Here’s another Tuesday topic Vagabond Lindsey suggested a while back.

In my second book, Surrender of a Siren, there’s a scene where the hero, Gray, fesses up to a slew of misdeeds in an effort to discourage imprudent affection on the heroine’s part. You know, he’s your typical bad-boy hero–plenty of pleasure-seeking and profit-seeking in his past. So part of this confession involves his sexual history. Which is considerable.

When I originally wrote the scene, I had him estimate the number of his lovers. I wanted it to be a reasonably shocking number, because his entire purpose in saying it was to shock the heroine. He’s not bragging, he’s not proud of it. He’s rather squicked by his own pattern of behavior.

However, my CPs, in their infinite wisdom, counseled against actual quantification. We argued it back and forth, but I eventually came around to their side. They thought a number might be too effective in squicking not only the heroine, but the readers, and they wouldn’t be able to get past it and fall in love with the hero. So I revised the scene to make it more vague, along the lines of “a lot”. (BTW, when I read this chapter on Ervin’s blog, it seemed to confirm that I’d made the right call.)

But then I keep thinking of that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral, where Andie MacDowell’s character rattles off the details of all her thirty-some lovers over lunch with Hugh Grant. The scene is funny and actually endearing in a way, and it’s a nice change from the usual in that the woman’s far out-played the man. What do you think, does the scene make her character more or less likeable? What’s the tally’s effect on dear, sweet Charlie (Hugh Grant)?

While I think I made the right call for this book, I reserve the right to attempt something like that scene in the future. Perhaps with a heroine instead of the hero…

What do you think about disclosure of sexual histories, in fiction or real life? Do you want to hear about every partner your S.O. has ever had, or would you rather just get the vague estimate? Perhaps blissful ignorance is best?

Obviously, modern concern about STDs puts a whole new spin on the discussion. Not that they didn’t have STDs in the Regency – I do make a mention of that in SOAS, too.

23 comments to “What puts the TM in TMI?”

  1. Maggie Robinson
    · March 11th, 2008 at 5:59 am · Link

    I myself just removed a reference to “scores” of women that the hero had on his travels. I think an actual number is a turn-off. And I don’t need a blow-by-blow account (sorry). I can’t remember ever getting a total confession from anyone, and at this point, I can’t even remember my own past, LOL.

  2. terrio
    · March 11th, 2008 at 6:05 am · Link

    I asked once, got a number, was totally squicked. I don’t ask anymore. And since I have a history of dating musicians, this is a very smart policy.

    I think it’s smart not to include a number. Better to infer the impression of a great quantity than to quantify. And I so want to know what your heroine’s reaction was to his confession. Did it have the desired effect?

  3. Marnee Jo
    · March 11th, 2008 at 6:25 am · Link

    I think I’ve always gotten numbers from my SOs, but as I’ve never dated any one of the “can’t remember her name” fashion, it was never that shocking.

    And, I think you would need to have a good reason for giving an actual number. But, I don’t have a problem with it. At least then we’d know he remembers them all. That’s something. LOL!!

  4. Alice Audrey
    · March 11th, 2008 at 7:52 am · Link

    I’d skip the actual number. For one thing, a number that would totally squick one reader, won’t move another.

  5. Tessa Dare
    · March 11th, 2008 at 8:14 am · Link

    Ooh, AA, good point. Maybe I should have had him say something like, “Think of the most completely shocking number your little innocent brain can imagine. Now double it.” J/K. But it’s good to see you’re all on the anti-number bandwagon.

    Marnee, it wasn’t actually an exact number. It was along the lines of Maggie’s “scores”. Yeah, he um, doesn’t exactly remember. After all those years, I think he would have needed to keep a little book or something! (And he didn’t.)

    Terri, LOL about the musicians. See, that’s probably one reason they don’t get to star in romance novels. As for her reaction… well, you’ll just have to read the book, won’t you? But,
    They get together at the end.

