Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Love Scenes

I should explains that Tim Tams are Australian chocolate biscuits that have to be eaten to be believed.

I saw a line in a book that went something like this -- 'She thought it was about as likely as an orgasm on a one night stand!'

This was an urban fantasy, with a strong female protagonist, who obviously knew what she liked. Romances are comfortable exploring emotions.

We write books, ranging from fantasy, adventure, SF and through to mystery. But somewhere sometime, someone is going to fall in love. How comfortable are you writing love scenes?

How far do you go? Do you close the door after the first kiss? Are you uncomfortable going into detail?

I was on a festival panel when someone asked me what was the most moving love scene I had ever seen/read. It made me realise that the scene was from a movie set in 1890. She was a widow, he was a married man, with a cold wife. He didn't want to fall in love with her. There was a scene where they were in a carriage. He lifted her hand, peeled back her glove and touched his lips to the pulse of her wrist. It was powerful because of what wasn't said, or done.

What love scenes have you read/seen that moved you?


Chris McMahon said...

The one that really gets to me is from Day of the Triffids. The central characters, in the middle of a city that is falling apart, dress up and pretend that everything is still normal, and dance on the threshold of that new world, holding each other in their arms and dreaming of something that will never be.
Its their way of saying goodbye to the old world, to a chance for a sort of romance that is doomed. At the same time they are getting that close for the first time as well. Powerful stuff.

KylieQ said...

Personally, it's something I'm avoiding at the moment - it's going to have to come out in the second book in my series but I'm glossing over it right now. As for what I've read, nothing tops the scene in Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth and Mr Darcy finally sort themselves out. Close second favourite would be the scene in Dr Who where we finally get a kiss between David Tennant and Billie Piper (with the "other" doctor who is about to go off into the parallel world with her). However I may be a little biased there as I think DT is beautiful...

Amanda Green said...

First of all, no fair reminding me about Tim Tams, Rowena. They are absolutely wonderful and for those poor souls in the US who don't know how to get them, don't have friends from Oz willing to feed our habit or -- and this is my salvation and downfall -- a store run by British ex-pats who also love Tim Tams, they just don't know what they're missing. (And if that isn't one of the worst constructed sentences I've ever written...) Note to self - drive to the British Emporium for more Tim Tams today.

Any way, back to the post...You've asked the question that I think plagues most of us. Sex seems to be much more prevalent in books now than it was even ten years ago. It seems as if there are genres, especially Urban Fantasy and Romance, where it is expected. So the issue becomes all too often not if you're going to put it in, but how much and how are you going to handle it.

For me, I don't mind adding romance where it forwards the plot. I do sometimes do a double-clutch on writing sex scenes. Partly because I haven't written enough of them to be comfortable with them. But the main reason is because I don't want them to be as mechanical as so many seem in non-romance genres.

I don't know about you, but I would much rather write about the emotions, the reactions of the characters than do the "insert tab a into slot b, pant, moan, repeat" sort of descriptions I see all too often in books today. I dislike series where the author feels that, to maintain the sex in the books, the characters have to include more and more partners in the act and find more and more anatomically impossible positions. Sorry, but sex while hanging upside down from the red fringed lampshade with the trapeze underneath it doesn't intrigue me.

I guess my whole point is, if it is essential to the plot of the book, put it in. If it helps reveal who your character is to your readers put it in. But, in my opinion, you put in only what is necessary and you don't have to describe every little detail. Feelings and reactions are much sexier, much more compelling than reading every movement and sound and such.

Mike said...

Tim Tam's Love Potions. And I don't even care what they cost here in Japan, they were worth it.

Dave Freer said...

And how many would be lotharios have named their undercarrige tin tam? :-)

I hate to say it but the bits writing about the wobbly and not so wobbly bits I am bad at, and don't really find much entertainment in reading. If you are going to be accurate... it's funny because it's really one of those thing where you have to have been there to get the whole 9 yards as bishop said to the actress
My own favorite scene is from Red Adam's Lady, where the hero is dispossesed and on the run with the still-virgin wife he married basically at sword's point, and has been trying to woo while he was rich and powerful... and he cuts two beds of heather and she pushes them together and lays her cloak over both. That is about as as graphic as it gets. I do have an imagination and have fathered a couple of kids though ;-).

John Lambshead said...

Anticipation is more powerful than the act. Steed and Mrs Peel never did the deed in the series but the writers made you feel that they might at any time.

It would have ruined the chemistry if Steed had actually had his wicked way.


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris, that scene sounds really poignant. One of the reasons love stories set in World War 2 (or any war) are really powerful is because there is no chance of happiness until the threat of pointless death has passed.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kylie, I must take the time to watch the new Doctor Who. For me the 'quintessential' Doctor Who will always be Tom Baker, with Leela the barbarian as his side-kick. Bring on the knife and leather bikini.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Amanda, I agree completely.

