Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Let's talk about Sex

Thinking about Thursday
Let's Talk about Sex

Now that I have your attention, excuse me a moment while I make a private comment to my husband.
Honey, if you are reading this: you can go back to watching hockey, it isn't going to be what you hope!

For my writer friends, let's talk about sex. My apologies to all of you who now have a Salt and Peppa Song stuck in your head. Let's talk about sex, baby. Let's talk about you and me...

Anyway, I am  wondering if  writing about sex is not in my skill set. Don't get me wrong, I am far from prude and have no problem reading about it. 
But, when I start writing I can only come up with about three synonyms for moan and even less for particular body parts. Therefore, my scenes are less than...enthralling ( I was going to say climatic, but the pun felt too juvenile). 

As an aspiring romance writer, this is a problem!

To quote Roni Loren, whose erotic novel Exposure Therapy comes out in early 2012 :  
"The best way to learn to write sex is to read a heat level above what you're writing and
then when you get to your own book, what you're writing feels mild compared to the other stuff."

That is great advice and, as of now, finding a heat level about mine shouldn't be difficult.

One of my mother's comments about the first (and only) manuscript I let her read was, 
"There wasn't enough sex to make it a romance novel. You should add more." 

That was creepy in itself. I don't know which is worse, having a mother who would be embarrassed at how erotic your book is or having a mother who doesn't think it is erotic enough....(hmm, guess I will save that question for my next therapy session.)

Honestly, I am not worried about what people think about me writing sex scenes. I am worried about what people will think about me writing bad sex scenes.

Romantic suspense is my niche and there are successful authors who write without it. Wendy Lyn Watson 's mystery a-la-mode series, for example. Warning: The way Wendy describes ice cream is like reading about sex!

So, what do you think? 

Can a romance novel (or in my case, romantic suspense) that is not historical or inspirational be sexy, hot and most importantly, sell without explicit sex? 

What do you prefer in your reading/ writing?

Do more readers want to see the bedroom door swing shut and leave the rest to the imagination? Or  have the entire fantasy played out before them?  

As always, thank you so much for stopping by! I look forward to reading your comments.

Have a great weekend!


Michelle Kopra said...

Great Post! Sex Scene can be so difficult when starting out. I found reading Kris Cook and Shayla Black helped in my own writing of sex scenes.

Roni Loren said...

Thanks for the mention. :)

So, one of the issues, based on what you said in the post, may be that you're focusing too much on the basic physical actions of the love scene. Sex scenes that are -tab A, slot B, insert moan-- are going to fall flat. It starts to read like an instruction manual (Or worse, porn). The key is focusing on the sensuality (the brush of skin, the fading scent of his cologne, the way he looks at her or the feel of his hair between her fingers, etc.) and the inner experience of what the POV character is feeling.

Now having said that, I think you first have to figure out if you WANT to learn how to write sex (i.e. do you enjoy reading stories with that in it) or do you feel like if you add it you're only doing it because you're "supposed" to. If it's the latter, then I would say just write stories without it. YOU have to enjoy writing the scene for others to enjoy reading it--otherwise it's going to come across as uncomfortable or stilted.

You mentioned Wendy's books and I believe her genre is actually not romantic suspense but is cozy mystery. In cozies, you can't write in any graphic violence or descriptive sex. By definition they are "sweet", feel good mysteries. So maybe that's a route you can explore if you decide sex scenes aren't your thing.

If you do want to write sex scenes, then I stand by my advice above. Reading above your heat level kind of normalizes the sex scenes so that you don't feel so scandalous writing your own, lol.

As for your question about the romantic suspense genre, I'm not sure. Most of romantic suspense I've read has had some sex in it. HOwever, my guess is it runs the gamut in the genre. However, if I read a book that is very sexy and full of romantic tension and then there ISN'T a sex scene or you build up to it the whole book and then slam the door shut after they kiss---then I get kind of pissed, lol. If you promise something in the narrative (have a heavy sexual vibe/tension) then don't deliver, the reader might get mad, lol.

Okay, was that a long enough comment? :)

Roni Loren said...

sorry for the repeat comments, it kept telling me the comment was too large to go through, then it showed up, lol.

Publius said...

Dawn, this cracked me up ... I had a terrible time writing compelling sex scenes back in my "I'm a romance author" days, but it turns out that while I couldn't unleash my sensuality while writing about "the deed," I can totally do that while writing about food. Priorities? LOL.

Anyway, I feel your pain. I think Roni has good advice. Especially in romantic suspense, there needs to be *romance*, but not necessarily sex. Big difference if you ask me.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Hey, Dawn. RS is my thing, too. Usually, there's some sort of sex scene in the story, but it doesn't have to be as explicit as contemporary or other romance genres. In fact, I've even seen a couple where either the doors were closed or the sex scene happened after the story was over (meaning: the author closed with it.) In RS, there has to be sexual tension mixed in between the danger/suspense scenes, but depending on the story itself, it might not make sense to have the characters actually sleep together. That being said, more and more publishers want sex in books as long as it makes sense for the scene to be there. You can't just add a sex scene to say it's there. It has to make sense with the story. Clear as mud? If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me.

