Monday, May 23, 2011

Go Ahead, Let Them Have Sex -Part 2

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about sex. Specifically, learning more about your characters by writing a sex scene. I find this approach as useful to me today as I did back then. But I'll go a bit broader here to say that any action scene (which is what a sex scene is, really) can help a writer understand her character better.

By putting your character right into the fire, as it were, you discover how they act, and react, and you get a feel for the way a character thinks and feels.

Because I write romance, a love scene, be it a heated exchange, kissing, or the whole deal, helps me understand how these two people interact with each other. It gives me a sense of their chemistry, something I might not totally feel were I to start at their first meeting. And I need that knowledge, because I need to be excited by these characters and their relationship. The readers need to feel this excitement too, even on page one. But they aren't if the writer doesn't feel it first. I don't know why that is, but an author's level of involvement is a palpable thing. Jumping right to the meat of your character's emotional connection can be a great way for the writer to find that excitement.

It might seem like a backward approach to some, but don't knock it until you try it.

So go ahead, let 'em have sex! Throw them into danger. See what happens. :)

Here is the original post. What is interesting to me is that the sample I used is so far from how it appears in my upcoming book that it's almost unrecognizable. Which is fine. Novel writing isn't a static thing. We shape and reshape. Some will add, like building a house from frame up, and others will subtract. My editor likes to tell me that I'm carving away the stone to find the gem underneath. Love that idea.

Let Them Have Sex, Nov. 3, 2009

A lot of writers like to prepare their characters by creating a sort of dossier for them. Knowing their likes and dislikes helps the writer attain greater character depth. Unfortunately, for me, such lists feel like a false front. I can’t just say he likes this and that, because there has to be a motivation behind why a person is the way they are. It is too easy to make the character perfect, with perfect flaws, like playing in a build-a-bear workshop. The result being a cardboard character as opposed to one what grows before me, revealing themselves bit by bit. In short, I would rather the character tell me what makes them tic as opposed to me telling them who they ought to be.

Logic would prompt me to start the story at point A then work my way to Z –the result being a fully fleshed character by the end of the book. Problem being, you want a fully fleshed out character at the beginning of the book –you just don’t want your reader to know the whole of him at that point. So how to proceed? Oddly, I’ve found that writing a love scene (anything from a kiss to the whole shebang ) is a great way to develop your character.

It’s been said that a good love scene is about emotion. That is true. Sex is emotion –including lack thereof. It is communication of the highest form. Our senses are heightened during sex. But more than anything the way we give and receive, lead up to it, during, and after, reveals a huge amount about who we are as people. Now what better situation are you going to have in which your character’s true nature will come forth?

Perhaps you are a linear writer and object to writing a chunk out of order from the rest of the story. Or perhaps you find there is no reason for your characters to kiss, much less make love. That’s fine; you needn’t even keep the scene, think of it as an exercise (‘Cause it is!).

If love scenes are about emotion, then something visceral must occur to set the moment into action. I’d go one further here to say that a good love scene is equally about the reader’s emotion. If the reader doesn’t achieve a visceral response, then it isn’t worth writing. In the greater picture, the whole of the book is about engaging a reader’s emotion. In essence, we (the writers) are emotional manipulators.* Therefore, a love scene is much like a microcosm of the whole book. (Yes, I _may_ be over analyzing things here, but hopefully you get my meaning.)

Back to trying out a love scene. When starting, West Club Moon, the following little exchange popped into my mind fairly early on and went something like this: [note: this whole bit went through some changes and the current version is quite different. Also, excuse any typos as I used very rough first draft snips here.]

