Forums Forums Editing the Romance Novel Week 4 discussion questions

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    • #106152
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      Note: This is not a class aimed at erotica writers, so we’ll keep the conversation PG-13. But sex scenes are very commonly part of romance, so we do have to get comfortable editing them. One way to do this is to read widely in the genre and critically analyze what works or doesn’t work as well, even specifically noting the type of language used, actual word choice and so on. (And someday, you may, like me, wind up calling the AE at the publishing company you’re working for and leaving a voicemail asking, “Spanking? Do we allow spanking?”)

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

      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?

      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?

      4. What are some important keys authors need to keep in mind to create a satisfying resolution?

    • #107711
      Miranda Darrow
      Participant

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

      Every love scene needs to be about more than just sex (unless its erotica, in which case, maybe that’s fine). Sex scenes in romance should also 1.) reveal character, 2.) reveal information which furthers the plot, 3.) introduce a new conflict, or some combination of the above.

      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?

      In romantic suspense, sometimes characters who really should know better stop for a quicky while the bad guys are closing in and put themselves and their romantic partner in danger as a result. I hate for my heroes and heroines to be idiots who put themselves in danger in the name of nookie. Wait until you get someplace you at least have a reasonable basis to think isn’t dangerous.

      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?

      Telling is often preferable to showing if you’re moving a character from point A to point B and to mark the passage of time. For conveying emotion in romance, it’s still preferable to show how their feelings are impacting the POV character rather than simply naming them. He wants to wrap his arms around her and protect her, she wants to invite him up, even though she has sworn off men.

      4. What are some important keys authors need to keep in mind to create a satisfying resolution?

      The attraction and relationship needs to be consensual and mutual, a meeting of equals. And there needs to be a place in the world for them to be together and have a life. They need to overcome their major conflict and their inner character arc growth must have occurred so that they are both emotionally ready and open to a lasting loving relationship.

    • #107784
      Misha Robinson
      Participant

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

      Authors need to use these scenes to reveal something about their characters. Let us see their walls come down just a little or do something seemingly out of character. Even the smallest details like a hint of vulnerability or a moment of truthfulness can deliver a satisfying feeling for the reader that keeps him or her wanting more of those emotions. Authors should avoid being overdramatic or waxing poetic, but they definitely need to set the scene and make sure they choose their point-of-view character for each of these scenes carefully. If they start building the sexual tension from page one, it’s going to pay off here. Also, authors should frequently raise the stakes, and these scenes can be a great way to raise the emotional stakes.

      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?

      I suggest not throwing in a sex scenes just because they think they should. Each one should advance the plot in some way. It’s better to have one or two well-crafted scenes as opposed to several mediocre ones. Authors should definitely stay true to their characters when writing these scenes. That’s not to say that they can’t have a hidden side revealed in the bedroom, but I don’t want to be completely taken aback. It’s okay to have more detailed scenes and also some that fade to black. Less can definitely be more. I would encourage authors to use all senses, not just sight and touch. There are so many different ways to paint a scene and heighten the reader’s emotions. Also, there is nothing wrong with a little awkwardness every once and a while to make it feel more realistic.

      Build the tension! I don’t like it when authors rush toward the first sex scene like it’s a race. Of course, don’t make it drag on forever, but there is nothing better than that delicious anticipation of wondering when the couple will finally get together. Utilize the push and pull dynamic. Tease the readers by bringing the couple closer together and then pulling them apart. Nothing makes me cringe more than when authors use certain euphemisms for body parts. Talk about a mood killer. I’m sure there will be some people turned off by any word used, but there are definitely certain ones that stand out and not in a good way. At the same time, don’t make it clinical. You want your readers biting their lips and crossing their legs.

