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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Love Scenes: Just Say No/Yes

Every romance writer must face the decision as to how to handle intimacy between the hero and heroine. Lovemaking is a major part of most romantic relationships. Therefore, authors can't ignore it. Much like finger nails against a chalkboard. While some authors choose to hint at intimate relations occurring between the hero and heroine off the page, others throw the door wide open.

If I’m going to be perfectly honest, I’ve always envied people who embrace their sexuality. Growing up in a conservative part of the US, I learned to shy away from acknowledging that part of myself. But sexuality is an integral part of who each person is, just as important as our intellectual, spiritual, social, and emotional selves. Still, that doesn’t mean everyone wants to read or write love scenes, and I respect everyone’s feelings on this topic.

When I first started writing, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to handle that aspect of relationships. I had heard publishers wanted hot, hot, hot, and my writing was not, not, not. It was hard to write those scenes without imagining an authority figure looking over my shoulder and judging me. I would procrastinate for days when it was time to write one of these scenes, and I had to be alone so there was no chance of anyone catching a glimpse of the screen. It was a bit painful, really. And then there was the dreaded posting of said scenes for critique.
(This is like having judges in your bedroom rating your skills. MORTIFYING! A 5.5?!? What the-!)

About a year and a half into my writing, I took a step back and asked myself if I was writing to trend, or writing what I felt was important to tell the best story. I considered writing sweet, but the more I learned about storytelling, the less I felt that was the correct path for me. I would never consider having an action scene take place off the page. Who doesn’t want to experience the heart-pounding danger of the protagonist running from the bad guy, or the thrill of a good sword fight? So why would I have a love scene occur off the page?

Some craft books I've read state that avoiding action by having it happen off the stage is a fear response. The fear of the emotions involved. The fear of offending. The fear of rejection. Well, I can tell you this. Right before I started writing, I made up my mind that fear would no longer be making decisions for me. It had held me back from following my dreams long enough. So if fear was my motive for avoiding intimate scenes, I was kicking it to the curb.

Since intimacy is a very real part of a loving relationship, it felt disingenuous of me to pretended it wasn’t. Emotional authenticity is important, in my opiniion. It is one of the main things I look for in stories. I want to feel the connection is real and based on something more meaningful than surface qualities, and while love scenes can be based on nothing but physical attraction, they can also more adequately express deeper feelings than a mere conversation.

In the end, I decided throwing the door open in my books was a way for me to grow as a writer and as a person. I don’t think it’s the path for everyone, and would never suggest I know the right way for anyone else. I only know what’s right for me.

I would love to hear your thoughts on love scenes in books, either writing them or how you feel about them as a reader. (Please remember this can be a very sensitive topic for a lot of people, and follow the Lady Scribes’ golden rule: Be honest, but be kind.)


  1. Samantha ~ Nice blog! This is certainly something I've struggled with in my career. I was raised in a very religious home and comunity; and even though most of that didn't stick with me into adulthood, I know there were some seeds planted in my mind as a child about what we should and shouldn't talk about. I know that sounds silly, but it's true.

    I do have love scenes in most of my work, depending on the story and whether or not it works for the story in question. But it can take me days to write the scene, which is not something that plagues me with any other aspect of my writing.

    I'm a big believer that people should read/write what they enjoy and are comfortable with.

  2. Ava,

    We are definitely similar when it comes to having seeds planted in our minds about what you can and can't talk about. I'm actually a bit nervous about my first book coming out because it has sex scenes in it. I know it's silly, but it's hard to shake those old feelings.

  3. I grew up reading the torrid romances of the 70's and 80's, bodice rippers, if you will. I loved the stories, but hated the sex scenes. After awhile, they were all the same and bored me, so I just skipped reading them. I mean, truly, how many ways can you have sex? (36 according to the Karma Sutra.)

    As a writer, I don't think the sex is as important as the "romance". I can write sex, I just choose not to. My characters (in my historicals) do not have any. Even the married ones. I like to develop the "relationship" and I think in doing that, the story has a much greater chance of standing the test of time.

    I mean, Jane Austen never had sex in any of her books and look at how famous she is.

  4. Samantha,

    Another very nice post. I think I was fortunate to have come of age, as it were, in the late '60's. My first introduction to sex came not from my mother, God forbid anyone would actually tell you about sex, but from reading poetry. I fell in love with Rod McKuen’s “Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows” and began writing erotic poetry, well, maybe not erotic. There were lots of bare limbs tangled in sheets. I was only sixteen and a virgin with very limited experience. When I started writing Regencies the sex scenes came naturally. I just followed my characters.


