There seems to be a lot of brouhaha about this subject these days. Sex scenes. Love scenes. Call them what you will.
And to be honest, at the moment, I’m feeling a bit anti-sex-appeal–chiefly because it’s all being talked to death.
It’s become as if that’s all you have to do–write one of these–in order to get that novel cooking and make it a best-seller.
Which is just wrong. It won’t happen. Giving your selected readers a vicarious thrill will not necessarily sell your book to either the masses or get an agent auctioning your work off to the big five publishing company.
It might have done–once upon a time–when Erica Jong wrote The Fear of Flying. But no longer.
So, instead, may I offer some suggestions as to what may get that novel cooking:
Good characters. I don’t mean goodie-two-socks, but believable, genuine characters with whom a reader can empathise.
Writing good characters is probably the most difficult thing. And writing a successful relationship between two, in the building of that relationship, is definitely an art. It takes a degree of finesse and subtlety.
It’s not about the cliches–he had chocolatey brown eyes or she had pert kissable lips. It’s about engagement, surprise, embarrassment, awareness, detail. And all of these as individual strands woven into the text, quietly, yet without which the fabric of the novel isn’t strong enough to bear any examination or be believable.
Next, description. Try writing it. Make the effort to put me in the room.
No, don’t write me the catalogue description of a new Ikea kitchen. Tell me about the light. Are there draughts coming through the ill-fitting windows? Is there a sense of comfort, of home? Or is it alien, full of unwanted shadows and children’s pictures that, seen in the gloom, take on a threatening sense of displacement?
Better still, tell me everything about a character by telling me about his or her sitting or living room–introduce a stranger into that room and tell me what he sees…become for a paragraph a literary Tracy Emin. Try it. It’s not as easy as you might think.
Because this descriptive writing is another much-neglected strand…and without it, what you’ve got is a screenplay waiting for a set decorator, not a novel.
Here’s another thing to do for that novel–go read the very best novel you’ve ever read, the one that has stayed with you the longest, the book you love, and then analyse it. What’s the proportion of description to action to dialogue to character development in it?
How does that author handle these various elements? Does it work? 100% of the time. Where doesn’t it work? Why?
Then you do it.
And now, what I really think about sex scenes. If they aren’t love scenes, I won’t write one.
I’m not interested in promoting the adolescent caveman view that a great shag equals a firm foundation for a relationship. Because it doesn’t. It never has and it never will–the enduring popularity of Pretty Woman notwithstanding.
As for writing love scenes, scenes of culminating passion and longing, the sharing of two characters’ most intimate thoughts of themselves and their vulnerabilities?
Kissing is the most under-rated compliment there is.
Kissing is I love you without the words.