More on Love Scenes…

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.

Show me a tree without using the words branches, leaves, trunk, bark…

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? 

Well, since I am unable–and will always be unable–to write as powerfully and as perfectly as did John Donne on the subject, in his most famous, On His Mistress Going to Bed, let me just say this: 

Kissing is the most under-rated compliment there is.  

Kissing is I love you without the words.


15 comments on “More on Love Scenes…

  1. K. A. Jordan says:

    Good points.

    Love scenes, even in romance novels like mine, should advance the plot. A ‘good shagging’ does not make a book a romance anymore than it makes a relationship.

  2. Hear hear! Even in romance novels, if the sex doesn’t change the individuals in some way, moving the story along, then it doesn’t belong there. Most romance writers will tell you that. Most agents and editors, too. (And even in ‘Pretty Woman,’ by the time they had sex, it was more than just sex).

    Sex means nothing if we don’t care about the characters, or if it’s just a description of where each body part is at any given time. Even porn gives more than just a scene description. If you focus on the other stuff enough to do them well, people will read. Period. It doesn’t matter if there’s sex in it or not.

  3. M M Bennetts says:

    And I expect you all to get down and try to write that description of a tree as mentioned…Ha ha ha. It’ll keep you busy for hours…

    • Noelle Pierce says:

      The living/sitting room, I could do. The tree? Er…well, I believe I’ll leave early for my root canal. *waving and ducking away*

      • M M Bennetts says:

        You’ll have plenty of time to work on it after the root canal…all that time you might have spent eating but now can’t…Ha ha ha. I speak from experience, I regret to say.

  4. Nooooooo. Don’t become a Tracy Emin – that’s porn.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I was thinking of that messy bed of hers…told the story of her life, allegedly.

      • Aired her dirty washing in public BEFORE she was a ‘celeb’, then.
        Reminds me of X-Factor a bit – brass neck often gets you further than real talent.

        Oh – and please say a prayer for me a week Sat. I’m off to the NA conference to tell them how to ‘Write and Research a Historical Novel.’ Plenty of spare underwear required, methinks.

      • M M Bennetts says:

        Dig and then dig some more. Never stop digging. That’s the answer on the research question. What else do they want to know? Oh yuh, writing…Hysterical laughter should do fine for that part.

        I’ll be thinking of you.

  5. Janet O says:

    I write historical fiction, but a love story always seems to filter its way in. It’s about relationships, however, and the growth of distinct people through their journey in the story. Never one for jumping in bed. Love, not sex, is what matters and it has to stew.

  6. gretavdr says:

    The thing is, you see, ‘love’ provides lots of lovely conflict. Sex does not. In fact, the sex scene itself deflates the conflict (so to speak).

    The tree… I must try that. Shadows and textures, light and dark, hoary with age…

  7. Piotr says:

    Boy, I love the genre and subject I’m playing in with my collaborator; not a love scene in sight….

  8. Dan Holloway says:

    I agree there’s a lot of brouhaha. It feels like I’ve commented on more posts on the subject than I’ve had hot dinners so I’ll avoid long-windedness. The brief version. Sex is as integral to humanity as violence, fear, beauty, or eating dinner. The only mistake an author can really make is to treat it as something “different”. Sadly 95% + of all authors do just that.

    Tracey Emin is the best artist of my generation. End of. I was at “that” Turner Prize show (where she was robbed, btw – people forget she didn’t win). Her exhibit, of which the bed was the tiniest part, was the best art I’ve experienced since I walked into a roomful of Rothkos as a pre-teen. Being in a room of her work is enough to make anyone cry. In a good way. But the point about her work, as with all great confessional art and writing, is that she gets so deep inside herself, so painfully specific, that she reminds you of your own life. She stops you doing what all bad art does – allowing you to think of principles and generalities and “issues” that have not a jot to do with any one life, let alone a world of them. Because she exposes herself in her art, she forces you into yourself, to the darkest places – and the lightest. That’s where the tears come from.

  9. […] multitude of sins–literary sins that is–such as lack of character development, lack of writing skill or literary merit, lack of a proper […]

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