    And see, whatever X is, if X is his number of lovers before the heroine, the final tally on his deathbed is still going to be X+1. That’s the most important thing, and I think I’ve made that believable. There’s no question he’s capable of extreme loyalty.

  6. Kelly Krysten
    · March 11th, 2008 at 9:35 am · Link

    The male character’s numbers in novels have always squicked me out a bit. But for some reason the female doesn’t. Double standards abound.

  7. irisheyes
    · March 11th, 2008 at 12:08 pm · Link

    I do get a little wigged out about all the women that came before! Of course, this is a romance and the point is to show that the heroine is different and he’s a changed man. I suppose the greater the number the more poignant his fidelity to the heroine will be.

    I can definitely say that Andi’s confession in Four Weddings and a Funeral did creep me out. I really didn’t buy her love or commitment to good ol’ Hugh. I really don’t know whether it had anything to do with the huge number she spouted or if I just wasn’t really fond of her character. She wasn’t real believable to me. I should say that it’s one of my favorite movies, it’s just her character I had a problem with.

  8. Alyssa Goodnight
    · March 11th, 2008 at 4:10 pm · Link

    I was just thinking of this scene a few days ago, but I couldn’t remember the specifics. I thought maybe it was Hugh Grant but couldn’t remember the movie. What stayed in my mind the most was ‘I don’t know what the f*** I’ve been doing with my time.’

    I think leaving it to the readers imagination would be more effective in this particular case, but I did like this movie scene.

  9. Santa
    · March 11th, 2008 at 6:13 pm · Link

    Actual counts squick me. I’ve always inferred that a rake and a rogue will have scores more expereience than any young lady be she a milk and water miss or not.

    Truth be told, I never really liked Andi and if there were ever a sequel, I doubt they would still be together.

    Lovely job with the spoiler, btw. Care to share any other gems? 😉

  10. Lindsey
    · March 11th, 2008 at 8:41 pm · Link

    Ack – I almost missed my own topic! The curious, inquisitive part of me thinks I do want to know, but knowing is always so much harder than you imagine. Ervin’s tale is a really poignant reminder of that – and that if you find out what’s behind that door and it’s worse than what you expected, then you’re going to imagine the worst of what’s behind every other door.

    I’m also not sure what, in general, the benefit of knowing would be. Though I agree that it could make a very powerful – or very funny – scene in a romance. But not Gray’s. 😉

  11. seton
    · March 11th, 2008 at 10:27 pm · Link

    Interesting topic.

    Good call on not playing the numbers game. Some numbers can be memorable and liable to stick around in infamy. Wilt Chamberlain & 20,000 anyone?

    I personally dislike manwhores, IRL and in romances, which is why I have probably read every historical ever written with a virgin hero. Of course, Ive read my share of books with rakes too and the fact that most authors dont give a number helps me pretend that they arent walking STDs on legs.

    And I dont want numbers for women either but the reader usually get them anyway because the number is almost always 0 or 1. And even when the heroine is supposed to be experienced, the number is almost always less than what you would expect or is realistic. Like in a recent smash debut novel which features a courtesan, it’s revealed that the courtesan only had three lovers which are a hella less than the hero’s tally and I knew the book was going downhill.

    Or in a medieval by MRM, the heroine was suppose to have been given out to any dude with a few quids every nite for like 7 yrs but then the reader finds out that the johns were drugged and they didnt really have sex with her.

    Or I read a romantica because the author herself called her heroine a “female rake” but this “female rake” ends a 2 yr relationship when the book starts and enters into another 2 yr relationship before she finally finds her HEA with her hubby. This is in contrast to the hero who has a wife and TWO mistresses when the book starts. But I digress. . .

    I loved that FWAAF scene. I always saw it as a homage to the wedding night montage on a train in THE LADY EVE when Barbara Stanwyck decides to confess all the men in her life to Henry Fonda and it takes all night with Fonda jumping off the train by morning. Brilliant film, that LADY EVE.

