What I'm reading: Risk No Secrets, by Cindy Gerard
A quick recap: Sexual Tension is about the magic between two characters. It's layered. You have to consider awareness, language, and the ability to get into the characters' heads. Yesterday, I covered her discussion of awareness.
Today, we'll start with language, both in dialogue and narrative. If you're going to be writing sexual tension and sex scenes at an intense, realistic level, Linda Howard suggests that you get comfortable with the language, especially words that describe bodies. Use words when they're appropriate to the characters and situation. Judicious use of shocking language makes a point. Used too often, they lose their power.
Howard told us that in order to get used to writing words that she wasn't comfortable with, she sat at her computer and filled the screen with F-bombs. She got used to seeing the words, and her fingers got used to typing them.
But she warned about being tasteless—unless it's called for. She suggests that you hand over the role of tastelessness to a male character—or if it's a female, it should be a villain. Although this might not be 100% "real life", she reminded us that it's our job to connect with the reader.
She went on to point out that lovemaking isn't flowery, and trying to write it that way isn't realistic. She doesn't approve of "prettying things up," and she'd rather writers let men be men, especially if you're writing an intense sex scene. Below are examples of "prettying" that have no place, according to Howard, in a realistic sex scene. Can you identify the body parts?
Weapon molded from marble.
Tiny budding crowns
Immense slab of muscle
It woke and stretched like a giant beast
The nectar of her honey-drenched mouth
A felled tree lying in a thick forest of black fur
Her sugared walls
Smooth, marble-headed lance.
When writing dialogue, keep in mind that communication levels drop during sex. Having your male character speaking, much less speaking in complete sentences, is unrealistic. Avoid waxing poetic during love scenes. Howard suggested trying to be realistic without being crude. She prefers stronger, shorter words, which will heighten the shock factor. "Suck" is more powerful than "suckle."
The more heated the encounter, the more blunt the languages. Tailor your word choices to the scenes. And remember, male language is not the same as female language.
Howard spent some time talking about writing details, especially in single title romantic suspense. Given she was speaking to an audience (with one exception) of women, she pointed out that this was one place where men are really different from women. Women write detail in sex scenes, while men write detail in action scenes. And, since we were an audience of women, she told us we had to work especially hard when writing action scenes from a male character's POV.
She said that writing details in scenes of violence takes guts, but that we should suck it up, describing things that make us uncomfortable. And she urged us to remember the emotional detail as well as the physical. Violence, danger and sex have an emotional price, and that needs to come across on the page.
She used Barry Eisler and Vince Flynn as examples of suspense authors who write extremely detailed action scenes. Their fight scenes show every detail. She went on to say that Vince Flynn once said he wished he could write love scenes as easily as Linda Howard.
But, she said, if she had to write an action scene, this would be her first draft: . "He was shot. It hurt. He shot back. The other guy died." (From that example, I'll let my readers extrapolate how a man might write a sex scene—and I've read all too many of them!)
So, while she (and most women) struggle to write an action/fight/violent scene accurately from a male character's head, men must dig deeper to write love scenes
Some observations: Men tend to focus on one thing at a time. She compared them to a rifle: one shot, one direction. Women tend to be more like shotguns, with shells scattering their contents in a wide array. Men are less likely to get sidetracked.
She closed with the point that there is one underlying quality we must understand, and that is how much men love women. One member of the audience mentioned that her son had just joined the military, and when he called, she asked him what it was like. He said that one of the things he missed most (aside from the obvious home-cooking) was the smell of women. Although there were women soldiers, he said, everyone smells the same in camp—everyone uses the same soap, the same deodorant, shampoo, etc.
Howard mentioned a friend of hers whose wife had passed away. He said he missed waking up in the morning, holding her in his arms, smelling her scent and falling back to sleep. I know that if I leave the bed before my husband gets up, I will almost always find him on my side of the bed shortly thereafter. Whether he's aware of it or not, odds are, it's the familiar scent that draws him over.
And, in closing, to reiterate the power of the sex drive, Howard, who has been married to her husband for 36 years, said that once they were in the middle of an intense argument. When it appeared that there was no way for her to win, she said, "You may be right, but I'm the guardian of the gate to paradise." He stopped.
I hope you've enjoyed these workshop recaps. I encourage you to share them--that's why I post them. Tomorrow is Friday, and I'll take you on a walk through the petrified forest.