07 February 2007

Comfort Zone

For the authors of historical romance, we get write about our hero and heroine falling in love in far away, often exotic locales, be it a castle, a harem, or an oasis in the desert. With each page, we build up the sexual tension between the couple, usually hindering them along the way through several misunderstandings. All such hurdles are set aside when it's time to explore their physical attraction (at least until the next chapter anyway). But every author has his or her comfort level with writing the love scene.

So, I'd like to know, what's your comfort level? Do you prefer fleshing out details or allowing readers to use their imagination? What's your reaction to reading an explicit love scene vs. a milder depiction?

Happy writing,


Marjorie Jones said...

I'm fairly comfortable at any level in the process. My love scenes in my unusual historicals, which are mass market paperbacks, are on the tamer side, and there's generally two, maybe three scenes in a novel. They are very mainstream. My paranormals, written under Starla Childs, are also in the direction of mainstream, but have a little more 'bite', so to speak. But I also publish erotic over at mojocastle.com and so I have no problem reading or writing the uber-spicy, spicy. I have a different pen name for each genre, and when I'm writing in that "personality", I get into character and have no trouble varying the degree of heat.

Great question!

Vicki Gaia said...

I'm comfortable reading any level of a love scene. As far as writing a love scene, I guess mine would be rated sensual. It depends on the story. Most of the time I'll have two or three love scenes in a novel that's around 85,000 words. I've a contemporary that's coming out with only one explicit sex scene in it. I write as hot as the story calls for, but not erotica. Although I'm not comfortable writing erotica, I don't mine reading it :)

carrie_lofty said...

Sex fascinates me. I find the whole concept alternately bizarre, fantastic, annoying, over-reaching, simple, and frustrating. Part of my interest comes from the general disconnect between sex in real life and sex in books. In most romances, the sex is AMAZING from the first moment. Gag. I don't know about y'all, but creating a satisfying sexual relationship has been an ongoing process -- between my husband and I, between me and myself. The idea that these characters just come together and spontaneously combust bothers me. Too much of romance is based on the physical just being so overwhelming that idiocy, misunderstandings, better judgment, etc. all fall away. The characters are driven by their bodies' perfect synchronization, even when their brains and hearts disconnect. I cannot work that way. The brain and the heart determine the physical.

Granted, all of romance is fantasy, and I enjoy a good shag book as much as anyone. However, in my writing, I am determined to make the sexual relationship between my characters evolve, making a progression along with their love story. They make mistakes, they bumble, they find their rhythm. Literally. Each time gets better as they learn one another.

That said, I am explicit -- not erotica shock value explicit, and I use more "historical" terms for anatomy, but I do not shrink from writing about what intrigues me. Also, I ADORE sexy dialogue. I find the process of saying the things we think very exciting. So my characters are a bit chatty -- up to a point! They have fun. They revel is just how good it can feel, rather than grinding away kinda desperate-like and purposeful.

Bonnie Vanak said...

My books are very sensual (the March release has eight love scenes and some of them graphic) but I enjoy reading sweet romance as well. I leave the love scenes for last because by then the characters have bonded emotionally and I can write a love scene that has emotional commitment as well as physical. The only exception was my last book where they met in a brothel and lost their virginity together.

I just found my mom's cache of old historicals by Phyllis Whitney and was in heaven! One of them, STEP TO THE MUSIC, is a Civil War romance. Hard to find those these days. No sex in it at all, just chaste kisses and I loved reading it over and over now as much as I did when I was younger.s

Sandra Schwab said...

I'm fairly comfortable with most levels of sensuality in the books I read, though there are certain terms (like "c*nt") I'm not particularily fond of.

I have to admit I got hooked on romance because of the way sex is described: as something joyful, meaningful and usually empowering for the heroines. In too many other novels I had read before, sex was regarded as something slightly dirty, or it was described in the most icky terms imaginable (the absolute low point: a historical novel featuring sex with goats -- please note the plural! ewww!)

The first romance I read (as a romance) was Stephanie Laurens's A RAKE'S VOW, in which the heroine is totally curious about sex and finally seduces the hero to seduce her. And she's not punished for it! She doesn't die in the end! No, she gets the hunk and lives happily ever after! As a reader, I found this extremely empowering.

In my own love scenes I try to combine the physical with the emotional and make it a poignant experience for both hero & heroine. I usually have only one or two (fairly sensual *g*) love scenes. If it fits the story I like including some more unusual elements, e.g. in CASTLE OF THE WOLF there'll be a deck of erotic cards. :)

Kim Iverson Headlee said...

As a writer, I strive to remember that the most powerful tool in the writer's kit is the reader's imagination. This goes for every descriptive passage from the bedroom (and who's doing what to whom there) to the Norwegian fjords. When everything is "out there" on the page, in descriptive terms, then there is literally no more to be said AND it sets up the reader to be a passive voyeur. When a writer evokes just enough imagery to engage the reader's imagination, leaving many details open to individual interpretation, this invites the reader to become an active participant in the story. As a reader, I find this invitiation to be irresistable and greatly satisfying.

While I'm sure many readers prefer to be merely voyeurs, that's not the audience demographic I seek to reach with my fiction.

I'll save the rant about authors who impose present-day sexual mores on their medieval, or otherwise non-present-day, characters for another time.

But on a lighter note, we do own goats . . . and I suspect most porn stars would be envious of a billy goat's, er, equipment. Heh.

carrie_lofty said...

Sure, but not his stamina :)

(My parents raise goats!)

Zoe Archer said...

I like reading books that are fairly spicy, so long as the spice is contextualized within the evolution of a real relationship between the h/h. A non-stop boinkfest with no connection between the h/h outside of their permanent arousal for each other grows tiresome. Hopping straight into bed is also rather dull. I like prolonging the sexual tension, which is sexy in its own way, leading towards the consummation. Much hotter that way. I've always found Judith Ivory to be excellent at writing a high degree of sensuality within an intelligent and emotionally believable milieu, but she's also less explicit that a lot of other "hot" writers.

As a writer, though, I have to say I'm more "hotter warm" for my love scenes. I don't use euphemisms but I don't generally use some of the more raw terms. I find that I like to use setting, more than the actual act or description, to create a hot love scene, which is why you'll seldom read one of my love scenes set in a bedroom.

I've been toying with an idea for a Victorian romantica, but I don't know if I can actually sit down and write what I've been plotting. I don't know if I can sustain a blush for several months!(Incidentally, my mother confessed that she has to skip my love scenes. But, oddly, my 92-year-old grandmother loves them...)

Michelle Styles said...

Every sex scene has to earn its keep. Just like any other scene in the book, it actually has to advance the story. If it is not advancing the story, it is just voyeurism.

I use Desmond Morris's Peoplewatching with his delination of the universal mating ritual.

And for me, sex scenes are about mainly about emotion. I figure most people know what tab goes where.

If you lose the emotional tension, you do lose the reader. And by definition, after sex, sexual tension goes to zero and you have to find a way to restart it.


Tess said...

I always leave love scenes for last - fade to black while writing the first draft, then go back in and add detail. I'll admit they're not my favourite scenes to write, but I'm fairly comfortable with a medium level of sensuality - not sweet, but definitely not erotica either.