  5. Samantha,

    What an honest post.

    For me, writing a sex scene hasn't been a moral or religious dilemma. And I'm a Sunday School teacher in a Southern Baptist Church. They know I write Romance and I'm proud to admit it.

    Teresa Medeiros even addresses the topic on her website under her getting to know you section. LOVE HER! http://www.teresamedeiros.com/

    In my writing, I firmly believe sex is part of the couples' journey. It goes hand in hand with emotional intimacy.

    However, I do have panic attacks when I think of people reading my sex scenes,mostly because I think they'll be like : oh so she's done that? ;)

    Pet peeve of mine: Many of the people I know (in my neighborhood book club) that disparage consensual sex in books have absolutely no problem with violence (graphic), child abuse, rape, etc...That has always astounded me.

    Great post, Samantha!

  6. Anne,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your views. It's always great to hear from you.

    I agree that 'romance' is the key to a satisfying story. Our very own Duchess of Delight writes sweet, and I love her stories. Then our Lady Wicked writes at the other end of the spectrum, and I love her stories, too. Both writers make me feel something when I'm reading their books, as did Jane Austen.

    I think you hit the nail on the head. It's not about acrobatics. :)

  7. Marion,

    You are one of those people I envy then. I'm much more comfortable writing love scenes now than I was at the start of my career. (I didn't even know there was erotic poetry! Or 36 positions, for that matter.) :D

  8. Marquita,

    I also love Teresa Medieros! Huge fan girl!

    I love that you are proud of writing romance. I'm still a little shy about telling people what I write, but the positive response I've gotten from others when I do tell them is overwhelming. I feel so lucky to have the supportive people in my life that I do.

  9. What a great post, Samantha!

    What's so funny, after reading about yours and Ava's upbringings, is that I had a very similar upbringing (STRICT, religious household, never got the birds-and-bees talk, etc...) yet I couldn't WAIT to write my first love scene. Repression + Rebellious Nature = Wild Child! LOL!

    But I also find that it depends on the book for me, whether or not I write in sex. My Wetherby Brides all "got it on" with the doors wide open. But when I wrote Robber Bride, the opportunity for my characters to "do it" never arose, and I didn't want to force it. I basically take the lead of my characters, and if it takes us to the bedroom, fine. If not, that's fine too. However, I do try to be consistent across a series. Now that RB is sexless, the rest of those books will be just as tame.

  10. Jerrica,

    What a great point! It definitely has to be right for the story as well. In our anthology, The Regency Christmas Summons, available Nov 1st (shamless promo!!! LOL), I didn't think sex was right for my story. However, there is romance and sexual tension.

  11. Samantha! What a fantastic post! And it sums up my journey so well. I struggled too, over a profane word here or there, over showing my characters' love scenes or hiding them. In the end, I believe you have to be true to the character and keep yourself out of it. May sound odd since the author creates the characters, but truly I have to stop and ask myself, would he/she really do this, or is this just what I would do?

  12. Samantha, I love this blog topic. I was never shy about writing sex scenes, but I am very, very conscious of making the sex scene (or lack thereof) consistent with the characters. Because of that, my books have a wide array of heat levels. I haven't even bothered trying to pinpoint myself into a designated level of sensuality, because it goes all across the board.

    In fact, in the novel I just re-plotted, I don't think there will be any sex. It doesn't feel right for the characters or for the story, and I am absolutely, 100% NOT going to force the issue. Besides, I've read some of the most sensual, scorching stories (Erin Knightley, I'm looking at you), where there is no sex. And I never missed it.

  13. Wow, what a timely post. I actually have been struggling with this particular aspect of the manuscript I'm writing right now. I enjoy reading the sex scenes, as long as they are a logical progression of the hero and heroine's relationship. It's the writing I'm having a tough with! I don't want to be too graphic or prosy or silly or drawn-out or too brief. It's hard to find the right balance in your writing, between what you think fits the story and what you are comfortable writing.

  14. I used to worry over love scenes too. I think it's natural. The kind of sex the characters have should be unique to them. None of your books should sound exactly the same because the characters are not the same.

    Heck, sex for the characters might be one way near the beginning of their relationship and very different by the end of the book. It should come naturally for that relationship.

    Every book you write will be different and so will the sex (if you put it in), just because the characters are too.

    To Ella: I think you are the only person I've come across that knows who the heck Rod McKuen is!

