Here’s another topic that came out of a bulletin board thread somewhere. (It’s not that I’m opposed to posting on BB threads, it just that by the time I happen to stumble across these discussions, everyone else has moved on and there’s no point to posting. So I just save it all up to inflict on you, dear readers. *sweet smile*)

Anyhow, this thread (which started off as something else entirely) evolved into a discussion of love scenes in romance – did readers enjoy them, get uncomfortable reading them, prefer slightly awkward yet realistic scenes as opposed to effortless synchronization, feel cheated if the author “shuts the bedroom door” and fades to black, etc.

The one comment that got me thinking was posted by someone who said she’s writing romance, but doesn’t like to write love scenes. She prefers to write the lead up to the actual act, then cut to the afterglow, and was that okay?

So my response to that is: Not only is it okay, but if a writer can write everything leading up to the act, then cut to the afterglow and not sacrifice something important to the story – than she really shouldn’t write the act itself. (Unless she’s writing it just to titillate, which puts it outside the boundaries of the mainstream romance genre, IMO.)

A love scene is, first and foremost, a scene. And every scene in a book should have a purpose–some importance to the story. If nothing happens during a love scene but two people having a mutually pleasurable time–if the characters don’t resolve or exacerbate a point of conflict, experience an emotional turning point, or arrive at a deeper understanding of themselves and/or each other–there is no reason to write that scene as a fully described love scene.

My books certainly aren’t the most explicit out there, but they’re fairly sexy (if I do say it myself). My goal is to make sure that if you skip the love scenes in one of my books, you’ll be completely confused about what’s going on. Otherwise, there’s just no reason for me to write them.

And I do write fade-to-black scenes, too. In each of my books, there’s at least one what I call “honeymoon sex” scene – where the characters are simply happy and in love (and yeah, it’s usually right before everything goes to hell), and I write the sweet, playful lead-in to their intimacy–and then shut that bedroom door. Because that scene would be pointless. It wouldn’t tell the reader anything new about these characters or their conflict. And to me, writing it would feel strangely voyeuristic–as if I’m watching something I have no business watching. If there’s no story development, they don’t need me there.

And there’s one more reason I think it is very okay–even advisable–to shut that bedroom door and hang up the “Privacy Please” sign. Because the privacy isn’t just for the characters.

If I’ve done my job right, at the point in the story where I fade to black, each reader’s mind will supply a love scene to bridge the gap. Whether it’s a hazy flash or a detailed play-by-play, it will be uniquely that reader’s. There’s a lot to be said for leaving something to the imagination.

By shutting that bedroom door on my characters, I’m allowing the reader some much-needed privacy, too – a space to imagine the hero and heroine in complete romantic bliss, in whatever way seems most believable to her. It’s the one way to write a love scene that works for every reader. It lets each reader make the romance her own.

So even though I write relatively sexy romances, I’m a big advocate of shutting the bedroom door, at least once a book.

What do you think?

18 comments to “The Whys of Love (Scenes) – and Shut that Door!”

  1. Santa
    · July 1st, 2008 at 6:26 am · Link

    I remember this thread and, not surprisingly, can’t remember where or when. LOL, I don’t even remember if I commented but I will say this here.

    As a fan of traditional Regencies, those gems that play the tension between hero and heroine to perfection, are fabulous without any in depth sex scene. It’s simply not needed even if the hero and heroine are married the ‘Privacy Please’ sign is posted and makes no difference to the story itself. So, it’s okay with me that we don’t read any further.

    That being said, I find those sex scenes which in and of themselves become revelations to the hero and heroine and provide turning points for the story then they work for me. Lisa Kleypas and Mary Balogh are masters (mistresses ?) of this.

    In my own writing, I’ve found that the sex scenes are avenues of discovery for my characters where they ‘own up’ to parts of themselves they have denied for far too long. At least that’s what I hope to convey to the reader.

    Great blog topic to carry forward, Tessa.

  2. Janie Mason
    · July 1st, 2008 at 6:27 am · Link

    I agree. I enjoy reading sex scenes in romance novels, but only if they help make the charcters more three dimensional. I read this type of book to tug at my emotions and there are a lot more of them than simply sexual arousal. If all I was looking for was titillation, I’d save myself a lot of time and money and subscribe to Playgirl.
    Janie Mason

  3. Elyssa Papa
    · July 1st, 2008 at 6:36 am · Link

    I remember this thread too; Santa, it’s the board we’re frequently at.

