Thursday, June 25, 2009

Love Doesn’t Always Come First

Hello and thanks for having me here. I’m so happy to come by and talk about Hard to Resist, and some thoughts on writing for Blaze, Harlequin’s sexiest line. When you open the pages of a Blaze, you’ll find a range of sexuality and sexual expression in Blaze characters, just like you would in real people. Not everyone does the same thing, the same way, for the same reasons – which brings me to the epiphany I had a while ago about sexual motivation.

The fact is, for a lot of books, and for a lot of people in the world, sex comes before love. But what motivates a character to have sex, with this particular person, on this particular day? I think this is a very important question for anyone who is writing Blaze or similar types of romance to ask. So what is sexual motivation when it comes to writing a romance novel?

It’s simply this: your character’s decision to have sex has to be emotionally motivated. Period. This, to me, is an integral factor to every Blaze I write. In any book I write, actually.

And no, horny is not an emotional motivator (though it certainly might move things along a little.) But underneath the horny surface, your character is always driven to have sex for some emotional reason. Are they lonely? Hurt? Afraid? Needy? Angry? Hopeful? Vengeful? Etc. What emotional need is being satisfied by having sex? I think if you can’t answer this question, you need to dig deeper, or you are in danger of your characters having truly meaningless sex.

People might say, well, they have sex because they are motivated by love. This is true when your love scene comes at the end of the book, but not when the characters meet early on. I think Blaze has, to some extent, suffered a reputation of people thinking our characters jump into bed together for no reason – that’s simply not true. Sex is never just sex, a common refrain in Blaze. The emotion that leads them to have sex may not be love, but it could be any number of other things, and that’s where the story is.

My heroine in Hard toResist, for example, has led a happy and successful life. Lacey has a great family and a wonderful career – until she meets the wrong guy who abuses her, hurts her, and almost kills her. Because this is such an interruption in her “normal” life, she can’t accept that she has been a “victim.” She can’t deal with it, and tries to dismiss it. Her fear has interrupted her natural attraction to men, and she knows something is wrong, though she tries to rationalize.

Still, we meet her at a point where she wants to heal. She wants to want, to desire, but she’s so very afraid – so the desire not to be afraid, to be safe, to be healed, is what drives her into the arms of Texas Ranger Jarod Wyatt (that, and he’s incredibly hot.)

However, I think she also senses she will be safe with Jarod – so there is the need to heal, the need to be safe…maybe even the need for love. All of these things motivate her when she has sex with him (and we’ll give the girl some credit, she does resist for a while, but he just becomes too irresistible).

It was an interesting decision, how to write that scene, and the first sex scene is pretty graphic, rather than slow or gentle. She really goes for it. Lacey doesn’t want to think, she doesn’t want to feel anything but the sex. To me, that made sense in her situation. Obviously, she starts to feel a whole lot more as the book progresses, and she discovers that while sex certainly was one element of her relationship, the healing really comes through love, and through feeling safe enough to share her fear.

But it started with feeling safe enough to have sex.

Jarod has his motivators, too, but I’ll let you find out those for yourself. ;)

I could probably go through each book I have written and think about what emotion was driving the characters to have sex when they may or may not have known each other all that well, or maybe when they knew it wasn’t a great idea, or when they were completely fooling themselves – sometimes they are the last ones to know why they did it, and again, that’s where your story is.

So, I hope this makes some sense, and I’m here today to talk anything about motivation, my books, and Blaze. Feel free to ask any questions, and I'll do my best to answer.

If you are following my blog tour, this is the next to last stop, and if not, I hope you’ll chat anyway, and I’ll choose one person at the end of the day to win a copy of Hard to Resist and cute little book mark.

You'll find Samantha Hunter at her blog,
Love is An Exploding Cigar, and around the eHarlequin boards.
You can also follow her at Twitter and Facebook and at


Captain Hook said...

Excellent post, Samantha!

Character motivation (usually not sexual for mine because I write for a younger age group) has frequently been a problem for me. To me it just feels natural to write character's actions and reactions certain ways. I never thought about the WHY until some of my critters called me on it.

Even then, putting it into words was difficult for me because my characters tend to have one thing in common with me - they are so internally conflicted that they don't understand their own motivation.

It's taken a lot of work, but now I understand my characters a lot better, and that understanding passes on to my critters.

