History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

02 March 2011

Love Scenes & Details

As I've blogged about before my attitude toward writing love scenes has evolved in the twenty some years I've been writing. When I first began co-writing Regency romances with my mom, under the name Anthea Malcolm, my friends teased me that our books started very chaste and slowly got more explicit. In our first book, The Widow’s Gambit, the characters barely embraced. In the second, The Courting of Philippa, there were more detailed kisses. In the third, Frivolous Pretence, which focused on an estranged married couple, there was an actual sex scene, though it faded to black. Our fifth book, A Touch of Scandal, had ex-lovers who resumed an illicit affair. Sex scenes were part of the story. I told my mom she had to write them. Our sixth book, An Improper Proposal, was a marriage of convenience story. My mom said, “You have to write one of the sex scenes this time.” I wrote my first draft of the scene on a day when my mom was out shopping. And (this is true, thought it sounds so funny now), I turned down the screen on my computer, so I couldn’t look at the words as I typed them. When my mom got home that night, I said, “Okay, I wrote the scene. Go look at it and tell me what you think. But I don’t want to be there when you read it.”

Oddly enough, after that first scene I stopped being embarrassed about writing sex scenes. I got to find them quite a fun challenge, especially trying to make each one true to those particular characters and that stage in their relationship. But when I wrote Secrets of a Lady, it was quite obvious to me that after the opening interrupted sex scene, Charles and Mélanie were too focused on finding the Carevalo Ring and getting their son back to be stop to have sex. On top of the fact that their relationship is so strained that Charles finds it difficult even to look Mel in the face let alone make love to her. In fact one of the reasons I had Mélanie be attacked fairly early in the story is to break through some of the distance between them so that Charles at least touches her. Their physical contact slowly increases through their desperate adventures in search of the ring and Colin, though they don't actually even kiss on the lips again.

In Beneath a Silent Moon, (which thematically is in many ways all about sex), Charles and Mélanie do make love fairly early in the story. When I wrote the scene, I automatically faded to black without thinking about it. I did the same with a later love scene in the book. When I posted one of those scenes as an excerpt on my website, I called it an "almost love scene". Some commentators responded that it actually was a love scene. Which I guess depends upon one's definition of a love scene and how explicit it needs to be.

My upcoming release Vienna Waltz is also a book very much about sex with all the romantic intrigue going on at the Congress of Vienna. There are several pairs of real life ex-lovers in the book such as Tsarina Elisabeth and Polish Prince Adam Czartoryski and Prince Metternich and Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan. On a revision, I realized I needed to make their love affairs more vivid, so I added moments where the characters remember moments and images from their love affairs. I wanted to use tangible, sensual imagery to bring those past love affairs to life. But the actual love scenes in Vienna Waltz between the hero and heroine (Malcolm and Suzanne who are basically alter-egos of Charles and Melanie) still fade to black.

Then in my current WIP, a sequel to Vienna Waltz set around the battle of Waterloo, I got to a love scene where without even thinking about it I didn't fade to black. It still isn't a very detailed scene, but somehow I knew instinctively that it was important to show how the scene progressed. I surprised myself, because I thought I was done writing love scenes with any detail. When I paused to think about it, I realized that in that scene the dynamic between the two characters was changing and shifting so much through out the scene and the very fact that they made love was so momentous that it was important to see how the scene played out.

How do you feel about sex scenes in the books you read? What makes them work or not? How detailed do you like them to be? Do you think some scenes require more detail than others because of plot and character dynamics? Writers, how do you approach writing sex scenes? Do you enjoy writing them or find them a chore? How much detail do you go into? Does the amount of detail very with the situation of the characters and plot? Has your approach to them changed through the years or with the type of books you write?

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Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Well, I write "erotic" romance (though I really just think of it as "hot" romance), so sex scenes are a must in my books. And I love writing them. I think they're really useful for showing how two people bond and fall in love and become a couple. It's a chance for the rough character to be tender, for the timid one to take charge, or to show that even if they're fighting elsewhere, they're still connected enough to care that the other is fulfilled.

The one thing I do try to make sure of is that they don’t feel like I just threw them in to make the book “hot”. I like something else to be happening. Internal angst. Character discovery. Disclosure of important facts. You have to make them do double duty somehow.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I think you're so right about the scene having to "do double duty", Isobel. It's that other dynamic in the scene that keeps it from seeming extraneous, and also keeps the scene fresh.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

What Isobel said. IMHO you can rip somebody's soul open in the bedroom - but only if you show the details. Great for characterization.

A scene is a scene, each one demands it's own level of detail just like a battle scene. Sometimes Waterloo is fade to black, sometimes we can taste the blood and smell the burned flesh at Hougoumont.

My first book's were erotic romance and they're all still considered hot. All my relatives read all of them. (my aunt's comments are the funniest). By now I don't even worry about my relatives' opinions.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great point, Diane. I think the needs of the scene--whether it's a love scene or action or whatever--have a lot to do with the level of detail the scene calls for.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

I prefer my sex scenes when they forward characterization -- which means that they can be explicit or not, depending on the book; so for me, every book is a one-off, in that respect. Sometimes a fade to black is appropriate, and at other times, depending on the characters and the stage of their relationship, and the circumstances of the scene (for my taste, a sex scene shouldn't just feel plunked in and be a complete tangent from the arc of the story -- not in historical fiction or romance, as a genre). Also, of course, the scene should be earned in order for it not to be gratuitous. And as for the details, for me, that can be a matter of the author's "voice." Some writers do a masterful job with a few carefully chosen words and phrases, while others take several pages to craft their sex scenes. One is not necessarily more satisfying or appropriate than the other; again, for me it's a matter of tone as well as characterization. If a writer tends to be economical in her prose style in the rest of the novel, but inserts lengthy, floridly detailed love scenes, they'd feel anachronistic to me.

5:30 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Good point, Leslie, about the tone fitting the rest of the book. And as I think we've all been saying in different words, a sex scene shouldn't stop the action any more than an action scene could (chase scenes or fights can be gratuitous too).

9:16 AM  

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