But all day, I've been wanting to come over here and blog about something cool that happened last night. A local romance writers group invited me to participate on a panel discussion of different types of sex scenes in romance. The other speakers were both authors, one of whom writes inspirational romance with a chick lit flair, and the other of whom writes more standard historical romances. Both are successful and are multipublished with big houses.
The setup was pretty simple. We each read and discussed a first kiss scene and a sex scene which has an impact on the relationship. (All sex scenes should have such an impact, but those were the instructions we were given.) We started with the inspy writer, then to the traditional romance writer, then to me. I guess they thought we'd be building to a crescendo of sexual explicitness or heat or something.
But I was astonished by the strong similarities between the scenes. The language used was very similar in all three -- not the language used to describe body parts, of course, but all the other language in the scenes. The yearning and the melting and the caresses, the attention paid to the placement of hands and use of fingers, even the way dialogue was used to back down from tension peaks was all very similar. Oddly, the traditional historical romance writer and I both chose to read scenes involving handcuffs. Go figure.
In fact, if I had to describe differences between the scenes, the differences would be minimal.
- The inspy had to sublimate a lot of the sexual tension -- a description of brewing tea became a metaphor for what the heroine expected sex with the hero would be like, with the heat and the moisture and the leaves unfurling. There was still a lot of passion and emotional intensity, but it was directed at the tea instead of between the characters. Very interesting and effective technique for building tension.
- Issues of power and control were hinted at in the other scenes but explored much more frankly in the erotic romance scenes.
- The emotional context varied between the three scenes, but in all three, the emotions provided a foundation for the scenes.
I expected some in the audience to be a bit down on the erotic romance, and I was not disappointed. At one point, an audience member even drew links between erotic romance and teen pregnancy. But for the most part, the audience reaction was strongly positive. Most of them were surprised at the similarities between scenes, rather than shocked or appalled by the franker nature of the erorom. A few people claimed that the erorom scenes weren't at all what they'd expected, and that even though the scenes were more detailed and, um, bold, they'd been captivated by the characters and wished I'd had time to read more. (Always leave 'em wanting more, right?)
All in all, a very interesting evening. I'd be interested to hear from those of you who read romance -- what is it that makes a scene like this work for you as a reader? Are you more interested in physical inventiveness or emotional power or some combination of the two?