fast-forward to 10 years later. I’m at a singles bar with my work friends. A handsome knockout of a man comes up to talk to me, neatly trimmed dark hair, flashing white teeth (almost looked like mine from Dentist Santa Barbara!) and above all, physically fit. He wore a plaid tie with a couple of Easter Egg color strands. Yes. You heard me. Took real nerve to wear that tie.
But he was married.
Turns out, he was a lawyer and very witty. For three or so minutes, we exchanged several barbs before I said I had to go. I didn’t flirt with married men. And I left, even though the air crackled with a mutual attraction. A year later, I meandered into this place with some girlfriends after work. I hadn’t been to a singles bar in a year, and yet, there he was, Lethal Sexy Lawyer. Eyebrows slightly raised, he approached me. “You blew me off the last time.”
I came back at him. “You still married?”??He nodded, eyes gleaming. Of course, he was incredible looking and was probably picking off unsuspecting girls left and right. But he remembered me, and me rejecting him – one year later.
Then he grinned slyly and said, “Cheryl, I think you and I were porpoises in a previous life. We swam together in the ocean.” And his arm waved, mocking a current.
I rolled my eyes and made some wisecrack about a harpoon and Flipper. And I promptly vamoosed with Road Runner beep-beep panache.
But that’s what makes great sexual tension. Resisting Mr. Confident Snappy One-Liner. Exchanging barbs and being attracted, yet not being able to follow your Id impulses.
Fast-forward again, and say hello to my tall, razor-sharp husband. Oh, and he can be a royal pain, my husband, when he wants to be. I did not marry the perfect guy that my friends seem to be married to – my husband’s human. I’m sure not perfect, either. He can be cantankerous, demanding – and exciting. He’s also confident, has more than a drop of Alpha, and is witty. Even when I am furious at my husband – he can say something and make me laugh.
During our second date in Chinatown, he teased me about my astrological sign.
I looked at him warily. Was this dude for real? “Okay,” I admitted. “I’m a Gemini.”
“Me too.” He grinned. “So there are four of us sitting here.”
Get it? Gemini. Twins.
I shook my head. We argued about politics, movies – he made a hysterical observation about “Thelma and Louise,” something I’d never thought of – and we discussed Darwin’s theories. Talk about memorable.
Confident wit is extremely sexy. I’m not talking about snarky putdowns. That’s what a narcissist does and it’s at someone’s expense. It’s cruel. Reality show divas resort to this stuff.
Wit comes from intelligence and often, deeper thinking. It’s Oscar Wilde territory.
A lot of people will do a spin on a movie line. For example, I read a romance recently that referenced the hilarious, raunchy, “Wedding Crashers.” The great line: “the stage-five clinger.”
That’s fine, but it’s derivative. I’m always in search of original wit, something that doesn’t lift or borrow from another source like a t-shirt or a bumper sticker. Finding original wit and sizzling banter in a romance novel can be hard. Oh, sure, I read lots of amusing banter. But snappy zingers that take my breath away? Whew.
In a romance novel, original wit between two evenly matched characters – (they’re as smart as each other) – can make the sexual tension between them literally scorch the scene. The more convincing the man is, (meaning, he sounds like a real guy with some Alpha grit and not a woman writing a guy) – the faster I turn the pages.
Banter can be hard to find in a great romance, those rapid-fire exchanges that make reading exciting. I find great banter in a Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel, as well as emotion… and terrific secondary characters. Some folks do wit well but they can’t write emotion, and the book feels shallow – more ‘frothy’ – as an emotional experience. I like to cry, laugh and think when I read.
Other sexy smart alecks in film and TV:
Paul Newman in “Hud” or “The Long Hot Summer.”
”Bringing Up Baby,” Tracy and Hepburn films.
Vince Vaughn in “Wedding Crashers.”
Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in “Tombstone.” “Now I know I really hate him.
”??Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens in “Justified.” “Because I didn’t order as*holes with my whiskey.
”??Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind.” “You think you’re the cutest little trick in shoe leather.
”??Tyrion and Jamie Lannister in “Game of Thrones.”
Film noir movies.
Oh, shoot, I could go on and on – and it’s just my opinion, right? Humor’s subjective. What’s your opinion? Tell me who you think is a witty bad boy. Who do you think writes great banter in a romance novel – something original that defies formulaic and leaps off the page?
Cheryl O’Donovan writes YA and romance of all types, and is in search of an Elmore Leonard / Billy Wilder muse. She worked as a corporate communicator for 20+ years, and for five years, wrote a weekly humor column for the Pioneer Press, a chain of Chicago suburban papers. She’s happily hitched, has two teenage sons and an Airedale. Find her cobweb-coated website here: www.cherylodonovan.com