      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 think the main thing here is to show emotions. If a character is feeling happy or frustrated or sad, don’t just tell the reader. An author can use body language, mannerisms, and actions to illustrate these feelings. Strong verbs and use of details are key. Showing needs to be used in moderation, though. If an author is going to show everything, the reader will get tired of it fast. For example, tell me what the heroine is making for breakfast, but describe her frustration with the hero by showing that she slammed the fridge door, threw the frying pan in the sink, and leaned against the counter with her arms crossed and her lips pursed. Telling is generally better for internal narrative.

      4. What are some important keys authors need to keep in mind to create a satisfying resolution?

      Well, of course the couple needs to end up together. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a happily ever after, but it should definitely be a happily for now. Don’t rush it, but don’t drag it on forever either. I want to see that both characters have changed and learned things along the way as well as have had to sacrifice something to get to this point. One person should not be giving up everything for the other one. The conflicts should be overcome and in a realistic way. Authors need to show the characters are ready to be in the relationship and give it their all. The beginning and the end should tie into one another somehow so it feels as if the story has come full circle.

      • #108083
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Misha, your description of writing effective love/sex scenes is great! I agree that sometimes authors seem too, uh, eager to get to the sex, whereas a little more build-up would make the scene better. And I agree that there is nothing wrong with closing the bedroom door, although that can make it a little harder to convey how the moment has changed the relationship or revealed something about the characters. I agree that awkwardness can be human and endearing.

        As I was writing that I was thinking about humor and how I’m not as sure about humor in the bedroom; I remember reading a scene where the author was trying too hard to make her snappy-patter characters continue that in the bedroom, and it ended up not being funny, sexy, OR emotionally engaging. It was just cringes all around, but that wasn’t what the author intended.

        Jenny Crusie has a sex scene in FAKING IT where the heroine loses interest partway through and it is laugh-out-loud funny but that’s fine because it’s not also supposed to be sexy and emotionally engaging. It is supposed to make you feel disengaged from the sex, the way the heroine feels. It turns out that only when the heroine is honest about who she is can she, uh, have a happy time, and so the ultimate sex scene is rewarding because she has, by that time, admitted the truth about who she is. I thought this was a fantastic use of sex as a metaphor for emotional freedom as well as an actual physical act.

    • #108082
      Jennifer Lawler
      Keymaster

      Miranda, I like the idea that what the characters are thinking can be translated into actions they want to do: protect someone, hold someone. But “He wanted to wrap his arms around her” is still exposition. One key point, though, as you mention, is that the author isn’t naming the emotion. It’s almost always better to let the reader figure that out.

      And your point about the MCs stopping to indulge themselves while the bad guys close in made me smile; I have read this scenario many times and it just destroys my belief in the story. I just don’t believe anyone would think, “We’re about to be blown up!” is a good time to get naked, and if they do think that, I kind of lose respect for them as characters and therefore interest in continuing with the story.

    • #108282
      Brittany McIntosh
      Participant

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

      To write emotional sex scenes I think an author needs to tap into what the characters are thinking/feeling in the moment, rather than just focusing on what they are doing. The scene should reveal something new about the characters and should provide insight into how the characters feel about each other and the status of their relationship. Even though dialogue may be minimal in these scenes (understandable…) a few words can go a long way to revealing the feelings/emotions of the characters.

      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?

      I think the scene needs to feel organic to the natural progression of that couple’s relationship. There should be a gradual build up of romantic and sexual tension between the characters and authors should utilize this to their advantage. In general, I don’t like flowery or “purple prose” during sex scenes. It can be quite eye-roll inducing and take the reader out of the story. I’m also not a fan of vague sex scenes where the author kind of glosses over the experience in a few short sentences. Personally, I think it’s a cop out. If the sex was important enough to mention, then get into it! Make the scene purposeful by providing enough information so the reader gets to learn something new about the characters and the development of their relationship.

      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?