Thanks again for stopping by and chatting with us.

CrystalGB said...

Hi Samantha. Wonderful post. Your explanation of sexual motivation of characters in romance novels is great. Hard To Resist sounds good. Love the cover.

Samantha Hunter said...

Morning folks! You guys are early risers! I'm just getting the sleep out of my eyes. ;)

Motivation is a tricky business all around, I think. Trickiest of all, as you mention Captain, is when they don't understand their motivations, but it still has to be clear to the reader why they are doing what they do -- that's paramount. If the reader doesn't see the reasons for the character's actions, that's a kiss of death, I think.

Crystal -- thanks! I have to admit, I had been writing in that sexual motivation long before I had a term for it. Sarah Mayberry was writing an article on Blaze, and she asked me if I were going to offer any advice to someone wanting to write Blaze, what would it be? Immediately, I knew it wasn't about just writing sex -- it had to be about writing emotionally grounded sex. It's an idea that sticks with me, now, though I think it applies generally, applying specific motivation like this can be very helpful in a book.

Looking very forward to the discussion,


EllenToo said...

I'm very new to reading Blaze's. I began reading them a little over a year ago and still don't read that many. A large part of the reason is because of the way I was brought up. But now it's easier to read them because the stories are outstanding, and there is a reason for the characters to have sex instead of just having it for the sake of having sex.

Karyn Good said...

Hi Samanatha and welcome to the Prairies. Thanks for a great post today.

Sexual motivation should be clear to the writer before bringing it about on paper. I've been struggling with that on my wip. I was worried I had my characters having sex too early but wasn't sure why I felt that way but now I know. I really don't have a clear sense of their sexaul motivation. Once that's established then timing will be less of an issue. I think. Right?

One thing I've learned - writing sex scenes is not easy. Much easier to read them in someone else's book then to write them.

Hard to Resist sounds like a great read. And I agree with Crystal, awesome cover.

Samantha Hunter said...

Ellen, I'm so glad you have come to love Blaze! We love having you hanging around with us, too -- nothing like an appreciative reader. :) And I think any book where characters just have sex for the sake of having is a boring read. ;) It would be boring sex, too, I imagine.

Karyn, I think that's right on the money -- pacing has everything to do with motivation -- it's not just why did they do this, it's why did they do this NOW, at this particular moment. So the timing is everything. I have had books where the characters have sex in chapter one, and others where they don't have sex until maybe 100-150 pages in (which is a long time in a Blaze! LOL), but "why" is integral to pacing... In something like a Blaze, it's very important to the journey of sex to love, as well. You have to be able to time out how sex happens along the trajectory of a relationship...not always easy.

I wonder, when you find their motivation, if you might move their sexual activity sooner or later -- I think you'll find it will make more sense, either way.


Anonymous said...

Love the post! I read one Blaze where the hero/heroine did it within the first pages of meeting. That turned me off from the book. I have read a couple other Blazes where the 'act' seemed to have more meaning. I guess it was the emotion of it and I didn't realize that was why I enjoyed those. Until now since I have your explanation!


Samantha Hunter said...

Marcie, I'm curious, did you finish the book that put you off?

I think sex up front is a risk, but it usually means you're going to find out the why soon after... and if not, I'd agree, that's a bummer...

It's interesting, though -- for some folks, sex up front is like a murder on the first page, it's the hook that draws them in -- and in your case, the opposite. ;)


Betty S. said...

Hey Sam, thanks for your post. Yours are the only Blaze books I've read and it does help to have an understanding of the character's motivation and emotional state as we share their journey through the pages. By the nature of the genre the characters do need to move rather quickly into an intimate relationship, but just because it happens fast doesn't mean the relationship shouldn't make sense. Because if it doesn't make sense the reader may be turned off to the character, and in turn, the book itself.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Welcome to the prairies, Sam. Before I forget, I want to publicly state how much I appreciate the support you've always given to me and my writing despite our differences. For those who don't know, I write inspirationals, where sex either doesn't exist (ha!) or is behind closed doors, yet still Sam was there applauding my efforts and I thank you for that, Sam.

So that explains why I've only ever read 2 Blaze books. I won, read and reviewed the first one. And then I read Sam's. But Sam's had paranormal elements... was it Fascination? It was an Extreme Blaze as opposed to just a Blaze. What's the difference?