  15. Jessica,

    "...to be true to the character, keep yourself out of it." Wow. That's great advice! Maybe THAT'S the hurdle many of us must overcome if we choose to write sex scenes.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

  16. Catherine,

    I completely agree that the scene must stay true to your characters. You might not claim a heat category, but everything I've read of yours would get a hot chili pepper from me. I imagine that would be the same for your books without sex. :)

  17. Olivia,

    You just gave me another thought. It's important to stay within our own voice, too, which is one of the risks of having critique partners critique our scenes. However, I've gotten more help than anything, but it took me a while to trust my judgement.

    My scenes tend to be a little playful and tender, because that's my voice.

  18. Wendy,

    All great points! I think the changing nature of the encounters is what will keep it fresh. When we write formulaic, we run into trouble.

    Honestly, I'm probably one of the most curious people on the planet. Now I have to see who you and Ella are talking about.

  19. LOL - no wonder my ears were ringing this morning!

    For me, it's a simple matter of writing what you want to read. My favorite part of a romance is that heart-pounding feeling of falling in love. I want to *feel* the tension between them, that certain something that has me flipping pages well into the night. So...that's what I try to write. :)

  20. Wholeheartedly agree with everything you said Samatha. The love scene is an integral part of the relationship and growth of the characters. I couldn't leave it out. But at the same time these are the scenes that stall me out. It's not because of fear or embarrassment. For me it's the idea of intimacy. I have a difficult time dealing with intimacy in real life so dealing with it on the page is just as difficult for me.

    It wasn't until I met Jake that I even realized I had put up these walls around me against intimacy and the people in my life. Now I see the issues and it's getting easier to deal with them both in real life and on the page. Great blog, Samatha.

  21. Great topic, Michelle. For me, it is easy to close the bedroom door. But, it isn't a personal issue, but what the story calls for. I write Christian Romance and the rules call for the door being closed I am fine with that because I have no real need to write a love scene into these stories.

    Reading love scenes has never bothered me. As long as it is a good story that keeps me turning the pages most levels of heat don't bother me.

  22. Erin,

    You do a fantastic job of writing that tension you described. Great advice to write what you like to read.

    For me, I like when the relationship goes to the next step, but I found I was holding back for fear of what others would think. Not so much now. This is kind of a "coming out" for me.

    Of course, Sourcebooks has taken much of the burden off me telling others there's going to be sex in my books by giving me really hot covers. ;)

  23. Suzie,

    I think you write beautiful love scenes with lots of feeling, so whatever stalling out you may have, you overcome it well. :)

  24. Amy,

    I'm with you. The heat level doesn't determine my reading choice. I'm all about a good story! Thank goodness, we have so many choice available to us.

    Writing regency, I often think about the limits placed on women, including what they could read. We've come a long way, baby!

  25. One of the things about a good romance is when the sexual relationship flows naturally from the relationship. A sudden switch to erotic language when its not expected is quite off putting, as is fabulous sexual tension that goes nowhere because the author stopped or closed the door.

    The heat level doesn't matter so much if the author stays consistent for the length of the story. Does that make sense? Hopefully it does. I like sweet to steaming up my ipad. I like all types of romance.

  26. Heather,

    I agree that consistency is needed. Perhaps that happens when authors are writing what they think they should write rather than letting the characters lead them.

    So many interesting ideas today. :)

  27. Great post, Samantha, on what can be a tough subject for romance writers. Fortunately there are readers for every level of heat when it comes to romance.

    I tend to enjoy writing sex scenes. Have no idea WHAT that says about me. I was raised in a STRICT military/steel magnolia household. I went to an all girls Baptist college for my undergrad degree!

    My rules for writing sex in my novels are pretty simple.

    Nothing gratuitous. No sex scene just because it is page 50 and I want to keep the reader interested.

    Sex has to be organic (no, not sex in manure - sheesh! ) It has to grow from the relationship, from where the hero and heroine are in their journey.

    It has to follow the personalities of the characters. No trapeze if she is a virgin. I try to take in the experience and personalities of the hero and heroine.

    Subsequent sex can be hotter and more experimental.

    It doesn't always have to be so serious. My first manuscript had a wedding night scene that was both funny and hot, sweet and sexy. I mean the hero tripped over a footstool. And it got some great comments from an agent who requested the full. She ended up not offering representation, but she loved that scene!

  28. Louisa,

    You always crack me up! I would love to read that scene.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. :)