Thursday, March 04, 2010

12 Steps to Intimacy

Yesterday, I mentioned that Leanne Banks talked about the 12 steps to intimacy, which came from Intimate Behavior: A Zoologist's Classic Study of Human Intimacy by Desmond Morris (originally published in 1971). Linda Howard has addressed them as they apply to writing romance. The following is part of a post I did in November, 2008.

1. Eye to body –
This is the sizing up of a potential mate. The woman walks into the room. The man looks at her and decides if she's someone who appears to meet his criteria. Hard wiring suggests he's looking for a mate who appears healthy and able to bear his offspring, but we've all met guys where merely having two X chromosomes is enough. However, if the female doesn't measure up, he moves away.

2. Eye to eye –
Assuming the woman passed muster in step 1, the man will attempt to make eye contact. If the woman averts her eyes, that's a "pull away." The man has the choice of moving on, or perhaps accepting the challenge and trying again. Be aware that a fixed gaze can also be viewed as threat behavior, so there's more fodder for the push-pull.

3. Voice to voice –
If she's accepted his gaze (and, by the way, the woman is doing the same kind of sizing up at the same time), the next step is to strike up a conversation. You want to pull them apart, perhaps your hero uses the pickup line from hell, tells a bad joke, or is a "me me me" conversationalist.

4. Hand to hand (or arm) –
The very first step in physical contact. This is the step where intimacy begins. Allowing someone to touch is a measure of trust. The woman is accepting some vulnerability here. Touching signals to others that there's a 'couple' forming.

5. Arm to shoulder—
Putting an arm around the woman's shoulder (what teenager in a movie theater hasn't tried that move?) Holding hands still allows keeping some distance, but an arm around the shoulder draws the couple closer on a physical level. Trust continues to build. Again, if the woman pulls away, you've created some tension. She may not be ready for this step yet.

6. Arm to waist, or back—
Here, if the woman is put off by the man, she'll move away, often unconsciously. If he puts a hand at the small of her back, she may increase her pace to move out of reach. Arms around the waist show a growing familiarity and comfort in the relationship.

7. Mouth to mouth-
Kissing. The first kiss is a milestone in any romance novel. Both parties are vulnerable. Look at the romance books you've read and see how many of these 'first kiss' encounters are cut short. The author is creating tension by pulling the characters apart. How is the kiss described? Is the author pushing the characters together with their reactions to the sensations?

8. Hand to head-
This is done by both men and women. Whereas the initial kiss may have been only a touching of lips, as the relationship develops, the woman may run her fingers through the man's hair. The man may cradle the woman's face. Allowing someone to touch one's head shows a deepening trust. Does the woman allow the touch, or does she pull away?

9. Hand to body—
This step moves the couple into the beginnings of foreplay. This is another area where the author is likely to use the external plot to pull the characters apart. The phone rings. Someone knocks on the door. However, it's still quite possible for the emotional pull-apart. Is the character having second thoughts? Is there too much guilt?

10. Mouth to breast—
This step shows a great deal of trust. It's still possible for the woman to pull back, although this is another step along the foreplay route.

11. Hand to genitals—
Most of the time, this is the point at which there's no turning back. The commitment has been made. If the woman does change her mind, it will be very frustrating for the male (a MAJOR conflict). It's also likely to label the woman as a "tease".

12. Genitals to genitals—
This is the sex act. It may happen on or off the page. However by now, the reader should be at least as anxious for the relationship to be consummated as the characters are. Perhaps more.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I never thought of the progression like this, but you're absolutely right. And in a romance, you can't really jump right into step 12...there does have to be some build-up and relationship building there.

How's the move going?

Mystery Writing is Murder

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - the move is going. We get a 3 day travel break while in Shreveport for the Written in the Stars conference, which will be a welcome opportunity to regroup, reorganize packing, etc. Check back tomorrow - I have a travel update scheduled.

The 12 steps do create a problem for those writing erotic romance, because they tend to start later in the process and have to 'backtrack' to establish a relationship.

Mason Canyon said...

Interesting steps. I think if the writer goes by the steps, then the reader is slowly pulled in and can't resist.

Terry Stonecrop said...

LOL on the two X chromosomes!

Yes, it always starts with a look, although I suppose online romance starts with words. These steps are good to keep in mind. In other genres you don't need to keep them apart but the rest of it is helpful to any genre sex scene. Thanks.

Jemi Fraser said...

I like this step-by-step outline! It's interesting to look at it clinically and see where we as writers can have some fun!

Terry Odell said...

Mason, that's probably because there is a scientific basis for this process

Terry - interesting, because there wasn't any social networking like we have today when Desmond Morris did his research.

Jemi - it's always about the fun, isn't it?

Jenny Hansen said...

When I ran a search for my Intimacy Chart, this lovely post came up! I'm linking to you in tomorrow's post, Terry. Enjoy!

Lou said...

Thanks, Terry and Jenny, for giving us this classical information about intimacy.
Louella Nelson

Hutch said...

This is great. When I try to pull a # 6 my wife says"stop pushing me" kidding. Off to rewrite thanks for your tips.