Monday, February 25, 2008

Hard Feelings

from Johnson Album XIII, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.
(I think)

I've been tooling along with my WIP, attempting to maintain the sexual tension of the romantic subplot and soon have to make a decision about when and, possibly, if, Lillie and Johnnie get hot 'n heavy.

The timing of erotic scenes is, I think, important to sustain reader interest, particularly if one keeps in mind the possibility of a series of stories involving the same major characters.

When the heroine is not inclined to be polyamorous, one does not have the same leeway as, say, LKH.

Tantalize too long and the frustrated reader may think, "Get it on, already."

Introduce the manaconda ( thank you, Vanessa Jaye!) too soon and the reader might feel everything subsequent is epilogue.

I think the timing is important even if romance is not the only or primary plot line.

Setting skill aside -- which can make anything work -- what are your preferences for sex scene placement?

And does this preference alter based on whether the story is a single title or part of a series?

We've all had fun with the various plum purple euphemisms for male equipment presented for our reading pleasure by writers caught between the rocks of cliche and the necessary hard places.

From my spam filter, I've noticed that the purveyors of male enhancement seem to suffer from the same disfunction -- with openers such as "body part monumental," dick monolithic" -- and the one which provided an instant flashback to the upright in my grandmother's parlour -- "thumping erectile organ."


SzélsőFa said...

My comment is of no use, because I feel uneasy if sex is done in between the pages of a book (pun intended).

Vesper said...

I think a sex scene will completely change the relationship between the characters, so, unless that's the intention, maybe it's better just to keep the sexual tension alive, especially if you want to write a series of stories.
A good example is The X-Files, if you've ever watched that series.
I sometimes might write such a scene for myself, without including it in the story.

December/Stacia said...

Obviously with the erotic stuff the sex needs to happen early, and often.

But for non-erotics?
Two-thirds of the way through the book, is my general rule of thumb. Obviously it may happen earlier or later, but that's usually where I find I'm putting it. By that point they either can't wait any longer or the relationship needs something to shake it up and change the dynamic.

December/Stacia said...

Oh, and with series, it depends on what the overarching romantic subplot will be. In my last book the MC had sex 2/3 of the way through--but not with the man I think she'll end up with. In the demons series I'm finding other ways to keep the will-they-won't-they alive while the couple still has regular (but not always described) sex.

JMO, of course.

Bernita said...

With these two, Szelsofa, I don't think I can avoid it.

Yes, Vesper.Sex always changes a relationship.
The tension was very well done in the X-files.

Thank you, December,about 2/3rds was my feeling too.

Gabriele C. said...

I admit I have no idea where to put sex scenes - I don't miss them if they aren't there at all. :)

BernardL said...

"...writers caught between the rocks of cliche and the necessary hard places."

Nice touch. :) I've ended up with varying points; and never to stir things up, but because it felt right with plot circumstance. I always thought if it feels right to the author, it will feel right to the reader. Mechanical check points of sexual release probably work well. I just never thought of doing it that way. :)

Jaye Wells said...

The older romances I used to read were like clockwork. Without fail the sexy time happened about 1/2 way into the book--the act two midpoint.

Truth is it depends on the genre and whatever works for your story.

Demon Hunter said...

I love the post title! LOL! :*) I don't really write sex scenes because I mostly write horror, sci-fi, fantasy. If it's integral to the story, I'll add it, but most likely I'll have to confer with one of my romance writer friends. :*)

writtenwyrdd said...

manaconda? ROFL!

I have just been rereading Thorne Smith's Nightlife of the Gods and it has had me thinking for the past few days how innuendo can function just dandy (at least in sarcastic comedy) in lieu of writing an actual sex scene. I've found myself deconstructing how Smith avoids a bunch of traps for his writing era but letting everyone know the couple in question (Meg and the Prof) have been getting it on. Mostly it is them caught in compromising situations, then snarkiness and rejection that neither is taking seriously by their ensuing actions.

The tension isn't as necessary to this particular book as in a current book with actual on-screen sex at stake. But I think the principal of having sense of tug-o-war works, that back and forth, two steps forward, one step back.

Not having managed a complete erotic manuscript, I am still trying to work out pacing of scenes and the tension factors for the erotic vampire novella.

I think perhaps one has to get a feel for it? Sorry, couldn't resist the pun.

writtenwyrdd said...

PS I'm going to have to make note of December's recommendation on 2/3 of the way through.

spyscribbler said...

Timing is so difficult. I also think there's a balance. By NOT having sex, the story is continually raising the anticipation and the tension, strengthening the "spark."

As soon as the characters have sex, you deplete some, and sometimes all, of what you've built up. If I want my readers to be interested in a second run, there has to be some hook or further anticipation in order for the chemistry to stay alive.

Or at least, that's how I think of it.

And I know in the erotic market that sex needs to happen "early and often," as December said. But in my own experience, the more I put off as much as possible, the more my readers love it. You have to give 'em something, but less is more. You want them feverishly reading as fast as they can, not, er, fulfilled in the first chapter.