    I love my sex scenes… but agree that they should be in there for a reason. I think I had one cutaway sex scene in TACOM but had none in LAYLOM. I think it depends on the book, etc., etc.

    But I also think that you shouldn’t refuse to write sex scenes because they might make you uncomfortable. That feels to me like you could be cutting the story short; there were a lot of things I was vastly unfamiliar with in writing LAYLOM and things that made me go, okay, this is where the story is headed, I guess. But, I guess what I’m trying to say is that if I had fought it and not listened to my characters, then the story would have been cheated.

    So, no sex is good but if you’re not writing it because you don’t want to, then that’s not a good enough excuse. It’s like saying you have a headache when you really don’t to get out of sex. Everyone can see through that b.s., too.

  4. skirbo
    · July 1st, 2008 at 7:14 am · Link

    Oooh, good topic! That’s a tough one for me, when I’m working to find my own style right now. I’m also deliberately writing a short erotica piece, which is far different from (a non-erotica) Regency or your basic contemporary in the rating level. My mother is pretty much convinced that I’m writing porn, but I keep pointing out the HEA and disagreeing.

    At any rate, I think a good deal of whether or not the privacy sign should get put out depends on the characters themselves and the tone of the whole book. And frankly, who the book is targeting audience wise.

    But that’s just me, and I’m still far behind you guys in this process.


  5. Lady Leigh
    · July 1st, 2008 at 7:15 am · Link

    I’m one of those readers who tend to scan love scenes. ‘He put this here and then she did that…’. Sometimes, though, I do get swept up, and it’s always because of original writing and character development. Obviously our entire books should be filled with this, but somehow love scenes tend to be sooo formulaic. She’s a virgin and never had the big ‘O’, she’s surprised by what she is feeling, he is sophisticated and practiced but feels randy like a schoolboy… Anything that breaks this mold is much more interesting, IMHO. I know sexy is ‘in’ with editors right now. I often think leaving things to the imagination is more sexy than explicit detail.

  6. Tessa Dare
    · July 1st, 2008 at 7:33 am · Link

    Oh, yay – great discussion already.

    Santa, I think you and I are on the same wavelength. I love sex scenes that are intensely emotional, and as you say “revelations” to the hero and heroine in some respect. Bwa – all my heroes have a habit of baring their souls right after the act…which is probably not terribly realistic, considering most guys just fall asleep. ๐Ÿ™‚ But my favorite books are ones where the physical intimacy pushes the emotional intimacy to a new level, and vice versa. But I can also enjoy a romance with no explicit scenes–if the author convinces me of the emotional intimacy without them.

    Which brings me to agreeing with Janie – for me, it’s all about the emotion too. I enjoy putting my characters in situations that make them emotionally vulnerable, and sex is a part of that. I don’t mean to slam erotica, however. Just pointing that the erotica writer has different rules in this instance–since the reader is there (in large part) for the love scenes, it’s kind of cheating to close the door.

    But everyone, make a note to buy Janie’s novella Servicing Rafferty when it comes out from Samhain later this month – it’s a friends-to-lovers romance with HOT love scenes that are intensely emotional. I love that story.

    Ely – So mean, to be teasing me about LAYLOM! I really can’t wait to read it, but if it’s okay I’m going to try to finish my ALOP draft first (hopefully within the week). I think you make an excellent point, that a writer should push herself to try writing outside her comfort zone. God knows, there have been scenes (sex and otherwise) that I’ve been hugely uncomfortable writing in all of my books – and they usually end up being the best parts. ๐Ÿ™‚ If you’re not writing scared, you’re probably not pushing yourself enough. And love scenes, just like the real thing, take some practice before they get really fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Tessa Dare
    · July 1st, 2008 at 7:47 am · Link

    Hi, Skirbo! I completely agree (as I said above) that it’s a whole different game with erotica. There, I think the reader expectation is full description, and closing the door would be unfair. That said, it’s still (as you point out to your mom!) a story and a romance with an HEA, which means there should ideally be emotional stakes in each scene, so that the emotional intimacy increases with the physical. Personally, I think I would find it a huge challenge to write a believable romance without love scenes, OR to write erotica with its high proportion of love scenes and lead to a satisfying HEA – both sound really hard! I’m fond of my mainstream middle ground, perhaps because it’s the easy way out. ๐Ÿ™‚

    (Um, I do get to read yours when it’s done, right?)

