Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Is It Getting Hot In Here?


“We’ve known each other for three chapters, so how about it?”

Depending on the level of sensuality you write, your characters may or may not be steaming up the pages by this point. Heat level is a hot topic these days and as erotic romance increases in popularity the discussion is bound to get hotter. But in romance, whether you leave the door wide open, even add a little kink, or keep the door firmly closed, it’s still all about the evolving relationship between the protagonists.

Guaranteed there is something out there to tempt every reader no matter your preferred heat level. But if you don’t want to end up with a book that makes you uncomfortable read a review first and check and see if the site gives a heat rating. Over at All About Romance they give their reviews sensuality ratings. Kisses are sweet romances, Subtle means no explicit sensuality, Warm is moderately explicit, Hot is very explicit and Burning is reserved for erotic romance. You can check in at All About Romance at http://www.likesbooks.com/ for a more extensive look at their rating system.

As a reader, I like sex with my plot. All I ask is that the sex fall within the realm of possibility. It is a rare thing for me to put down money for a book and then not finish it but that’s exactly what happened recently. I bought a book and I knew it was going to be scorching. It was a paranormal, one in a series, which involved protagonists with special powers, kind of like the X-Men. So far so good, except the special powers seemed to exist solely for the purpose of having sex anywhere and everywhere, not to mention anyhow. To call the plot basic would be generous. And I swear, some of the positions needed more than special powers to be possible. When you find yourself twisting and turning and grimacing while reading a sex scene, it’s not a good thing.

I know what works for me as a reader; I just wish I could turn that around and apply those things as a writer. ‘Cause let me just say, writing sex scenes is not as satisfying as reading them. You worry the emotional impact isn’t great enough, you’re concerned with plausibility, have you made use of the five senses, is the dialogue to hokey. Yikes. By the end of your scene you’re exhausted and not in a good way.

Do you have any great links or valuable resources that help you write fabulously sensual sex scenes? Do you have a favorite author you feel gets those sex scenes just right? Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to reading sex scenes?

“A terrible thing happened to me last night again - Nothing.” Phyllis Diller

18 comments:

Hayley E. Lavik said...

My main pet peeve is sex scenes that come outta nowhere. I haven't much traversed the shores of romantic fiction, but what I've read has (I think) shown me both the good/decent, and the very very poor. The book that utterly frustrated me and insulted my intelligence as a reader was one in which the characters behaved like a pendulum. One minute they were hot-as-heck-and-cannot-be-separated, and the next I-hate-you-you're-awful-don't-come-near-me.. and then without resolving the conflict, back to knocking boots... often in an overly violent and just bizarre manner. It's really hard to like a hero whose actions border on sexual crime...

My favourite author for fantastic intimacy (pardon the pun) is fantasy author Jacqueline Carey. She writes wonderfully steamy scenes with a perfect balance of direct detail (no euphemisms that make you snicker) a courtesan-like poetry. She can handle a wide range of erotic moods as well, from sweet and romantic to very fetishistic.

For myself, with the limited dabbling I've had in romance and intimate writing, I approach it -- I'm sure this sounds odd -- the way I do combat. That is, I don't want to subject my reader to a blow-by-blow account of Every Single Thing, but rather brush through it in a style that conveys the mood (short, fast sentences or slow, building language, etc) and just hit the high points with detail. I also try to just keep writing, rather than stop and dwell on language or if the sentence structure works. Just get each sentence out, keep myself in the mood of the moment and write what I'd want to read. Later I can go back and clean it up, deal with neglected senses or orders of response (the MRUs, I think?) And of course most important, enjoy the process of writing it! If it becomes tedious, it will read that way.

Janet C. said...

I'm with you, Karen - I like sex with my plot (not plot with my sex). Which is why, I think, I don't read a lot of erotica. I've read a few Harlequin Blaze - some very good reads with hot sex that made sense and some that was just a bed (sofa, counter, elevator) fest.

To me, it has to flow with the story, compliment the characters' personalities (which is why I took out a stairwell sex scene in Lady Bells - it was so not her), and add to the romantic development between the two protagonists. And I'll concur with Hayley - the hot for each other one minute, despise each other the next - does nothing to increase the sexual tension that should build like the plot does.

Great post - and for those interested on March 22nd Romancing the Blog's post was about the 'Page 200 Rule'. Is your Chapter 7 around the 200 page mark, Karen? ;)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Great post, Karen.

I also give out heat level ratings for the books I review on my blog but they're the ones I found on the eharl site:

-Friends: absolutely no sex

-Affectionate: kissing and hand holding but nothing more, not even closed door sex

-Romantic: making out and possibly behind closed door sex (I always thought "making out" was some very serious necking and some
groping and petting and lots and lots of heavy breathing ... but not the main event)

-Sensual: moderately explicit lovemaking, no "forbidden" words

-Yummy: explicit sex without any "forbidden" words

-Heat Wave: explicit sex with "forbidden" words

-Combustible: explicit sex, may have some kink factor, but still man / woman

-Inferno: anything goes

Since I have both Christians and secular readers looking at my blog, it's very important for me to differentiate between the levels. (Although one of nieces said she clicks on the 'Yummy' label and goes for those. sigh)

I don't need to read about sex in books although I've read many that have and will probably continue to do so. Obviously, the Love Inspireds don't have it and I cry and laugh along with those as much if not more than a lot of secular books. I think because the emotional level has to be higher to make up for the lack of sex. Yes, there's still attraction, but not blantantly spoken about. You can tell a man is attracted to or 'into' a woman from the look he gives her. And if it's his POV, there are many things happening physically that can be written about without talking about the obvious one.

That of course, brings up the subject of restraint. Are you writing about humans who have respect and can restrain themselves or humans who are weak and can't stop their baser urges.