StarvingWriteNow said...

I'm getting older. I used to be all "let's get it on, hurry up!" but now I want them to get to know each other a little better before they slip in the sheets.

~snort~ "manaconda"

oh, the images I'm getting...

Robyn said...

I'm still laughing too hard at "thumping erectile organ" to be of much use to you.

But I'm with DQ- about 2/3 in works pretty well for the horizontal hula, but I do like teasers along the way: one big hot kiss, the awareness when you're sure they're going to jump each other RIGHT NOW, OMG but it always gets interrupted, etc. I like to be lured.

Bernita said...

Depends so much on the type of story, Gabriele.

Thank you, Bernard.There's a lot in what you say. It certainly didn't "feel right" to introduce it early.

I'm not tied to that pattern, fortunately, Jaye, since romance is secondary.

Thank you, my Demon.
This is urban fantasy and they are definitely attracted.

Written, I'm all in favour of the tug-of-war method.

Because of certain plot and charactr complications, Natasha, I have the choice of stringing out the will-she-won't-she for quite a long time.

Bernita said...

WriteNow, I agree. Contemporary mores or not, they've known each other barely a week.

Robyn, I blinked furiously when I read the thumping organ bit!
"one big hot kiss"...Er...have you gotten into my computer?

Rick said...

Sex scenes have an awful lot in common with battle scenes, from a story point of view - I'm not sure what that says about the human condition. They move the story along in similar ways, and pose a bit of the same problem in avoiding generic language. (How many ways can you hack & hew?)

So the rules of thumb are probably also similar. Except that you probably won't start with a sex scene, and then have the character go through the rest of the book resolving never to experience anything like that again.

raine said...

Agree, it depends on the genre. Also, on the characters, the plot, and what you have in mind for the characters' future.
I find much of the "romance" I've read has pretty well timed it 2/3 of the way through (generally speaking). That's usually followed by complications, the BM, resolution, and HEA.
But I am a BIG fan of sexual tension. The trick is not to try the reader's patience TOO much.
I'm always reminded of the popular series "Cheers" in this instance. One of the highest-rated shows in history, they managed to string out the tension for months and months, to their viewer's delight. But once the inevitable did occur, the show simply wasn't as enticing.
Then again, if the story isn't technically a "romance", the tension is a tantalizing additional spice, especially if the characters have an "understanding" about not consummating the relationship, but the tension is still there.

In other depends, lol.

Rick said...

Serials have their own special rules - a number of TV shows have jumped the shark over the years by getting the romantic-tension leads together and blowing the tension. It would be interesting to look back at the 16th c. romances, Amadis et al., to see how they handled equivalent tension problems. They went on and on to the point where they might as well have been serials.

Angie said...

I'm more concerned with how the sex scene functions in the story than I am with where it's placed or how many there are. I think 2/3 to 3/4 is a good generality, but I also think that any newbie writer who took that as a prescription would be missing the point.

I'm good with sex that advances the plot, shows characterization, develops relationships -- does something to support the story. If sex is just there to be sex and serves no other purpose, I start skimming and only go back to reading when the actual story starts up again. And yes, that includes the erotic romances I read. If I wanted to read pointless porn, there's plenty of moaning and spurting available for free all over the internet; that's not what I buy stories for. [wry smile]

If the sexual tension between the characters is a major factor in the overall tension of the story, then it should be resolved later rather than sooner, definitely. But if it's a minor strand in the storyline then an actual sex scene can be placed much sooner in the story without breaking the larger tension of the plot. (Assuming, as you said, that the writer has the skill to pull off the story in the first place.)


Ello said...

I am slightly prudish and have to admit that I tend to skim sex scenes in nearly every book if they go longer than a page. If the sex scene is short, I like it. It's just the prude in me about not really want to know about other people's sex. I'm the girlfriend that never tells even though all my other girlfriends would go into great detail. But I do like tastefully done sex scenes where things are more innuendo and less turgid manacocks.

So for me it doesn't matter when the sex is located, as long as it isn't pages long. But I would rather not open a book into a sex scene.

Bernita said...

Rick, that's a very good comparison.
In some ways, sex and death are closely allied.
I've been fooling around with that as a minor theme, actually.

Raine, one future I do not plan for Lillie, is one of settled domestic bliss.
She's not a clone of the Ghost Whimperer - as someone describe that show.
I may have the pattern out of order. I've stuck in a major complication before any thing has been committed.

Angie, I think I can safely say that the sexual tension is a motivating and revealing factor in both character and plot.
Whether I've done it well or not is a separate question.

Ello, I don't skip them because I'm always aware that it's fiction; but, like you, I'm also the girlfirend that doesn't share intimate details.
I'm not sure it's prudery, just a strong sense of privacy.

Angie said...