Any scene, and that includes a love scene, must advance the plot and/or reveal something about the characters.

The kind of scene where a person's normal defences are down (such as admitting their feelings, sharing intimacy) is going to reveal more about their character than an action scene.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dave, in my mother's time the girls used to say 'he can park his boots under my bed any time'.

I find in some books I skim the sex scenes because they aren't advancing the plot,t hey are actually slowing down the narrative.

But I do appreciate a well written love scene.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

John, I always tell people when I run workshops that it's the 'will they/won't they' that adds tension to the narrative.

Once they 'do' the story takes another direction.

Kate said...

Curse you Rowena! Now I've gone and ordered Tim Tams. (For anyone in the US who's interested, www.simplyoz.com stocks them. Heaven in a biscuit/cookie).

I can't think of any love scenes that stand out for me, but then I'm one of those people who doesn't much like the "kissy stuff". When I'm writing, I typically lead up to the point where it's pretty clear what's going to happen, then skip on to the afterglow.

This seems to me a very sensible precaution, due to the potential for purple prose (and anyone who mentions manhoods may carefully leave now, especially if they are in possession of one. If it's hard, throbbing, or doing anything equally alarming, I recommend you see your doctor).

Yes, I know there's a difference between the love scene and the sex scene. There just doesn't seem to be much of a distinction these days. Not helped by the fact that so many books have the sex scene, the sex scene with interesting toys, the bondage sex scene, the exotic location sex scene, the hanging from the chandelier sex scene, possibly with trampoline - or just tramp - below.

I think I should probably stop right here, or I'll say something that takes innuendo to in-you-face-o.

Anonymous said...

But sometimes they're so funny! Ah, slush sex. You can spot the novice male trying to write it from the woman's POV at the first sentence.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


What about Jacqueline Carey 'Kusheil books? (spelling?) In those cases the sex scenes were integral to who she was and the plot.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam -- When I used to go to the Vision writers meetings we critiqued a love scene. All the guys wanted to know what the girl looked like and all the girls wanted to know what she felt.

There's a divide between the sexes.

Kate said...


With the Kushiel books I didn't get to the sex before the book went back on the shelf. It just didn't appeal to me.

So... I can't really give you an answer, there.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Chris, you are an evil, evil, evil man. I have been afraid the triffids are taking over my yard, and there you are, giving them power.

MUST finish book and fight trifids.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I'm sorry, I'm going to be horrible and quote myself. All you need to know here is that this couple has been married for four years and hasn't consumated -- for good and sufficient reason -- and that she's a were fox, while he's a were dragon. It's from Heart and Soul (which despite its title is fantasy, not romance. I was told I HAD to write sex, and this was the only way I could handle it. I.e. make it funny.) It wouldn't fit in here, so I asked Kate for space, and the link is: http://www.sff.net/people/katepaulk/xtra/excerpthns.txt if you're interested. And I ALWAYS pull the pink veil of decency before the act, because if you're an adult you know how it goes. If you're not... well, I don't need to enlighten you.

Interestingly, I had to write a lot of sex in Kathryn Howard's book. I balked it badly and had to force myself, but I was careful to make it more about what she FEELS (emotionally too) than about what goes where.

My favorite "sex" scene is the end of Venetia by Georgette Heyer. there is only a kiss, I think, when she first reunites with him, but the whole last chapter SIZZLES. I find that when it comes to writing the mind IS the greatest sexual organ.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

During one of the most terrible -- financially and health -- times in my adult years, I considered writing erotica. At the time -- early nineties -- it was booming and I thought "it's just words. I can write words."

So I bought some books on writing erotica -- more on this later -- and I "studied" them, sometimes alarmed by advice that told me to dress in a pretty dress and hold a glass of cool wine before writing. (Given our situation whine was more likely.)

And then I sat down to write it. And I realized I couldn't. Creating characters for a 2 to 3k words in and outer was just not in me. I didn't CARE. My stories had a tendency to end after a page or two when one of them changed into a spider and ate the other.

So -- sigh -- I had to abandon the easy path to riches...

Anonymous said...

"...turned into a spider and ate..."

You know, the husband of a writer must be very brave. Not just that he must be helpless and asleep in our presence every night, but that he must also meet fans who look him over speculatively.

John Lambshead said...

"All the guys wanted to know what the girl looked like and all the girls wanted to know what she felt."

Dear Rowena
That's biology for you.
One interesting point is that in a love scene both sexes want to know about the woman, albeit with a somewhat different focus.

A women only wearing stockings is a symbol of erotic delight whereas a man dressed just in his socks is a symbol of stupidity.