The X Factor: Romance and Writing Spicy Scenes
So, how should fiction writers approach sexual content? Is less more, or is more always more? What do readers want? All these questions and more are likely to be fizzing in the mind of the writer contemplating writing romance or erotic fiction. They are important questions, but the answers differ depending on whether you want to write in the erotic fiction genre or not. My own writing experience does not include erotic fiction, so I’m going to restrict myself to talking about what I know – woman’s fiction and romance.
Anyone who creates art or literature and disseminates it is adding their little (or big) block to the great edifice that is contemporary human culture. Even if you only think of yourself as writing something that aims to be entertainment rather than art, your work has an impact on culture. Pop culture and entertainment have a far greater reach than most work that aims to be art, and arguably more impact on human society and culture. So what does all this have to doing with writing sex scenes? The way sex, love and romance are treated in art, literature and the media shapes the way individuals and societies think, feel and behave about them. You, as a published author, are adding something to it. Make sure it is a good contribution.
What is a good love scene? Should you even do a graphic sex scene? If you are writing a romance, let that word guide you. Is what you are writing romantic? I personally have read very few sex scenes that I found romantic. Feeling like you were watching a lovely, romantic movie and suddenly fell into a porno isn’t great. I don’t want to read about the hero eyeing up the heroine like a piece of meat. I don't want to be swimming in bodily fluids. I don't want the story broken every few pages by a lengthy sex scene. I want to read about the couple's relationship, not their sex life. Sex scenes should follow the same rule as other scenes do, which is: unless it furthers the the plot or shows/develops character, cut it out.
In popular music and genre fiction, romantic love seems to be focused more and more on sexual attraction. What is the difference between being in love and being in lust? The two are worlds apart. Think about what that difference is for you. Write it down. Think about why your charactor loves this man or woman above any other man or woman. There has to be more than lust. Not sure what a great love story looks like? Read Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (1957). This book is one of, perhaps the, greatest novel of the 20th century. It hardly follows the conventional romance format. It does not shy away from looking at the very worst parts of life and human nature. And yet it is a towering achievement in describing love, and saying something incredible, eternal and meaningful about love in its many forms.
Writers have to work harder to create a romantic love scene than film directors do. Soft lighting, a romantic soundtrack, generous use of slow-mo, a gorgeous couple, and they’ve got it. Viewers can then bask in the moment, using their imagination as the camera keeps tastefully directed away from anything too graphic. If you want to do love-making scenes, try to focus on feelings and creating a mood. How does it feel to be so intimate with the person you love? How does it feel to be able to express the warm, melting feeling that spreads through you when you look at the person you are in love with? Try to create the feeling that the most romantic song you know evokes. If you can capture the emotions of a song like Il Divo’s La Promisa or Unbreak My Heart, you will have succeeded.
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