Lynnette Labelle

dalerobertweese said...

I want to point out that there is a big gray area between swinging the bedroom door shut, and playing out the whole fantasy. As Lori said you can focus on the the touch, the look, and then a well crafted sentence about them falling into bed (who pushed who?) and stop there, if you want. I also think it's useful to find the answer to this question: at what moment did one of them realize / decide they were going to have sex? What was that look or that touch that made someone think "yes! We're going to do it!"

Teri Anne Stanley said...

This is a great topic and the comments so far are very helpful, too. I'm wandering back and forth between writing spicier stuff and all-purpose romantic suspense, and I worry alot about what people would think of what I write, which keeps me from writing as much as I'd like.
I don't know how detailed things need to be for any particular genre (and there is probably a formula out there, but I'm not going to look for it, because then I would have to reject it), but I do know that what works for me is more about the build up than the actual Tab A/Slot B stuff. It's all in the emotions and reactions of the participants. If the number of in and outs is important to the character development, then it's important to include. But I suspect that it's not the size (or detail) of the sex scene, it's the magic in it.

Unknown said...

I agree. I think you have to be true to yourself as a writer. What do you feel the level of explicitness should be? What fits in with your story? If you are writing with the boundaries in mind, are you telling your story the way you feel it should be?

My husband would say, think about your audience? Who are you writing to?

As a woman, tab A slot B does not do it for me. I need the emotional side of the sexual tension for me to be involved as a reader. It is much more important to evoke my feelings than to show me the actual deed.

My husband, tab A slot B. Period. But then, at times he does have the "emotional range of a teaspoon." Sorry about the Harry Potter reference.

Dawn Alexander said...

WOW! Thank you so much for the comments everyone! I have had a kid looking over my shoulder since I got home, so I am just now getting a chance to respond. ( I didn't need the 8 year old with the high level reading skills asking me "Why does Slot A + Slot B= groan?)

Dawn Alexander said...

Michelle~ So glad you stopped by! I had already added Shayla Black to my reading list. Guess I will add Kris Cook, too. Thank you for the suggestions.

Dawn Alexander said...

Roni- Thank you for the quote and the insightful comments.

You described it perfectly. I always feel like my scenes “fall flat”. A judge in the last contest I entered mentioned I needed to include more sensuality. I intentionally focused on doing that with the rewrites and I know the story improved.

Honestly, I am undecided if I want to include sex scenes or if I am feeling obligated. I do enjoy reading them in books if (as Lynette pointed out) it makes sense for the characters to be engaging in sex at that moment.

You are exactly right about Wendy’s books. Mine would not fall into the cozy category because there is violence “on stage” and they don’t have the sweetness to them.

Right now, I have two completed manuscripts I am revising. One has no sex because it just didn’t fit. The other has several sex scene between different characters, all of which make sense for that part of the plot, but I chickened out on the follow through and either watered it down or faded to black.

That is what got me thinking about this in the first place. Like you said, I kind of promised something in the narrative, then backed off which could probably annoy a reader!

Dawn Alexander said...

Wendy~ I swear I have gained ten pounds because of your descriptions of ice cream!

I am glad to know I am not alone in struggling with this.

There is a HUGE difference in my mind between romance and sex. Something I wish men would learn sometimes!

Maybe that is why I struggle with it?

Thanks for stopping by!

Dawn Alexander said...

Lynette- Thanks for stopping by! Always glad to meet another suspense writer!

I understand exactly what you mean. I have read books with scenes that (explicit or not) made sense. You knew the characters were heading toward that moment and when it happened you were ready for them to get there!

I have also read books where I thought, “Really? Right now, while the mob is heading toward the warehouse and you just freed her from the explosive rigged chair? Um, no. I would be running for my life, not stripping off my shirt!”

I hope to be a writer who knows the difference!

Dawn Alexander said...

Dale- Excellent point in reference to determining the moment they decide to have sex. It is usually such a defining moment in real life, but I have never considered the importance of capturing it in a story.

Definitely something to think about!

Thank you for commenting!

Dawn Alexander said...

Teri- The comments have been very helpful! Glad you enjoyed the post.

And (as I mentioned earlier) I am always glad to meet another suspense writer!

Very good point about the magic of the scene. That is exactly where I feel I am failing. I can build the suspense and even the sexual tension, but it seems once Tab A finds Slot B, it becomes like a health class video!

I don’t really worry about what others would think of it as far as appropriateness. But I do worry about others thinking I lose all writing ability at that point.

Dawn Alexander said...

Laura~ I think all of your questions are what I was trying to answer when I composed this post. As an aspiring writer, I am still trying to find my boundaries and my audience. I guess it will come with practice and research. I have quite the reading list going now!