This week I want to talk about the written sex scene.
In writer-speak we often refer to leaving the bedroom door open, that is to say we give all the juicy details. Keeping the bedroom door closed means we don't show anything, and a peep through the keyhole is as it implies: it's a bit naughty, a bit voyeuristic ... think titillating.
A couple of years ago, I was chatting to Liliana, a friend of mine, about some light reading I could take on a series of long train journeys. Over a number of weeks, Stuart and I were travelling from New York City, to Toronto, then from Toronto to Montreal and on to Quebec City.
Fantastic journey - bye the way! And I could not rate AMTRAK and Via Rail Canada more highly. Quebec became one of my very favourite cities in the world.
Anyway, Liliana offered to lend me a set of books written by Christine Feehan. She called these her 'silly books' because, as she explained, "They're easy to read and you don't have to think too much about them."
I thought they sounded perfect for multiple, lengthy train journeys.
Well, let me tell you, I thoroughly enjoyed reading these 'silly books' because they were entertaining enough, but there were times when I was blushing into the pages and holding the book close in case a fellow traveller happened to sneak a look over my shoulder.
Graphic sex! So graphic that this old married woman was blushing like a teenager ... but boy, were they fun to read!
And who can argue the popularity of the 50 Shades of Grey series by E.L. James and other erotic fiction?
Sex sells - no doubt about it - but as a writer, the question of leaving the bedroom door open, closed or allowing a peep through the keyhole is a difficult one to answer.
When we talk about keeping the bedroom door closed, I don't think anyone did it as well as the lovely, late Barbara Cartland, and she wasn't alone, of course. Jane Austen was also a strictly bedroom door closed gal as are many, many other writers.
This, in no way, diminishes the importance of the work! While graphic verbal imagery and explicit language can steam up a reader's spectacles, longing looks and lingering touches can build the sexual tension just as well - if not more!
When writing my book Torn, I wanted to represent the love affair between Patrick and Alex as something pure and honest - not smutty in the slightest. In fact, Patrick had led a rather sordid life so I wanted his relationship with Alex to be entirely the opposite.
I attempted to build the tension between them: they kissed, they touched and they perved on one another. (For my overseas followers, to perve is an Australian idiom meaning to ogle something or someone - usually of the opposite gender and it's generally used humourously).
Here, Alex is perving on Patrick:
'Watching him now, muscled legs encased in leather boots and tight, beige riding breeches, rocking gently back and forth with the graceful ease of the habitual horseman, the motion of his hips tuned to Equus' stride was ... delightful.'
I used this to demonstrate Alex's developing sexual maturity. She and Patrick had not been intimate at this point but Alex wasn't immune to his attractions.
When it came to them consummating their relationship, the question of leaving the bedroom open or closed was never an issue for me - I wanted it open, I wanted readers to see and experience the sincerity and beauty of their love.
But as I didn't want it to be smutty or titillating at all, I had to walk a fine line. I spent a lot of time thinking about the words I would use. I wrote and discarded an awful lot before I settled on how I wanted to depict their love making.
It all came down to language, more specifically, the type of words used. More specifically again, I did not refer to body parts!
Oh yeah, I mentioned penetration ... but that was for a reason too. I wanted to show Patrick's sensitivity and his tenderness - after all, it was Alex's first time.
'The moment of first penetration brought an unexpected stab of pain. I gasped in surprise and he lay still. "Tell me when it stops hurting." His voice was a breath on my mouth ...'
Then instead of going into details such as, he put his hand here ... I touched him there ... kinda stuff, I chose to focus on their sentiments.
'The emotion between us that night, our love for one another and anxiety for us both, lent a desperate edge to our passions.
I wound about him like a serpent as he initiated me with all the tenderness and compassion I knew he would.'
In one passage, late in Inviolate, Alex described making love with Patrick as, '... gently giving and receiving of one another ... a delighted passion and spiritual nurturing ...'
It was an interesting observation of my own development as a writer that all through Torn, I worked hard to find the right language to describe the love between my two main characters. By the time I'd finished Inviolate, the words came easily and naturally. I believe I grew with my characters to the point where I knew them so well that I didn't have to think so hard about what they might have thought or felt.
Now, my Counterpoint short stories are a different matter all together! These stories are companions to Torn but from Patrick's point of view.
As mentioned before, Patrick had led a very sordid life. In Counterpoint, the bedroom door is wide open and the language and tone support that. Patrick swears and has a very robust sex life, all depicted in Counterpoint.
I stop short at erotica, but if you're familiar with Torn, you'll see immediately a difference in Counterpoint. These short stories are offered FREE to subscribers every month. Click here for details.
So, in conclusion, today, I'd like to say that door open or door closed, it can make a big difference. I have learnt to:
- consider the tone and feel of the story - is the scene gently romantic or wham bam ...?
- know the characters really, really well,
- choose the language carefully (the thesaurus is your best friend).
Until next week, consider your words.
PS - I thought I'd show you this picture. This was taken in a patisserie called Au Palet D'or in the old section of Quebec City, Canada. It's one of my favourite photos of Stuart because he looks so happy!