I’m teaching a one day Crash Course on Writing Romance on Saturday, so spent yesterday going through my notes from last year. (Funny how no matter how often you think: that went pretty well, I’ll just do that again next year, you always end up rewriting and changing things around. The couple of hours I’d planned on preparation stretched to the whole day in the end.)
The focus of the course is on emotional tension, which I firmly believe is the key to any successful romance. If you don’t have that, no amount of good writing will stop your story from sagging. But of course a romance is more than just structure too. The problem with a crash course is that we just don’t have time to do everything. And in my case, when it comes to writing about sex, this is probably just as well.
I have to hold my hand up and say that I’m not good at sex scenes. Sexual tension, yes, I can offer advice on that, but the business itself … not so much. Which is a shame, as when it’s done well, scenes which show that the hero and heroine are sexually as well as emotionally compatible are central to many romances.
It’s a great skill, I think, to keep the reader engaged with the characters and what they are feeling when they make love. Too often I’m pulled out of a story by icky descriptions or euphemisms that make me squirm. The most memorable was one I read nearly 30 years ago: “With gentle, hurting care he stormed the furled portals of her womanhood”. Eeeuuwww.
Luckily for me I write for Harlequin Romance, a line in which we “close the bedroom door” (a pretty icky euphemism in itself!) but when it comes to teaching a course like tomorrow’s, the best I can do is to tell participants to read those authors who write about sex really well.
It’s almost impossible to give an excerpt, as it never works out of context. The emotional tension in the story is the foreplay that makes these scenes truly satisfying, and that takes time to build up. The reader needs to know the characters, to have shared their growing awareness of each other and to understand why they are feeling what they do.
Loretta Chase, Jenny Crusie Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nora Roberts, Kelly Hunter … all these authors write brilliant sex scenes and I’ll send everyone on the course away with recommendations to read them, but I’m always looking for new authors to recommend. Who do you think does sex really well??
Oh, nearly forgot! The winner of this week's competition is Natalija ... Natalija, do you want to email your address to firstname.lastname@example.org and she'll put a copy of SECRETS AND SPEED DATING in the post to you - enjoy!