“I desire…” The leather of his glove stretched and groaned as his hand curled into a fist. The fist came crashing down, hurling backgammon pieces in all directions. “I shall come to your rooms tonight and exercise my marital rights!”
The desperate shout hit me like a slap. I was out of my chair and running breathlessly toward the door before true thought entered my mind.
He was quicker, slamming the door shut and trapping me before it. I skidded to a halt and stood with my breath quick and light, my stays stabbing my sides. Archer leaned against the door, not facing me. His shoulders lifted and fell as he breathed just as rapidly as I. His black gloved fist pressed against the door jam. “It is my right.”
I stared at the sharp line of his profile, made sharper by the black silken mask and the white of the door beyond him.
“I-I did not think…” my voice failed. But, I had thought it, hadn’t I? [This bit of italics came later as I came to better understand the situation.]
He angled his head slightly and I caught the gleam of his strange grey eyes. “In point, the contract of marriage is not valid until I do. Nor is our agreement and all that accompanies it.”
My mouth dried. I had known that much to be true. He remained unmoving, half turned, neither looking at me or beyond me.
Why was I dithering? Daisy had gone to her marriage bed with a man more than twice her age. And had done so without complaint. I had seen the barely concealed lust within her groom’s rheumy eyes.
I shuddered and Archer went rigid. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I shall not harm you…”
My eyes went from the door to him. Archer was not old and withered. His form was lithe and powerful. He moved with grace. Despite the mask, I saw the outlines of true masculine beauty. Further, he was gentle and kind to me.

That was it. So okay, so what was that all about? Why did she bolt from her chair? And what set of circumstances made Archer shout out his desire in such a way? Is he a brute that takes what he wants? He can’t be; his last words are out of concern for Miri’s feelings. Already, thinking about a love scene has got me thinking of how these characters will interact both with each other and, more importantly, when faced with a challenge. So I came to this (which happens just before the scene above):

I looked up from the game board to find his eyes upon me once more.
“You’re staring,” I murmured and moved my piece along the board.
The husky statement warmed my cheeks. I raised a brow and the corner of his lips curled. “You look beautiful.”
The heat in my cheeks traveled across my breast. I could only be thankful for the mellowing glow of candlelight to hide it. “You told me you cared not for beauty.”
Archer leaned slightly forward in his chair, his silver eyes fixed on mine. “I am an ass, Miri,” he said thickly. “You well know it. A boorish, unpardonable ass.”
I had to smile. “Just as long as you know it.” My voice did not work properly. The words came out thick like honey and just as slow. I handed him the cup and dice but he did not take them.
He moved forward an inch and his large frame enveloped the small gaming table.
“I know that your beauty renders me senseless.” Archer’s well formed mouth broke into a smile. “I look upon you and pure stupidity flies from my mouth. The sight of you in that golden dress makes my toes numb. I want to send Monsieur Falle [dressmaker] roses, I’m so grateful.”
I laughed and he did too, a rich unguarded laugh that made my insides flip. “You see?” he said through his laughter. “Pure, unmitigated stupidity.”
The corners of his grey eyes crinkled in mirth and I laughed again. “Then I shall save you from yourself,” I said, still laughing. “I am appeased. Speak no more of my beauty and spare yourself further humiliation.”
I touched his hand lightly. The smile on his lips wavered and fell. His eyes went to my hand on his and a shuddering sigh passed over his long frame. I drew back as though burned, but he paid no notice. He continued to blink down at his hand resting upon the game board.
“I fear I must humiliate myself further,” he whispered suddenly as though the words were forced from him. He swallowed hard and attempted to meet my eyes. The endeavor failed and he looked off into the fire. “Miri…I want…”

More clues. These two obviously are friends. They are comfortable bantering with each other so I know they’ve been in each other’s company for some time, so I know this scene will occur later on in the story. They interact well yet it is clear pride and fear of rejection (In Archer’s mind, especially) makes them tentative.