Anonymous said...

Sam - no I didn't finish the book. Had they known each other in the past and let the attraction take them where it did - I would have been fine with. But no, they had just met. I know the book had some attraction curse to it, so I guess that's why the author thought it would work. But I couldn't find it believable enough.


J.K. Coi said...

Hi Sam! This is a great post. It's very true that in a romance novel, even one where the sexuality is more explicit, the motivation behind it is key and that's what drives not only the sex scene but the whole story! -- And yours are AWESOME! For anyone who hasn't read one of Sam's books yet, run and get them!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Excellent post, Samantha, this is well timed for me.

I love the way you handle sex, from the sounds of it. There's reason for it, it brings about a change in the plot, but it doesn't always have to be a love-motivated thing... and you don't downplay the physical motivations ;) I've just written two academic papers on romance, most recently on whether a Harlequin sex scene was consensual or not. It wasn't a Blaze scene, but very interesting to dissect what was going on. In the end I found the desire to justify it as okay because they confessed love later just didn't seem to fly, so I love that you're talking about the other things that can motivate sex. I really believe sex should always have a purpose (the same as any scene in a novel), but also that it doesn't always have to be true love. As you say, it can be healing, cathartic, or even vengeful! Now that's compelling.

In my own wip I've been dwelling for a long time on how far to take the relationship, and what repercussions their actions might have, especially since confessions of love would seem trite but completely casual sex would seem horribly shallow in comparison with everything else. Eventually I hit on the right balance, and I know exactly where I want to go now. Your post has reinforced this, emphasizing those other emotional forces that can drive a relationship :)

Karyn Good said...

Thanks Sam. It will definitely be later. It's going to take the hero some time to decide to take the risk. It was his motivation that I was really struggling with but along with a better idea of his character's goals and motivation and your idea of adding a sexual motivation I definitely have a better of understanding of how it's going to play out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Samantha!
I find writing sex difficult but am sure that your guidelines will help a lot. I have never thought about the term "sexual motivation", but it sure makes sense.
Haven't read a Blaze in a long time, but will now.

Samantha Hunter said...

Betty, well said!

Anita, that was Untouched, and yes it was an Extreme, and ironically, probably my tamest book, from a sexual standpoint. The "Extreme" had to do with the paranormal storyline, more so than the sex. My heroine was a virgin, and so you know, you can't rush that kind of thing. ;) But I'm glad you enjoyed it.

And of course I would support your writing goals! Writers have to stick together. :) I have read a few inspirationals for contests, and some I liked very much. I even read books with NO sex in them (though I like the ones with sex in them a tad better, LOL), but sex isn't the requirement for the book, a good story is...

Marcie, that's interesting. Reading is so personal, like I mentioned, there could have been a ton of readers who were sucked into the book for the reason you were pushed out... always intriguing. But also why a writer can only do what they think is right for the book.

Big, squishy hugs to JK and similar gushing - if you haven't read one of her books -- DO.

Hayley, thanks for such a thoughtful post. I agree... the motivation that pushes people to have sex can't be something you just tag on later... it has to make sense in all of their movements up to that point (the exception being, of course, the first page love scene, which is relatively rare, and even then, you can work a bit of motivational clue into the love scene itself...)

Which brings me to the interesting point (I think) that that motivation also helps you write the sex scene from a technical perspective -- if you know why people are having sex, and you have some sense of their personality, you can also know WHAT kinds of things they will do. This keeps your sex fresh and relevant to your characters.

I think Deb Dixon might have been the one to say that your characters' goals in a romance novel is not to fall in love -- they do not want to do this, most of the time. They want something else -- and maybe this something else is what also pushes them to behave sexually. The mistake the characters make is thinking sex is surface. Sex is NEVER just on the surface...

Karyn and Anonymous, thanks so much -- glad this was helpful!


Anita Mae Draper said...

Just a reminder if you want your name put in for Sam's book and you're signing in as Anonymous, please include your name and email address in your comment.

Yeah, Sam, it was Untouched. I dug out both of them and Fascination isn't an Extreme. So if Extreme has to do with the content and not the heat level, what content would be included under the Extreme label? Or are all Extreme's paranormal?

Helena said...

So glad you could be with us today, Samantha.

