Wednesday, June 09, 2010

It's Still About the Sex

Thanks to Julie for being my guest yesterday. A great post. If you haven't read it, you should. And, you should also read Monday's post, plus the 12 Steps to Intimacy (there's a link in Monday's post) if you didn't read them Monday.

In addition to doing her workshop, Linda Howard was generous in answering questions on all aspects of her career. She admits to being a total "pantser" and writes by telling the story of her characters. She never really knows what will happen next. That sounded very much like my process, so I was encouraged. When she closes in on the end of a book, she's totally immersed in it to the point that she skips some of the basics—like eating and sleeping. Her husband graciously steps in and does the "wife stuff." She said a recent book had her submerged for several weeks. To feel 'manly' when she was finished, her husband went and bought a backhoe.

After she went through the 12 Steps (you have read them by now, right?), she elaborated on how to apply them to romance writing.

Points to remember: It's about species survival. Human infants require many YEARS of nurturing. There has to be a strong bond between male and female in order to keep them together long enough to rear children. Sex drives this bond. Males are stuck being attracted to females long before females are attracted to males. Pheromones work differently. Male testosterone levels make aggressive behavior something that has to be curtailed in order to establish the requisite trust for bonding.

Also: readers are human beings, with the same basic instincts that have been ingrained into us since cave man days. As I mentioned yesterday, she pointed out that we all wear a very thin veneer of 'civilization'. So readers will instinctively react to the way your characters are behaving.

Some of her suggestions:

If you want to add some "shock" factor, you can leapfrog through the 12 Steps. If you create a situation that throws your characters together closer than they want to be, there is tension. There have been books where hero and heroine have been thrust upon each other in a sexual situation in the opening scenes. Her example: the hero has to frisk the heroine. This is way up the ladder, and will instill shock in the reader because it comes so soon. Just remember, you can jump start the attraction, but you still have to build the trust. You'll have to go back and layer in the other steps.

She also said, "If you want to write a hot book, go for the squirm factor." If you, as the author aren't affected by what you're writing, your reader won't be either. She recommends that you should show those 12 steps in non sex scenes as well as love scenes to heighten sensuality. Gestures, such as having the hero brush a strand of hair out of the heroine's face is Step 8 in the hierarchy, so it's very sensual, even in a non-sexual situation.

The next phase of her workshop was a discussion of intensifying sexual tension and sensuality. She said that analyzing "how" she does this was a challenge, because once she's written a book, she doesn't want to look at it again—to the point that she destroys the manuscript once the book is in print. So going back to a book to see how she dealt with the sex and sensuality is foreign to her. She doesn't like to analyze, for fear that it will get in the way of the writing.

Sexual Tension, she said, is about the magic between two characters. It's layered. There's awareness, language, and the ability to get into your characters' heads—especially the hero's if you're a woman, because men and women aren't wired the same way. I've recapped a number of workshops dealing with the differences between men and women, and you can probably find them if you type his brain her brain into the search box in the sidebar.

Howard started with awareness, which is a focusing of attention. Men and women are aware of different things, but they eventually must be wired together if a lasting bond is to form.

When a man is attracted to a woman, he notices everything about her. He thinks about her all the time. Keep in mind the points presented on Monday, that males have to balance their aggressive tendencies, which are a direct result of their testosterone levels, with the need to reassure the female that he's not going to harm her. Prior to having had sex with her, he has no claim on her, but he's relentless in his pursuit. He has to get close enough for her to touch him, because that's where the woman's attraction for the man begins to solidify. (Remember those pheromones—he's aware of hers through the air, but she has to touch him to be affected.)

What does the woman notice? She'll notice his hands, his scent, his voice and the taste of his kisses. Howard spoke of a friend of hers who said she knew the marriage wouldn't last because she didn't like the way her husband tasted when she kissed him. A woman notices the veins in a man's arms, the way his Adam's apple moves when he drinks.

As awareness grows, the couple will have physiological reactions to each other. He'll get an erection, her nipples will tighten. The feelings they share, the knowing each other—the mental can enhance the physical, and it's important to remember that when writing.

There's still more—you won't want to miss tomorrow, when we'll look at language (and there are some great examples of 'don't do this') and how to use it in intense scenes. We'll also discuss dealing with detail, and the different ways men and women think. Men are not women with chest hair.


Carol Kilgore said...

This is all very good stuff. Wish I could have attended that workshop, too.

Debra St. John said...

Great posts this week. Thanks for sharing a recap of the conference. Sex scenes can be so intimidating...these things to keep in mind will be fabulous reference material.

Terry Stonecrop said...

This week is so informative, but best of all, entertaining. I'm going to copy all of it and go over my sex scenes with it. Thanks!

Yes, a guy's voice. . .

Terry Odell said...

Carol - hope I'm the 'next best' thing--although there was no way to transcribe the entire workshop. And my memory's fading with age.

Debra - glad you think it'll serve you in the future

TerryS - that makes me feel good, because that's why I do this blog.

Mason Canyon said...

Very informative post. Looking forward to the language post.

Thoughts in Progress

Jemi Fraser said...

Terrific information - again! I can't imagine writing a story without at least a little romance - that's what life is all about, isn't it. These are great tips. :)

Mary Ricksen said...

Great advise thanks for passing it along!

Terry Odell said...

Mason, Jemi, Mary -- thanks, and I hope you'll be back tomorrow. Tell your friends!

Wynter said...

Even though I have been writing erotic romance for a while, I am learning lots of things that will enhance my work. Thanks for posting.

Terry Odell said...

Wynter--writers of erotica face the challenge of starting well along the hierarchy, and have to figure out ways to work the relationship in by backtracking to cover all the steps.