Monday, April 13, 2009

Everything I Wanted to Know About Writing Sex Scenes - Part Two

Last week when I left you, my hero Jack was undressing my heroine Bridget while my instructor Delilah Marvelle ( in her on-line class “Building Hot Sex Scenes” critiqued their every move.

So back to Delilah’s critique of my WIP “Welcome to Paradise”.

Delilah continued to point out places where I neglected to use the five senses to layer in sensuality. How does Bridget’s skin feel against Jack’s fingers? What does her perfume smell like? In a love scene, every emotion is heightened and every sense is heightened. It is not enough to simply say, as I did, “He ran his finger over the swell of her breast”. I need to show how it feels to Jack.

Delilah encouraged us to become sensualists and to find our “inner French girl”. “Slow your thoughts and your writing and your body down. In order to get your characters in the mood, you should be in the mood. Light a candle. Play soft music. Make out with your boyfriend or husband.” Because the sex scene was difficult for me to write, I often ignored it for as long as possible, and just tried to “get it over and done with”. But Delilah says this is the absolute wrong attitude. “The love scene is PIVITAL. It is what changes the relationship between the hero and heroine on a physical and emotional level…You should be savouring that special moment between them. If you don’t respect their moment, no one will.”

Delilah also took me to task for repetition of the word “smile”, and encouraged me to find another way of showing that Jack, my point of view character, is happy. She also warned me about having Jack laugh too much. “Laughing requires energy…and if he’s slipping her blouse off, you don’t want to take away from that action by weighing the sentence down with a greater action.” In other words, keep the focus on making love.

That also brings up another point. Dialogue within a sex scene. I love dialogue, so I had quite a bit of it in my scene. Unfortunately this is not the place for long speeches. “Less is sometimes more. Especially when it comes to dialogue in a love scene. The rule Me Tarzan, You Jane applies.” Humour is good. It helps the characters fall in love with each other and helps the readers fall for the characters. But again, keep your witty banter short and sassy. And just a little naughty.

I had several spots where I unintentionally switched POV. I wrote “Bridget slipped her hands under his shirt,” and Delilah remarked “this feels like a POV change. Mostly because you aren’t describing what he feels when she touches him.” Staying deeply in my POV character’s head and describing how he feels and what he feels, sees, hears, smells and tastes, will avoid these unintentional switches. Delilah encouraged us to stay in one character’s POV throughout the scene. Unless you’re Nora Roberts, don’t head hop.

Aside from the points Delilah made in my critique, these are some other things I learned in her class:

Have a plan for my love scene. I need to know what kind of mood I want to evoke with the scene. Will it be playful, funny, kinky, rough, sweet, soft, emotional? I need to plot out my love scene so I know where it’s going. It also needs to be well motivated. I can’t have my characters having sex just because it’s page 170 and it’s time they did it. Everything has to build up to this scene, because their relationship changes after they make love.

I should be original. That’s a given for any writing, but one of the reasons I took this class was that all my sex scenes were starting to sound the same to me. Delilah told us to step outside the box. My characters don’t always need to be in a bed or to be completely naked. For my contemporaries I can use technology. They could have phone sex, or text sex. For historicals, I can use clothing or masks or food, anything that’s available. Making each scene unique will keep readers, and me, from getting bored.

I should exchange something unexpected between the hero and heroine as they are making love. Delilah says this is how readers will draw closer to the characters. For example, in one of my fellow classmate’s scenes, the heroine shows the hero a scar she has never revealed to anyone else.

I took away a lot of things from Delilah’s class, including a really excellent critique that I will use not only to make this scene better, but hopefully every sex scene that I write in the future.

Which author do you think writes the best love scenes? Do you always read the love scenes, or do you sometimes find yourself skipping over them? Which POV do you enjoy more in a love scene: the heroine's or the hero's?


Captain Hook said...

So far I have only written sex scenes in my erotica novellas. The rest just don't call for it.

My fave authors for sex scenes? Hmm . . . Suzanne Brockman does good ones. L.A. Banks, Laurell K. Hamilton, Christine Feehan, J.R. Ward.

A friend is standing over my shoulder yelling at me to add Nora Roberts, but in all honesty, her sex scenes bore me except when she's writing as J.D. Robb.

Karen said...

Good morning Jana. Another great post today. Very useful information. I like the idea of mapping out my love scenes using the points you suggested, especially the idea of revealing something unexpected. I'm also guilty of not relying on all five senses to heighten the emotion in a scene. And like I mentioned last week, I'm one of the ones that has to get in the right mindset before writing them.

I don't skip sex scenes, generally I pick books with a certain heat level. One author I enjoy, Tara Janzen, creates great sex scenes. Tons of emotion, yet they don't go on for pages and pages. And like Captain Hook I do enjoy JR Ward.

Jana Richards said...

Hey Captain and Karen,
Thanks for your comments. One of the reasons I liked this class so much was because Delilah made me think of things I really hadn't thought of before. When you think about it sharing something unexpected makes perfect sense. The intimacy between the characters should not only be physical, but emotional as well. It is this emotional intimacy that is so satisfying not only to the characters but to the readers as well. They want to go on this journey with the characters and take the next big scary step into love.

Great list of authors. I'm familiar with the work of Suzanne Brockman and Nora Roberts but I have to confess, not the others. Sadly, I have a pile of to be read books on my desk and on my bookshelf, but lately all I seem to read are research books. Sigh.
I need about 12 more hours in my day.