I have never read such a clear expression of the importance of defining what the sex in a romance novel can/should be. Such an array of motivations - I would never have thought of some of them. Vengeance. Now that would have to come from a damaged soul, but what an intriguing story it could be.

I have read a couple of Blaze titles, can't remember them. But if I won your book I would certainly remember it, because you have spent some time here as an honorary Chick! And I have learned a lot from your excellent post. Thanks so much.

Erika said...

Okay, I'm hooked. I will be reading this book. Thank you for the introduction.

Samantha Hunter said...

Anita, Fascination is one of my personal favorites, I have to say. RT hated that book, LOL, but the hero there was just such a piece of work -- I can't help but love him.

Extremes are not all paranormal, but they will deal with subject matter over and above "typical" Blaze -- such as time travel, sci-fi, or I believe Julie Leto had one with high-level assassins. And they can be "extremely" sexy, but mine just happened to go the other way because of the heroine being a virgin.

Helena, thank you so much! What a kind compliment, and I've enjoyed it too. :)

Erika, you are one decisive lady! LOL Thanks!


Mavis Smyth said...

Love the post Samantha - and no - don't see the point in sex just for the sake of does not make or break a book for me - I much prefer my characters to have a deeper reason behind the scene. As for when 'it happens in the book' - don't mind as long as I can understand why they did it later on in the book......does that make sense?

Samantha Hunter said...

Mavis, that makes perfect sense to me!

Thanks for coming by...


Cari Quinn said...

This was a great post, Sam. I love hearing a knowledgeable author dissect a topic so many people try to dismiss as "just sex." Sure, some stories exist that are just about the physicality, but IMO, every sex scene needs to be showing a couple's emotional growth. Your books are perfect examples of that. Even before I was trying to break into Blaze, I read your books because you got it "right." And I look forward to seeing you get it right for a very long time, my friend. :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Sam,
Sorry I'm so late coming to the party! Welcome to the Prairies.

Like Helena said, that was the clearest and most concise explanation of sexual motivation I have ever read. I think I always want my characters, at least one of them, to realize they love the other person before they make love. But you make me see that there are other motivations. That's something of an epiphany, so thank you for that.


Janet C. said...

Like Jana, I'm late getting over here today. But let me add my warm "Welcome to the Prairies" with my fellow Chicks.

Excellent post and one I will return to many times as I work through a sex scene (or even a highly emotional 'partnership' scene because I think what you've touched on here applies to the relationship between the hero and heroine as well). You've made it clear and concise. Thanks for that.

And a great discussion going on as well - nice to see so many new faces visiting us today.

connie said...

Smuck - that is the sound of the heel of my hand hitting my forehead!
I am trying medieval romance for a start. Motivation. My couple had sex minutes after hand fasting. Need a little more motivation I'd say...
Thanks for putting 'motivation' among my souvenirs of posts. And your's was a great one.

Samantha Hunter said...

Cari, great to see you. :) I get so much out of talking to you about writing, I think you are one of the ones who "get it right" as well. Can't wait to see your first book. :)

Jana, thanks so much for coming by -- I retired early last night, so I'm back this morning, but I appreciate everyone's support and comments. :) And I'm so glad you found the blog useful!

Janet, I do think motivation is important throughout a book, for many reason, why characters do everything they do. For Blaze writers, and writers of sexy romance, I think it's important to talk about because as Cari mentioned, so much of what we do gets dismissed as "just sex." So maybe this is important for different subgenres of romance in different ways? Hmmm. Have to think about that. :)

Connie, thanks, and LOL on "smuck" -- that's very imagistic. ;) I'm glad it helped, and I agree, making motivation for any sexual encounter, even one within marriage or a relationship, can't be glided over. It's not enough to say "we're married, that's why" -- has to go deeper than that for each char, IMO.

Thanks so much gals! I loved being here. I don't know if Anita picks a winner for my book, or if I do, but we'll announce before the end of the day. :)


Anita Mae Draper said...

Good morning, everyone. Oh, I see I'd better email Sam and tell her she can pick the winner. I'll go do that now...

flchen1 said...

Ooh, rats! Sorry to have missed your visit here, Sam--very interesting topic, and good to hear about the motivations from an author's perspective! Congrats again on Hard to Resist--that cover's pretty hard to resist!