Monday, December 6, 2010

Filth and Flowers

This week, the amazing CDG, from Move Over Mary Poppins, is here to share her experience and advice with us about walking a particular fine line when writing a romance novel.

Thank you so very much, CDG!

We don’t all aspire to works of important literary fiction, to writing The Great American Novel. I, for one, am writing a single title romance novel. Think Nora Roberts in hard cover. That said, I do want it to be literate. I want characters who reach out and take you by the hand and pull you into the story, just like any author of fiction. I want a story that resonates with my readers.

But romance has a peculiar challenge.

There’s a certain expectation in romance novels: the physical side of the love story. Yes. The sex scenes. If you’ve ever picked up a paperback romance, a good old fashioned bodice-ripper, you find a lot of references to throbbing members and quivering womanhood, but really? Really? That just doesn’t resonate with me.

And yet, I’m not entirely satisfied with chaste, closing the bedroom door, end-scene love scenes, either.

I want to be turned on. I want to fall in love - dare I say in lust? - along with the characters, but I don’t want to feel icky reading it.

So, where is the fine line between filth and flowers? As George Michael so aptly phrased it, “What’s your definition of dirty, baby? What do you consider pornography?”

This is what I have struggled with in writing my first draft.

How to tap into sensuality and sexuality without cliché or ridiculous euphemism or clinical onlooking.

So, here are my own personal guidelines, the ones I’ve used, for the most part, in crafting my story:

Sex scenes should both complement and progress the plot. If we’re going to be in the room with them, there needs to be a reason.

Emotions, reactions, and sensory experiences can tell it like blunt physical description never can. More touch, taste, scent, less size and shape and motion.

Unless you’re going for outright humor, if writing it makes you giggle like a thirteen year old? Chances are it’s not that sexy. (Caveat: funny can be incredibly sexy, so by all means, go for that!)

In reality, sex can be serious or playful, sweet or angry, intense, spontaneous, premeditated, and sometimes it doesn’t go as planned. Let all of that into the story.

Allow for anticipation. As in real life, sometimes the journey is more fun than the destination. Let a scene get hot and steamy, build up the moment gradually, and maybe make them wait. Let life intrude, as it so often does. The characters will find a way to get back there, and won’t that be fun to write!

If you feel uncomfortable or awkward writing it, your readers will clue into that pretty quickly, and you lose the moment.

Obviously, no one has a perfect sex life like the characters in a romance novel, but, unless you actually are Prince? No one’s going to buy into twenty two positions in a one night stand.

Of course, in the end, what’s sexy to one might be dirty to another, or, on the flip side, too tame. What turns you on?

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