      Telling is part of any story, but I think it’s more about the proportion of telling to showing. If you can show something, then show it. Utilize action and dialogue to show how the characters feel about each other. Describe the way the characters physically move around one another and what they observe of the other person. Are there hesitations? Do they move to touch the other character without realizing it? Make sure that dialogue is effective. What characters say (and sometimes, don’t say) provides insight into what they are thinking/feeling. And sometimes when a character’s observations and/or actions are in discord with what they are saying, this can imply some kind of emotional internal conflict that “tells” the reader what that character is thinking, even if the character doesn’t know themselves…

      4. What are some important keys authors need to keep in mind to create a satisfying resolution?

      I think pacing is very important here. It can’t feel rushed, but it also can’t feel dragged out. The climax should incite the realization that these character’s want to be together, i.e. the happily ever after. I also want the resolution to make sense. I want the characters to “clear the air” and address all the misunderstandings and problems that brought them into conflict with one another. Of course, I don’t want this to feel forced either. This can be tricky. I notice that many happily ever after scenes can be somewhat cringe worthy. I think author’s have to be careful to not over do it with the sappy language and cliches. Sometimes a crooked smile and an inside joke between two characters can be much more poignant and impactful than a passionate kiss in the rain. But, to each their own…

      • #109465
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Brittany, that’s so interesting: If the sex is important enough to mention then show it! Your point about focusing on thinking and feeling versus the mechanics is a good one; this isn’t porn. And good points about what characters say and don’t say (or do and don’t do) also communicating how they’re feeling (in addition to the direct telling of their thoughts).

        I have definitely read HEA scenes where I thought, “Yep, you should have ended this about three paragraphs ago.”

    • #109129
      Sabrina Young
      Participant

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

      The scene should change the emotions of the characters involved in a way that also changes the characters. In addition, these internal and external changes should either move the character closer to the story’s conflict or to the next point of their character arc. Physical touches should be connected to emotional responses in a way that the character learns something new about themselves or their partner and that contributes to (or conflicts with) their growth within the story.

      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?

      As other editors have noted in these posts, a sex scene is more than Tab A into Slot B. A love/sex scene should show the reader something new about the characters. It should support the storyline and the next plot point. If the heroine releases her fear of intimacy and becomes sexual with the hero, then she has more at risk when something happens to the hero or an ex-lover arrives on the scene.

      Some stumbles include ending the scene too quickly, almost efficiently, in a way that tells you nothing about the two characters. In one of Asa Maria Bradley’s Viking Warriors series, when the hero and heroine finally have sex the scene was over so quickly that, as a reader, I was left thinking “that’s it?”

      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 think telling is okay when it is an internal thought that can’t be communicated in any other way. Telling becomes exposition when we are no longer in the story from the character’s POV. We’re being told the hero has blue eyes instead of showing the heroine “could gaze into his deep blue eyes forever.”

      4. What are some important keys authors need to keep in mind to create a satisfying resolution?

      Keep track of your plot points and subplots and tie up all your loose ends. Ensure that both characters have completed their arcs and are changed in a way that supports both the plot and their HEA. Resolve the conflict in a way that makes the characters face and overcome their weaknesses at the beginning.

      • #109475
        Jennifer Lawler
        Keymaster

        Sabrina, I like your point about telling becoming too much when we’re not in the story from the character’s POV. If you think about it, we hardly ever just notice a detail–that the bartender has blue eyes or the cashier has orange hair–without having some other thoughts/judgments attached to it. The bartender’s blue eyes seem not to notice us or seems to be looking over our shoulder or the cashier’s orange hair seems in contrast to her sad mood.

        I agree that solid resolutions require the conflict to be resolved in a way that makes the characters face and overcome whatever got them into trouble in the first place! I’ve noticed that sometimes the characters will just abandon an important goal without any sense of internal struggle or character development taking place to explain it. I always find that so unsatisfactory. Love doesn’t erase our goals; it can illuminate what’s important or become more important than the goal, but those are different things!

    • #109577
      Shelley Egan
      Participant

      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.

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