    The scene also reminds me of a controversial one in MR & MRS SMITH. Brangelina play two assassins. Thruout the movie, it’s shown that Pitt is a more of a small time assassin while Jolie is more high tech and lethal. While waiting in a van they have the follwing conversation:

    John Smith: How many? Ok… I’ll go first, then. I don’t keep exact count, but I’d say, uh, high 50s, low 60s. I mean, I know I’ve been around the block an all, but…

    Jane Smith: 312.

    John Smith (dumbfounded): What? How?

    Jane Smith: Some were two at a time.

    The director confirms that this is referring to hits (people killed) but some people were insisting that it was people they slept with and were freaking out about it.

    Numbers are dangerous, yo.

  12. Tessa Dare
    · March 12th, 2008 at 12:12 am · Link

    seton, that is so weird. I’ve never seen that movie, but months ago when I told my agent about this story (not this scene, but one that follows it), she said it reminded her (vaguely, I’m sure) of that scene from The Lady Eve. Must add to Netflix queue.

    Just to clarify for everyone – I’m not exactly a fan of mansluts either. The fact that my hero’s slept around is not intended to be one of his attractive qualities. Neither is the heroine his “cure” or even the reason he wants to turn his life around. She’s actually an obstacle to his self improvement campaign.

    At least I hope it comes off that way – those who’ve read it, uh…please send me an email if you interpreted it otherwise! 🙂

    So far, I’ve only written virgin heroines, but I hope someday I’ll have a chance to write one who’s experienced.

  13. Janga
    · March 12th, 2008 at 11:49 am · Link

    Exact numbers, particularly if the number is a large one, sound too much like scorekeeping to me, regardless of whether the number is cited by the hero or heroine.

    Nearly a decade ago AAR started using the term “Duke of Slut” to describe the hero with a countless list of lovers in his history. That particular column (#49, April 1, 1998) quoted Jo Beverley on the subject, and I still think Jo’s explanation is the best I have heard of why many readers find such heroes appealing:

    “I don’t think many readers go for a hero who’s completely promiscuous . . . whatever whore lifts her skirts. But there’s a lot of appeal to the expert lover, and he’s got to practice somewhere. Also, a man who genuinely likes the company of women, the look and feel of a woman, the taste, etc. etc. is very appealing, and if he likes them so much, and is more than twenty, why hasn’t he been going for what he enjoys so much?

    “But there’s a fantasy element, and it’s fun, and romances are written for women, even if men do enjoy them, and sometimes we like a hunk who’s honed his amatory arts with a hundred women and come to lay them all reverently, and exclusively, before us.”

    There are a lot of Mayniacs around, and we all know that Mayne bedded “half the women in London,” and we also know he will be ever faithful to Josie.

  14. Tessa Dare
    · March 12th, 2008 at 12:51 pm · Link

    What great comments, Janga. I really like JoBev’s take on the issue.

    In the case of Gray, he definitely has a love of women. But his promiscuity -as I think is the case for many (but not all) promiscuous people – is really rooted in insecurity and self-loathing. Emotionally, he’s a man who is completely wired for monogamy – he’s intensely loyal and protective of those close to him, even to a fault. So once he lets himself go there, fidelity is a given.

    It’s taken me a long time to understand this about the book, ironically enough – the h/h, on their deepest levels, are actually very similar to one another. So they don’t have that sort of surface personality clash like a bluestocking/libertine pairing. The problem for them is, how can you love and accept love from someone who is very much like you – if you dislike yourself? Self-acceptance is key to their earning an HEA.

  15. seton
    · March 12th, 2008 at 1:38 pm · Link

    Tessa, you’re gonna love LADY EVE. Not only is it very funny but the character played by Stanwyck is one of the best heroines ever caught on film: smart, sexy, tough, clever and yet vulnerable.

    And I look forward to future books with an experienced heroine. Indeed, I do 🙂

  16. Lindsey
    · March 13th, 2008 at 7:50 am · Link

    Lady Eve is one of my all-time favorites! And weirdly, it keeps coming up this week – Jenny Crusie mentioned it on her blog, my grandmother just returned my copy of it – must be a sign to watch it!