Before I even started WCM, I knew that Archer hides behind a half-mask, part of him is, as he states, ‘deformed’ and society has shunned him. So it is understandable for him to fear rejection. But the way in which Archer speaks shows me that he isn’t a tentative creature. His choice of words and confident humor belie that fact. Thus he must have some reason to hope and ask for a night with Miri. And there is Miri to consider. Her notice of him focuses here on the physical for the most part, his eyes, lips, and the size of him –all markers of physical attraction. So why does she bolt from her chair? Which led me to this:

Everything shall change,” I heard myself whisper.
Archer exhaled through his nose. “Change must come,” he said slowly. “I can only bear so much. I-I want this, Miri…”
The desolation in his voice cut me. I wanted it too. The realization stunned me. But I wanted Archer’s companionship more.
“Yet you will not reveal yourself to me,” I said.
“No,” I repeated. He flinched and averted his eyes

At this point I don’t have to know what his secret is but the information gleaned from this exercise is enough for me to proceed with confidence when writing other scenes, because I now understand their main motivation. Had I not tried a love scene, I’m not sure it would have been as clear so early on in the process.

Additionally, I know that Archer and Miri’s relationship is about shells, masks, hiding their true feelings behind false fronts. Making love for them will be about peeling away these false fronts. All this helps immensely when I tackle the actual love scene. More importantly, I’ve discovered a huge theme that will run throughout the story, and I can approach each scene with this new knowledge. Because as a writer, we do slant scenes/the story in a certain direction.

So my challenge to all of you is: write a kissing scene, or analyze one that you already have. You’ll learn a lot about your characters in doing so; I guarantee it! And if you feel so inclined, post them up here, give us your analysis. I’m always up for a good kissing/love scene. (g)


  1. As much as I like sex I don't think that would be appropriate for the kids story I'm working on now.

  2. I love the idea of learning more about characters through their romantic interactions! I think I shared my couple's first kiss in your last post, so let's see if I can find a different one this time...

    Okay, this one's a bit long:

    “Peri?” Baha clasped her hand. “What did that Rodrigo say to make you cry?”

    Her eyes welled once more at his words and she kept her head up, as though still looking at the cat. “He talked of never going home again. Never seeing his family.”

    “What did you say to him?”

    “I said it was the worst thing he could possibly do, that whatever happened his family would want to see him. That they care more for who he is than what he might do. He asked me how I presumed to know all of that. I expect everyone heard my reply.”

    “Yes, we did.” He brushed the tears off her cheeks with his thumbs, bent and kissed her eyes at the corners. “Good girl. It’s a terrible thing that’s happened to him, but worse if he wallows in self-pity.”

    His lips met hers, gentle at first, then more insistent, as he wrapped her in his arms and drew her into the shadows of the alley. He leaned on the wall, hugging her to him, his hands encircling her waist. She ran her fingers through his hair, clasping him about the neck as if he might pull away and she would prevent him. He made no such move, but took her mouth again and again, hips pressed to hers.

    His hands began a pattern she recognised, sliding up to her chest, stroking her breasts through the layers of her cloak and dress. An alley was no place for this, but his kisses were ardent, his touch searing. Her legs were growing weak.

  3. Ah. Great post, Kristen. I often find it easier to write the "big" moments or those filled with the most angst first. Much like you, I find my way into the characters by throwing them into situations -- a crash-course in character study.

    Here's a reunion snip.

    "He was beside the car before I could park it, throwing open the door, his gray eyes wild with joy. We were in each other's arms then, holding on tight, searching for that first kiss, the one we’d waited so long for, had dreamed of while time held us apart. We were laughing, finding mouths, hungry, urgent, not stopping until our breath slowed and our hearts beat together. He held my face gently then, kissed me softly, over and over, murmuring.

    I melted in his touch as he cradled my face, then stroked my hair. Resting my head on his chest, I could feel his heartbeat. He was home, alive and whole."


  4. Eee! Love that snip, Susan. More please!

  5. Lovely snips, ladies! And I totally agree Kristen - the big moments are the best way to get to the heart of your characters. I don't have romance front-and-centre in my WIP, but it *is* there. Here's one of the first fiery interactions between my main character and the man who both irritates and fascinates her in equal measure:-

    The carriage door opened and the cold hit her like a slap to the cheeks. Ricard half rose from his seat. Isabel surged forward and blocked the door with her arm.