For me, I prefer a hero and heroine who can control themselves and don't have sex just because they can. I want it to mean something special for them alone, preferably within the bounds of matrimony as God intended.

And if you want an example of a book filled with sexual tension without the actual sex, read Michele Dunaway's Nine Months Notice. It's actually one of my reference books. :)

Karen said...

Hi Hayley,
For a very very short span of time I reviewed books for an online site. One of the few books I reviewed was a contemporary romance. It disturbed me because it involved punishments to the female protagonist... it was just bad. Shortly after my career as a book reviewer ended.

Thanks for sharing your approach and thanks for the author mention. I will definitely check her out.

Karen said...

Hey Janet,
So, I went and checked out RTB. Interesting. My characters are hooking up a little earlier then page 200! Now I'm worried.

Although, I have to say, I don't mind if the protagonists are still figuring things out even though they've already indulged.

Karen said...

Hey Anita,
Love eharl's heat level names.

Thank goodness for variety of subgenres, that way we can all get what we want.

I think anyone who picks up a romance expects to read about characters who become deeply committed to each other. Fortunately that commitment can come about in variety of ways and sex is one way a writer can choose to show that happening.

Thanks for the author mention, I'll check it out.

Silver James said...

Ha! And I thought this was going to be a blog about menopause and the writer! *wink* I was all prepared to reply, "Or is it just me?"

As a reader, I tend to skip over most of the sexy bits. There's only so many ways to describe the action. As a writer, I'm never sure how much to include. I usually end up with more, which is good because I can always back down from the more explicit, depending on what genre/market I'm considering. I'm not sure which side is better to err on, though, when actually submitting.

ban said...

hey anita - Romantic: making out and possibly behind closed door sex (I always thought "making out" was some very serious necking and some
groping and petting and lots and lots of heavy breathing ... but not the main event)
that's what 'I' always thought romantic was too and this is what i personally prefer but more and more i find people using this term for books that should more aptly be labled 'yummy' or 'heat wave'. i'm not against these books, i've enjoyed my share (if they are sex with plot not the opposite:) i'm just wondering if authors stick with the lesser title in order to appeal to more people ? personally i have a thing for tension and the longer i can draw it out the better - at least for me. i really want to see the character's feelings build. and i concur with hayley - jacqueline carey is a beautiful author - even if some of her sex scenes aren't to your taste you should read one, or two, or three ...

Karen said...

Hi Silver,
LOL. I'm rapidly approaching the need for such a blog.

Good point. If the characters and plot are well developed, you can skip the sexy bits and still enjoy the story.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
Great minds must think alike. I've got a couple of blogs on writing sex scenes coming up in the next while.

The best kind of sex scene for me is one in which there is commitment and feeling, not to mention attraction, on both sides. By the time the characters get to the love scene, the reader should know a lot about them and really be rooting for them. Some of my favorite author's love scenes are Mary Balogh's and Suzanne Brockman's because they are so full of emotion. You care about these people and you want them to be happy together.

As for writing a sex scene, it's not easy and can sometimes feel tedious. And if it feels tedious to the writer, it will feel tedious to the reader.

Jana

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karen,
Great minds must think alike. I've got a couple of blogs on writing sex scenes coming up in the next while.

The best kind of sex scene for me is one in which there is commitment and feeling, not to mention attraction, on both sides. By the time the characters get to the love scene, the reader should know a lot about them and really be rooting for them. Some of my favorite author's love scenes are Mary Balogh's and Suzanne Brockman's because they are so full of emotion. You care about these people and you want them to be happy together.

As for writing a sex scene, it's not easy and can sometimes feel tedious. And if it feels tedious to the writer, it will feel tedious to the reader.

Jana

Erika said...

I also like sex with my plot, but I have recently found out I'm open to plot with no sex. WHO KNEW??

I read Just The Sexiest Man Alice by Julie James. No sex. Really like the book. Again I say, WHO KNEW???

Silver - really? skipping the sex scenes? I'm scratching my head in wonder... :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Well, ban I don't want authors using the romantic name for books with actual sex in it. That just wouldn't be fair.

There are lots of exciting, romantic books out there if a person really wanted to look.

Take the Harlequin NASCAR series for instance. Before giving the NASCAR stamp of approval, Harlequin had to agree the series would be rated G like everything else the NASCAR name touches. Those books are very well done and written by the same sizzling authors that write for the American line.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Recently, I read something from Holly Jacobs about how she handles the sex scenes. Sorry it's taken me this much time to find it. I had to go check with Holly because I'd 'travelled' so far since reading it. She said to go here:

http://www.wewriteromance.com/blog/hot-release/holly-jacobs-guest-blogger-writing-pg-from-a-g-perspective/

I really like the way she handles it. What do you think?

Karen said...

Hi Jana,
All I can say is thank goodness, I think I could use the help.

I think I may have mentioned once or twice that I'm a Suzanne Brockmann fan. I also like Tara Janzen's style. Maybe I'll go study some of those scenes tonight.;)

Karen said...

Hey ban,

I am definitely going to check out Jacqueline Carey.

A few months ago I read Julia Quinn's Mr. Cavendish, I Presume and, if I remember correctly, there was no sex until the end of the book. I remember being surprised that I liked it. But she put the hero through the wringer so thoroughly and he was such a emotional wreck I didn't miss the sex.

Karen said...

Hey Erika,
I'm open to books with no sex but I wouldn't want to make a habit out of reading them.

Um, the title is quite intriguing.

Natalie Acres said...

I'm with Karen. I'm open to books without sex scenes but goodness, I'd hate to 'do without' for an extended period of time!

Great topic,
Natalie