  17. Anna Campbell
    · March 13th, 2008 at 11:27 am · Link

    Hiya Tessa! My first visit to your blog. What a great discussion you’ve got going on. For me personally, I think vague is better because what constitutes a shocking number of lovers probably varies for individual people. I mean, if you do it purely mathematically, it could be 365 every year the guy is sexually active and 366 in a leap year, couldn’t it? 😉 Maybe a week off here or there for good (or bad?) behaviour?

    Very much looking forward to your visit to the Banditas at the end of the month. Actually I’m here seeking out interesting questions I can ask you. Just wandered into the blog out of curiosity!

    And congratulations on GOTH’s (hmm, now that’s an acronym and a half!) final slew of contest placings. Can’t wait to read it!

  18. MsHellion
    · March 13th, 2008 at 2:54 pm · Link

    *LOL* I love that scene in Mr. & Mrs. Smith…that’s one of my favorite bits of dialogue. *LOL* Though I never thought of it as “people I’ve slept with”, since 312 seems such an astronomical number for that. I mean, you can shoot someone one like 2 seconds, but to have sex? That’s what–at least 2 minutes if you’re in a hurry. Who has that kind of time? Hell, I can’t think of 312 I’d even *want* to have sex with (though if I thought hard enough I could probably find 50, low 60s)–but I could probably find 312 I’d want to kill. I mean, the road rage in traffic alone would jump my numbers…

    I think it’s better not to know exact numbers. Besides that’s not even the important question: do you have any incurable diseases or CHILDREN currently living with other women from said activities? That’s the one you should be worried about.

  19. Tessa Dare
    · March 13th, 2008 at 3:17 pm · Link

    Welcome Anna! Thanks for stopping by. I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding plenty of blackmail fodder, er … interview questions on this blog! I’m really looking forward to blogging with the Banditas! LOL about the 365 – actually, my hero spent a lot of time at sea, so his days in the year for chasing ladies were limited. So the number wasn’t that high! But yeah, I did do a few mathematical calculations when I was thinking up his backstory…but I’ll keep them to myself.

    Lindsey, if you, Jenny Crusie and seton all recommend the same movie in the same week, you can bet I’ll watch it!

    Hellion, you’re cracking me up. Existence (or rather nonexistence) of children and diseases are actually covered in conversation. Check and check.

  20. Elyssa Papa
    · March 14th, 2008 at 1:33 pm · Link

    Numbers don’t bother me… usually when the hero meets the heroine (or vice versa), there’s been some reflection on the character’s part where they usually regret their sordid past. Besides, it makes it more fun—in bed to have a character who knows what he’s doing.

    I remember that scene in SOAS very clearly… ohhh, Gray is so frigging hot! Seriously. He could have slept with the whole universe and been into necrophilia, and I’d still think he was the cat’s meow. (I’m not implying that Gray is into zombie loving by the way). *g*

    Tessa, you’ll have to let us know when you blog with the Bandits, too!

  21. Lindsey
    · March 14th, 2008 at 8:04 pm · Link

    Oh, so that’s why the zombie scene got cut… 😉

  22. Elyssa Papa
    · March 14th, 2008 at 8:25 pm · Link

    Um, Lindsey, we weren’t supposed to mention that zombie lovemaking scene. Now, everyone—including her publisher—is going to want it.

    Not my fault, Tessa. *g*

  23. Tessa Dare
    · March 16th, 2008 at 1:59 am · Link

    Well, Ely and Lindsey, perhaps I can post the zombie scene as an outtake on my new website! In fact, I could post the missing zombie scene from each of the three books. You may not know it, but there was one in GOTH, too. And I’m virtually guaranteed to write one into book three. I have a habit of letting my heroes ruminate on my heroines’ “delicious” attributes and fantasize about “devouring” them. *rolling eyes* Perhaps I write hungry too often?