    “How well did you know Dr Rimbaud?”

    Annoyance flickered across his face before he reluctantly sank back into his seat, into the half-darkness. He did not answer, merely pressed his lips into a thin line.

    “You seem to know so many of Madame Joffrin’s intimates so very well,” she continued. “And you have rooms in her house. Surely you knew her pet physician?”

    Ricard made to get up again and she braced her arm, fingers gripping the carriage's door frame, her chin lifted in challenge. He subsided with a low sound in the back of his throat rather like a growl. “I met the man once or twice,” he finally admitted. “Briefly.”

    “Really? There were two glasses of wine in your study,” she prodded. “Two cigars laid out, ready to be smoked.” She saw his gloved fingers tense where they rested upon his thighs. “From the state of your study, someone left it in a dreadful hurry,” she continued, driving the knife in further. “Maybe it was you, to investigate the scream? Or perhaps someone else had cause to flee your room before that.” Stony silence. Time to twist the blade. “Perhaps whoever left your study was someone running from something.” She gave him a pointed look. “Or someone.”

    An angry hiss escaped his lips and she knew she had hit the bone. “For an intelligent woman you ask far too many questions.”

    “Which you do your very best not to answer!” she retorted.

    “Why are you so concerned about what happened tonight?” His voice rang loudly in the confines of the coach. “You did your best, the man is dead, that is the end of the matter, surely?”

    “Why are you so quick to be a part of a lie?” she countered. Then, through the fog of her memory came a name. “Catherine. At the glasshouse, you called me Catherine. And I am quite sure you also damned her eyes.” She narrowed her own eyes at him. “Who is she? What has she to do with what happened tonight?”

    He shunted forward on his seat so his face, pale and hard and angry, was in the full light of the carriage lantern. Angry muscles tightened along his jaw. “A question for you, Dr Knight. What did you do, to make Dr Mesrine warn his colleagues against you?”

    Her chest tightened. Their eyes locked, held fast. She was dimly aware that if the coachman holding the door forgot his station and looked in on them, he might mistake the intensity of their gaze for that of new infatuation. Her lip curled. Gold-flecked eyes flickered in response. Oh, they both knew what was really afoot. She’d witnessed the wreckage of his study, had heard him play loose with the truth before the surgeons. And he’d seen her… she ground her teeth. Her ‘turn’. And he had heard what that damn surgeon had said, after all. They each knew the other had secrets. Not their nature, certainly, but that they existed. And neither was willing to turn way and expose their backs.

    But what did it matter? After tonight, she’d never again be forced to lay eyes upon this infuriating man. Breaking off her gaze, she fumbled with the clasp at her neck and shrugged his cloak to the carriage floor.

    “Good bye, Monsieur Ricard.”

    Ignoring the coachman’s arm, she clambered from the landau as the Athelstone’s front door was opened by a bleary-eyed servant bearing a candle. With her head held high she swept up the stairs in her ruined, blood-stained gown and bare head, her hair sprung loose from its moorings and spilling down her shoulders … all the while horribly aware of two green eyes burning holes in her back.

  6. Ahem, that was a little more than a "snip", wasn't it? LOL. Can't write short, is my problem!

  7. Oh, I love these snips!

    Good timing for this post - just wrote one of these a couple days before.

    I think it *did* tell me more about the characters, particularly one who's a bit of a tough nut to crack.

    More importantly I thought it was great for finding out how they perceive each other and how they each feel about where things are going, which resonates with their backstories, etc etc.

    ...That and I just loooove to write fluff. :-)

  8. Great snip Rachel! Love that last paragraph especially.

  9. Oh Rachel! I just came across your snip. It's an awesome example of what Kristen is talking about. Powerful emotion, high stakes, hidden attraction. Excellent.