    Leigh, you make some excellent points. I have found myself skimming love scenes on occasion, too. Usually for just the reason you describe – nothing new is happening. And that doesn’t mean I’m looking for scenes where the h/h defy gravity or add new pages to the kama sutra! I think it’s because the emotional stakes in the scene aren’t high enough to keep me interested. There are definitely some books where I’ve felt like the author says, “okay – time for them to boink again”, so the characters just up and take a break from chasing the mad scientist or fleeing the psycho or whatever and do it, and it’s just bewildering.

    But thanks also for the reminder that it’s important to keep the writing fresh and surprising – it’s so easy to slip into that standard progression you describe.

  8. Elyssa Papa
    · July 1st, 2008 at 8:36 am · Link

    Take your time, Tessa. I won’t be around this week anyway.

    And I want to read ALOP when you’re done. You know how I feel about Toby. *g*

    I love when heroes bare their souls… not to be a tease, but Noan in LAYLOM does that and I went, you’re really doing this now when you know she’s going to get scared? And he went ahead and did it anyway. The sexy bastard.

    But there’s nothing sexier when a man falls in love and comes undone because of it.

    Elizabeth Hoyt is fabulous at writing steamy sex scenes but also keeping the emotions in there. She keeps getting better and better; I think it’s because of her that there’s more of a push for sexier historicals.

    I ain’t complaining.

    There’s nothing worse imo than watered-down sex. You know, in a book when you read the sex and you go that was it? You all know what I mean; there’s been a couple of books lately with badly written sex scenes. It’s all pop, pop, pop and then no follow-through. I hate that most of all.

  9. Gillian Layne
    · July 1st, 2008 at 9:00 am · Link

    What great comments!

    I had to think about this one a while. I react to most love scenes I read instinctively; if there’s any hint of an “ick” factor, then it’s been done wrong.

    My favorite books are the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King. It drove me nuts for a while because once they were together, I really wanted an in-depth love scene. Their tamped-down passion is a living thing throughout the series. But I realized that to describe more than a few devastatingly romance kisses would have been to falsify the characters; they are very private people, and it would have been such a betrayal of sorts to the overall story.

  10. terrio
    · July 1st, 2008 at 10:12 am · Link

    I read this first thing this morning and had to think about it. I too followed (and commented in) this thread. It’s always fun to see how everyone has a different take on the subject.

    My personal preference is for a book to have sex scenes. I recently listened to a Susan Wiggs book and she closed the door every time. The tension was hot and the hero even hotter, but it bugged the tar out of me that she never followed through. I felt jipped. (not sure how to spell that)

    But this idea that every sex scene has to move the story is an interesting one. Not that I don’t agree, but I think it’s okay for a couple to have sex just because they want to have sex. I know Nora rarely closes the door and I don’t mind that at all. Sometimes, it’s just great sex.

    Think about reality, which I realize is dangerous when we’re talking fiction. But in life, having sex for the sake of sex happens all the time. And I’m talking about committed couples, not casual one night stands. I don’t think every single sex scene has to be monumental. But again, that’s only my opinion.

  11. Tessa Dare
    · July 1st, 2008 at 1:20 pm · Link

    Ely, stop the teasing already! Can’t wait to see Noan come undone – yum. But…
    You all know what I mean; there’s been a couple of books lately with badly written sex scenes. It’s all pop, pop, pop and then no follow-through. I hate that most of all.

    LOL, I want titles – via email. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Gillian, I haven’t read that series you’re talking about, but it sounds like the ideal setup for some great fanfic! I don’t know about the “ick” factor – everyone’s ick factor is so different. Some people are icked just by any sex scene, and others aren’t shocked by anything. I know there are some scenes in my books that some readers will find uncomfortable – and to be honest, that’s okay with me because I wrote those scenes to push my characters out of their comfort zones. I don’t find those scenes icky at all – but I would imagine there’s someone out there who will.

    Terri – Maybe I expressed myself poorly – I completely agree that there can be a place for normal, pleasant sex in a book…but IMO it still has to be important to the story, even if it’s not monumental. Sometimes the normalcy and joy of it are the importance of the scene. If the h/h have been through a lot of trauma or conflict, for instance, and now they are finally really clicking and just able to enjoy one another – that in itself can be really important to the story, even though the situation itself is not extraordinary.

