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Shelley Egan

1. What are the keys to writing love scenes/sex scenes with emotional punch?

These scenes should:
• fit into and advance the story
• focus on the characters’ emotions (happiness, satisfaction, excitement, love) rather than on the mechanics of the act
• build anticipation for later scenes
• include action, description, exposition, dialogue, and internal monologue
• leave room for the reader’s imagination (“less is more”)
• feel “fresh” rather than generic or clichéd
• include both characters’ points of view
• feature vocabulary that sounds positive rather than negative
• make the readers feel good

These scenes should be
• delayed
• well structured (foreplay, sex, climax, cooldown)
• sensual rather than clinical or graphic
• a physical and emotional interaction between two specific characters and should reflect their characters
• the culmination of tension and desire; show tension building
• a point of change for one or both characters; something should be revealed
• personal, in that they could have happened to only these two characters

These scenes shouldn’t
• occur too early in the story, so that reader anticipation can build
• include violence

The characters should:
• have agency and control; both should want to be there
• show respect
• speak to and communicate with each other (but not reveal everything: “less is more”)
• notice specific physical details about each other
• be honest and vulnerable
• respond to each other’s needs and actions

2. How can you help authors create convincing love and/or sex scenes? What are some stumbles you’ve seen authors make when writing such scenes?

Editors can help authors create such scenes by sharing the information provided in the previous question and by urging them to read widely and to notice which sex/love scenes are convincing or not and why.

These are some stumbles that I’ve noticed:

The scenes
• don’t fit into the story
• focus on sexual anatomy rather than other parts of the body
• are graphic rather than emotional
• feel generic rather than specific to these characters
• lack tension
• include “purple prose”; crude, disrespectful, or unattractive language; and/or euphemism
• have a tone that is different from that of the rest of the story
• don’t reveal caring or love between the characters
• contain too much detail, explanation, and/or stage direction
• sound the same as others in the story
• feel excessive rather than restrained (“less is more”)

The characters
• don’t communicate with each other
• are objectified

3. What does “show, don’t tell” mean in the context of romance? We have to know what the MCs are thinking, which is almost always going to be exposition/telling. When is telling okay and when not?

I looked at a sex scene in the novel I read for this course and found more telling than I had expected to find, given that I had found the sex scenes to be “good” – i.e., convincing, satisfying, well written, and fun to read. When I looked at the scenes more closely, though, there were places where I thought showing could have been used instead of telling. This book was published in 1996 (I chose the first book in the series), almost 25 years ago, so the author might write it differently now.

Here are some thoughts:

Telling is okay

• For internal monologue: e.g., “This was love, she thought.”
• For description: “Her hair was starting to come free from its restraints, and strands curled around her face.”
• To describe a characters’ wants: e.g., ““Joe couldn’t remember ever wanting to kiss a woman more in his entire life.”
• To describe intent: “She was simply going to kiss Joe Catalanotto, and dance with him, and savor every last moment.”
• To describe action: “He closed his eyes briefly, took in a deep breath then forced it quickly out.”
• To provide sensory detail: “The roughness of his callused fingers rasped against the silk.” (Arguably, because it’s sensory detail, it’s showing.)

Telling isn’t okay

• When it creates emotional distance: “He told her that he loved her” rather than “I love you.”

4. What are some important keys authors need to keep in mind to create a satisfying resolution? (I’ve just looked at the responses above and see that “resolution” referred to the novel as a whole and not to a sex/love scene. Oops!)

• Both characters should feel physically and emotionally satisfied.
• For one or both characters, something should have changed.
• The scene should have developed character and moved the story forward.