Captain Hook said...

I wish I had a pile of "To be read" books. Mine is actually the opposite problem (and no, it's not as fun as you might think). I run out of books to read, or go bankrupt, because I read too fast (average of about 1500 pages a day).

Molli said...

Hi Jana. Thanks for Part Two - more good nuts and bolts to consider.

One of the most memorable love scenes I've read was by Justine Dare, in a fantasy novel where the hero was a slave required to "service" high-level women in the society: he had been a warrior whose beloved wife was killed in the raid in which he was captured, and although he was unable to refuse to "perform" he refused to allow himself to climax. He suffered some serious issues when he began falling in love with the heroine. Justine currently writes contemporary romantic suspense for Silhouette as Justine Davis, and continues to bring together characters whose conflicted emotions intensify the love scene. In the Presents line (which I read largely) I have two favourites: Robyn Donald and Catherine Spencer; I find their love scenes different, but equally involving, from both a descriptive and emotional level. For historical my favourites are the earlier novels of Mary Jo Putney and Connie Brockway, again for both the level of sensuality and emotional involvement or repercussions.

I don't often skip the sex scenes unless I find them gratuitous, boring, or impossible (have I mentioned the book I read where the hero climbed into the heroine's hospital bed two days after she delivered their child -- yeah, right! I figured that must have been written, and edited, by people who've never had a child and didn't bother to research -- grrr!).

The idea of exchanging something unexpected is interesting. I'm thinking that even if it's only in one protagonist's mind it will form part of the change, moving the story forward. As for my favourite POV, I don't have one per se, as long as I'm feeling drawn in rather than distanced. Head hopping isn't an issue for me, either, provided it's smoothly done and I don't feel as if I'm watching a tennis match.

As for the "to read" pile, mine is more like an entire bookcase so I'm in awe of Captain Hook at 1500 words a day. Wow!

Erika said...

Jana, great post. I also am a fan of JR Ward, but I like Nora Roberts & JD Robb, I also enjoy Karen Robards and Sandra Brown. I hardly ever skip sex scenes. I have read a couple though where I wasn't sure I should have been in the room. It really felt like intruding. He was standing there while she sat on the bed telling her what to do....maybe it was too intimate. Is there such a thing in a romance book?

Jana Richards said...

Hi Captain,
I bow to your incredibly fast speed reading! I wish I could read that fast, especially when it comes to research.

See you soon.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Molli,
I think I'm going to have to check out Justine Dare. The idea of having a man as a slave who "services" women is very unique. And definitely a twist. I know I've read some of her Justine Davis books and really liked them. She spoke at a conference I was at once. It might have been in Calgary. Do you remember?

Thanks for the other names as well. I've read Robyn Donald and Catherine Spencer, but not Connie Brockway and Mary Jo Putney. I'll have to watch for their books as well.

Impossible love scenes -- nothing springs immediately to mind, but I guess it's something to watch out for as writers. The timing, and the emotions between hero/heroine better be right or it's not going to ring true.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Erika,
Sandra Brown and Karen Robards are a couple of my favorite writers. I was at a conference once where Karen Robards was a speaker and I was impressed by her tenacity as a writer. When she was starting out and trying to get published, she was still working her day job. She wrote every chance she got. Every coffee break and every lunch hour she'd lock herself in one of the bathroom cubicles with her pad and paper. She spent so much time in the bathroom that people thought she had some kind of bowel disease!

I'm not sure I've ever read a love scene that makes me feel like a voyeur. I think that's one more thing for a writer to watch out for. If a scene makes a reader feel uncomfortable it probably needs work.


Silver James said...

I'm running late today. Isn't that always the way? I really like the idea of layering in all the senses. I think I use some of them, but I'll definitely keep it in mind as I write future love scenes (and revise!).

There are times when I wish I could just stick the H/H behind closed doors and move on but unless one is writing for the inspirational market, that's not too practical. I don't really mind writing the scenes, or reading them (though I tend to skim over them unless they are VERY well done), but they aren't the main focus of my creativity. Your two articles may change that. LOL!

Well done scenes..hrm. Maureen Child. Jennifer Lyon. Julie Leto.

Janet C. said...

Oh, yeah, Silver - Maureen Child, good choice.

Some great authors names to put in the book of books/authors for future reading material - thanks, everyone.

Very good job on part 2, Jana. I'm going to try and remember all of this as I'm writing the love scenes. I definitely know where to return if I need a reminder.

I'll have to watch for Delilah's class being given again - it's one I want to sign up for. Thanks for sharing what you've learned and snippets of your work and critiques. Very educational - and as I tell The Husband, it's all research ;)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Silver,
I kind of have to agree with you about skimming over some love scenes if they're not very well done. Especially if there several in one book. I don't ever want to bore my readers with my love scenes. Yikes!

Delilah made me see that the love scene is pivotal to the story and deserves all the attention I can give it. A good love scene, one with lots of emotion and passion, will bring up the quality of my whole book.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
So many authors, so little time. I'm really going to have to make an effort to get to my to read pile.

All of these authors that we've mentioned here should really be commended for writing love scenes that we remember and made us feel the passion of the characters. Good love scenes are not easy to write.

A hands on class is great fun and very illuminating. Hopefully Delilah's classes will remain small because there is no way she could do individual critiques for a large class and those were invaluable to us.