    But I stick to my original assertion, that if there’s nothing about the scene that really adds to the story, it doesn’t belong in the book – whether it’s great sex or great breakfast or a great time walking the dog. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. terrio
    · July 1st, 2008 at 1:30 pm · Link

    Now that I think about it, and read your last comment, I see what you mean. I can’t think of a sex scene that wouldn’t move the plot in some way. There’s the bad sex, we know where that goes. There the sex where one or the other holds back. Or where they finally let go.

    Then I love the one where you can tell everything changes and they are no longer just having sex, but making love. These scenes are always the best IMO.

    So in other words, I agree. LOL!

  13. Darcy Burke
    · July 1st, 2008 at 1:52 pm · Link

    I love me some sex. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m generally disappointed when the door is closed, but I did read a Rita-winning book this spring that kept the door closed and it’s one of my fave books in recent memory (also the first I’d read of hers). The ST was totally hot and surprisingly (usually I’m with you terrio), I didn’t feel gipped (gypped?).

    I think my love scenes forward the character arc. At least, I hope they do as that was the intent. The love scene toward the end of Glorious is more of a honeymoon scene, but it laid (no pun intended!) the groundwork for the hero to open up. I thought about closing the door, but it didn’t feel right. I think I might’ve been overthinking it a wee bit since the other love scenes were definitely Big Deals as far as plot and character. Because I pre-plot turning points and use a storyboard, I really try to think about love scenes and how they impact the overall story. As it happens, love scenes are major turning points in my current WIP.

    Great topic, Tessa!

  14. skirbo
    · July 1st, 2008 at 2:13 pm · Link

    Well, duh. Of course you get to read it. On the second or third revise lol.

    Hey, I need some quick help. Anybody who did Avon FanLit that has ended up with a deal, or agented or finaling in contests, FanLib would like me to tell them about it.

    I’ve told them all along for the ones I know about but I haven’t kept in touch with everyone as well as I should have, so help from those who have would be nice.


  15. Alyssa Goodnight
    · July 1st, 2008 at 3:12 pm · Link

    That sounds like a perfect balance. Knowing when to include them and when not to makes a big difference in the flow of the story. But I have to admit, it is nice to have at least one sexy scene. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. Janga
    · July 1st, 2008 at 8:26 pm · Link

    I remember the thread too, Tessa. The range of comments made clear, I thought, why the hotness index in romance ranges from sweet to smokin’. Different readers, different expectations.

    I’m a both/and reader myself. I read a Debbie Macomber and a Toni Blake back to back last week and enjoyed every syllable of both. The one thing I am weary of is the generic sex scene that could be, with appropriate name changes, pasted into a couple of dozen books.

    As a writer, I agree that moving outside our comfort zone is necessary to growth. On the other hand, I think we have to stay true to who we are. I read a book last year by one of my favorite writers. I felt that the move to more graphic love scenes was forced, a chorus of false notes from a writer whose pitch and tone are usually flawless.

  17. La Belle Americaine
    · July 2nd, 2008 at 7:06 pm · Link

    I’m one of those people who feel the need for two or more sex scenes in a “romance genre novel” has led to a lot of mediocre romances filled with inane lust-thinking and contrived sex scenes.

    IMO, the emphasis on sex has led to a severe decrease in sexual tension and just plain sexual characterization. Somehow, TPTB has presumed readers are content with book after book featuring a sexy alpha hero schooling the innocent heroine in sex, and getting to those multiple sex scenes as quickly as possible. I remember reading a book a few years ago that had the most out of place sex scene I’ve ever read. It truly felt as though the author was told she needed a sex love scene and went back and reinserted it during revisions. Very disgruntled was I.

    To be honest, the increase in sex for sex’s sake does lend credence to outsider opinion that romance novels are porn and readers just devour the books for sex. Without the emotion and character drive behind sex scenes, they are just PWP. Not that I mind PWP, but if this is a genre that thrives upon the emotional connection between the h/h and the h/h and the reader, what’s with the cut-and-paste sex?

  18. La Belle Americaine
    · July 2nd, 2008 at 7:08 pm · Link

    needed a second love scene not sex love scene. lol