Thursday, September 9, 2010

Can't take the heat?

When a romance writer starts talking about heat level, she's probably not commenting on the weather. She's talkin' about gettin' down and dirty in her novel--or not. Romance novels are not created equal in the frolic department. Some are sweet, where if sex happens it goes on behind closed doors and the reader is left to imagine what went on. Then there are more moderate levels, leading up to erotic romance, where the "C, F, and P words" appear, possibly with some toys and adventurous settings. (One of the hottest books I've ever read was a space opera, and I'll refrain from commenting on the wackiness that can ensue when alien races are involved.)

Lately I've been pondering sex. Well, sex in my writing, that is. If you've read Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, you know it's there, but there's not a whole lot of it. There just wasn't enough time for it in the story, because Cat's always running off to cause shenanigans somewhere and I didn't want to have to justify something like "okay, we're going to take a break from fighting vampires now to get it on in your car." Not so much. Though I'll admit I really wanted to write a sex scene between Cat and Zach, but I knew that would take the story places I wasn't prepared for it to go. That, and my critique group threatened to hurt me if I wrote it... But speaking of the critique group, this was my original inspiration for this post:

Writers, do you have more trouble writing love scenes than you do the rest of the story?

Because it seems like many of us do. I discussed this a bit over Twitter recently as well, and it seemed like there was a split between those who are squeamish (like me) and those who have no fear. For my writing, it almost falls into the same category as a fight scene--love to include it, hate to write it. I've been working on a fantasy romance novel that has more love scenes in it than Cat's book did, and it makes me nervous. I'm not entirely sure why that is. There was a great interview of Angela Knight in the August Romance Writers Report, where she talked a bit about how to be comfortable and confident writing erotic romance. (Angela Knight is awesome, by the way. I really recommend her book Passionate Ink, and I've taken several of her workshops, which I also recommend.) Angela explained,

"I want to depict what love is really like for these two people. Sex is a part of love--it's the physical manifestation of the spiritual passion between the couple. By holding back and glossing over the physical part of the relationship, you're cheating the reader and the characters of that vital dimension. And I think some romance writers do so because they want to preserve the illusion of being a 'nice girl' who doesn't really like sex."

That really resonated with me. As an author I struggle with a need to be true to my characters versus my lasped-Catholic conditioning that tells me I'm going straight to Hell for this (do no pass "Go", do not collect $200). Becoming a published author only added to that, because that same voice of guilt likes to remind me that there are people reading the sex that I wrote. GASP! OMG NOOOOOOO! And worse, there are people I am related to by blood or marriage reading it. Excuse me while I go die of embarrassment...

Moving on! Aside from the "will I or won't I?" of including sex scenes in your writing, there's also the "is this any good?" of it all as well. Because romance readers read tons of romance on a regular basis, and these are savvy readers. They're not going to settle for boring sex--not that you need to reinvent the sex scene or create wacky settings to make it interesting, it means it needs to be well written. As AK said above it's the spiritual passion between your couple. Good sex scenes are concerned with writerly details like character development and plot, and this to me is the definitive explanation of why romance novels aren't "porn for women." Porn doesn't care about character development or plot. "Hi, I'm Staci," is not character development. "Pizza's here!" is not plot. Anyway...

Do you suffer from "eep, am I really writing this?"-itis? Or are you one of the brave "I can't wait to write this!" types? Do you worry that you're writing the same-old, same-old? Or do you avoid it entirely by "and then he closed the door, end of chapter"?

10 comments:

Kate Pearce said...

I LOVE writing the sex scenes, for me they are the essence of the book. I think so much of sex is 'in your head' that lovemaking is a great way to show how your characters deal with such an intimate situation.

Diana said...

Writing sex freaks me out a bit. I feel like I'm intruding on my characters! Sometimes, I won't even look at the screen while I'm writing. (Good thing I can touch-type...)

But I still do it. It's part of character development--what they feel (emotionally!) and how they react will be important in their arcs. Or, if the character isn't emotionally involved, that itself would be an important character marker, though that situation hasn't come up for me yet.

Also, though sometimes I use sex as a way to apologize to characters for being mean to them, it can be a fun way to be mean to them to begin with. (My writers' group is wincing in unison right now...)

December said...

I'm with Kate - I love writing them. They flow organically for me, I've never had much trouble with it.

Actually, I'll write out a few and pull them from the novel, just to get it out of my system. I forget to BUILD the heat and tension sometimes. I just jump right into bed. or, wherever. You know.

Jacee Drake said...

Ditto to Kate and December. I love writing sex scenes. My main issue with writing them is to know how far I can push the boundaries on certain publishers. Though I'm by far no where ready for full out erotica.

Robyn Bachar said...

Kate and December, you are so much braver than me.

Diana...yeah I already know that you and I are cloned from the same alien pod. ;)

I always start out, "Okay, I'm ready to write this!" and then it turns into, "Hmm, maybe I should be doing laundry instead. I can always write this later."

Lynn said...

The going-straight-to-hell is a pretty strong obstacle to enjoying writing love scenes. Notice I wrote "love" scenes, not "sex" scenes. I have issues, too, the things you mentioned, such as feeling uncomfortable with how well the scene is written and OMG, my children may read this. I'm from the upbringing that sex is not something a good girl enjoys, so how could I acknowledge it exists?? But as a writer I agree with AK.

Robyn Bachar said...

That's a good observation. There is a difference between "love scenes" and "sex scenes." For me, that difference is where they fall in the romance. At first it's sex, because the heroine and hero are falling in love but aren't there yet. At the end it's all love, because they've figured out that this is the person they want their Happily Ever After with.

Carly Carson said...

For me, whether reading or writing, the interesting part is how do these characters handle this intimate moment. Whether they are in love or not, some sort of emotion must be present to flavor what is otherwise the old Tab A into Slot B. It could be hate, revenge, whatever. They each have a motivation for this moment, and expectations. How do these things play out? I don't mind writing them, but I'm not keen on anyone knowing I wrote them.

morseren said...

I am totally in the eeck, what do you mean I need to write a sex scene, group.

I know that in theory it should not be that difficult, but it is. Maybe "porn for women"would be easier;) But trying to make the scene move the story forward and not just seem superfluous is really the challenge, embarrassment factors aside.

Robin L. Rotham said...

I love writing love/sex scenes, and for me, they're the same thing. Well, okay, usually the couple (or one character or the other) starts out having sex and wind up making love. Same physical act, but as Kate sorta said, different head game. My goal is to show that emotional growth, the mental progression from "just sex" to "making love" through the intimate scenes.