Bernita -- I'll admit I wasn't actually thinking of your WIP when I wrote my response; I somehow can't see you duct-taping in gratuitous sex just for the s3xx0rz factor. [wry smile]

I have, however, read a number of books recently which were actually novelettes padded out with lots of completely pointless and gratuitous sex to novel length, and I'm feeling rather irritable on the subject in general. :P


Charles Gramlich said...

One just has to remember that, for fiction just as in real life, sex always complicates matters.

Bernita said...

Angie, I can well understand that.
There's tricks and there's "tricks."
Those patched in scenes always strike me as an insult to the reader's intelligence.

Bernita said...

With the WIP, Charles, I'm busy with the complications which prevent sex at the moment!

Gabriele C. said...

Depends so much on the type of story, Gabriele.

It probably does, but I don't miss them even in a Romance. Sure, I'll read them if they are well written, but I don't need a sex scene as 'show' how close the characters have become.

Or, to put it differently, if the relationship isn't presented in a convincing way, a sex scene won't save it.

But most Romance readers like spices, so put one in. I just can't tell you where. :)

Bernita said...

"if the relationship isn't presented in a convincing way, a sex scene won't save it."
Because that's all it would be - a sex scene and not much else.

Scott from Oregon said...

If this is a series I would keep the train out of the tunnel by derails of all sorts.

As a sadistic male, I think I would find more pleasure in watching some studly character not get his due than reading vicarious printed sex.

Billy said...

I keep getting spam for breast enlargement cream. I didn't think my pic was that ambiguous.

Bernita said...

"the train out of the tunnel"
Scott, I've never heard that one before.
Yanno, I think you've just given me another reason. He is a bit arrogant.

Billy, really?
I didn't think mine was either.

Sam said...

I remember two of my editors telling me (for the erotic romances) that there had to be sex of some sort by the first 30 pages.
I have one erotic romance (Diamina)where the couple doesn't actually meet and make love until the Last Chapter! And yes, it's an erotic romance. As long as there is imagination, there can be sexual tension, lol.

raine said...

I may have the pattern out of order. I've stuck in a major complication before any thing has been committed.

By all means, ignore the "formula".
I hate formulas.

writtenwyrdd said...

You know, bernita, hearkening back to LKH's early books in the ABVH sries, she dragged out the sexual tension and complicated the dynamics considerably for several books. No sex until #3 if I recall correctly. And JP kissed her in #1.

What I'm saying is, no need to feel you must have them hop in the sack.

Bernita said...

Sounds like mind sex is the answer.

They do incite our rebellious streak, don't they, Raine?

~perks up~
I've only read the odd one of LKH,here and there in her two series, Written.
That's encouraging. Thank you.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I guess I don't worry too much about it because sex in my books is always tied to the plot in another way besides just sexual tension. For instance, Aidan ends up making love to a younger woman in order to magically (for lack of a better word) claim her as part of his House and as an "untouchable" to the enemy. (There's an alternative method but he doesn't want to put her through it.) He doesn't love her, and eventually turns her over to his cousin because they fall in love. But it's a pretty scintillating scene.

I'd guess it happens 2/3 of the way through the book, but it's a turning point in a whole bunch of ways, not just sexually.

ChristineEldin said...

I don't know about writing it, but when I'm reading a story that includes a developing relationship between two potential lovers, I like the sexual tension to be relieved at around the 2/3 mark. I don't want it to happen too soon, but I like to see how having sex affects the dynamic of the relationship (and I don't like that part glossed over)

Great post!

Bernita said...

"sex in my books is always tied to the plot in another way besides just sexual tension"
As it should be, SS.

Thank you, Chris.
I suppose the characters will eventually tell me.

Ric said...

Late to the party again. Bernita is talking sex and it isn't even Friday.

Tis a complicated subject - though I love the tunnel image. I think as long as it is the natural progression of the relationship, it doesn't matter when in the book it happens. Unless you're writing romance...

Bernita said...

Hee, Ric!
It's urban fantasy.

cyn said...

my near-sex scene was the climax of my book. terrible pun, yes! my heroine and hero never get it on--i wanted it to be a story of unrequited love. i'm not sure if that goes over so well--but i do have book 2 to write.

thanks for a thoughtful interesting post as always, bernita!

The Anti-Wife said...

Let your characters be your guide. If they need to do it, let them. Just don't let it derail the story.

Chumplet said...

Once I read a romance novel involving a geisha (way before Memoirs) and they referred to her anatomy as "The Jade Gate".

Sexual tension runs rampant in television. I remember Moonlighting and the dance between the two main characters until they finally succumbed. It's so difficult to maintain that feeling of anticipation without disappointing the reader.

Bernita said...

Cyn,thank you.
I'm sure you've handled it beautifully.

Thank you, AW. That's good advice.Read a complaint recently about a story in which that derailment happened.

Yes, it is, Sandra.
Particularly if one wishes to portray characters that aren't entirely ruled by their hormones.

Rick said...

Train in the tunnel? Some subgenres seem to take place in the subway. ;)

Bernita said...

NOT touching that, Rick...

Rick said...

Wise not to touch it - you know what they say about touching the third rail.