"The two most powerful words in our vocabulary are love and hate. The most loaded word is sex."
Tonight Edna "E.C." Sheedy spoke to the Victoria Writers' Society about 'the warmer side of romance.' An author of romantic suspense, Edna had sharp and funny insights to share about the adventure of writing sex scenes.
One of the first things Edna addressed was the difference between sex scenes and love scenes: many writers in her genre prefer to call them love scenes, as they're stops on the path to two people falling in love. Sex scenes can happen in any kind of writing, and the Victoria Writers society has creative non-fiction and short fiction and novel and speculative fiction writers amongst it, who might not necessarily be writing about love when they write sex.
Audience is one of the primary things to keep in mind when writing a sex scene. Harlequin publishes 30 different lines a month, each appealing to a slightly different demographic, so "it's worth knowing that even with the diehard romance fans . . . warm, warmer, and warmest are always still in play."
In fabulous fashion, Edna broke down an approach to writing romance into simple steps. First, the rules:
Rule 1 - You never. ever, ever have to write a sex scene.
Rule 2 - If you do write a sex scene, never ever ever go beyond your personal level of comfort. It'll be hard to write, and awkward, and it'll be awkward to your readers.
Rule 3 - It is a far better thing you do not to write a love scene than to write an egregiously bad one.
She talked about Rowan Somerville's adventures after getting the award for 'worst sex scene in fiction,' and read the offending line. It was quite, quite deserving of the award, though I was too busy horrifiedly picturing it to capture the quote accurately.
Then, if you do decide to write a sex scene, it's time to ask yourself some questions;
1. What do you want the scene to show the reader other than sex?
If a sex scene doesn't contribute to the book, moving the story ahead in some way, ask yourself if you really need to do it. Sex shows character. It's about as intimate as two people get. Sex can be a powerful plot device in almost any genre. This gives the sex scene, the love scene, a purpose.
2. What kind of sex scene does the tone of your book require?
"Tone sets up expectations, so if you jump from light and frothy to dark and dirty like a kangaroo on steroids, it's going to jar the reader."
3. What kind of sex scene fits your characters?
4. Have you strewn enough rose petals and have you thrown enough curves? Have you built enough sexual tension?
Sexual tension is the compelling force in fictional romantic relationships.
"What keeps your characters apart is more important than what brings them together."
The group had fun listing off pairs with great sexual tension - the iconic Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, Booth and Bones, even Edward and Bella.
1. Watch your words - language matters.
2. Watch your body parts - remember so far that no limb or appendage can be in two places at one time.
3. Use sensory writing. Avoid clinical description. Engage any and all of the five senses.
This is sometimes where comfort level comes into play.
4. Set the scene. Show enough detail so your reader is in that scene.
5. Choosing your point of view with some degree of care. Choose the character that has the most to get out of the love scene or the most to lose. Point of view is hard for a lot of writers; Nora Roberts, the queen of romance, slides rather sloppily from one character to another in the middle of a scene in some of her earlier works. Jacqueline Carey, on the other hand, has excellently consistent point of view throughout.
6. Don't forget the dialog.
Near the end of her talk, Edna mentioned something that's been coming up consistently for the last year and a bit in the circles I frequent: that publishers don't want to fix anything these days. You want your manuscript as perfect as possible before sending it in. She addressed this in part by taking classes in grammar.
Overall, a very informative talk, and hugely engaging. I need to go find some of her books, now.