Thursday, February 14, 2008

The High Holy Day of Romance

It's late, and I'm very tired after a stressful day. One of my cousins is a student at Northern -- he's okay, but we couldn't get hold of him this afternoon for a while after the shooting. As I said, stressful.

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?



Anonymous said...

I always find that it's the characters that matter to me - what they're thinking, what they're yearning for etc. So, I'm always more interested in the emotional power of love scene than who puts what where... Though, I love laughter and fun in love scenes too, so if the physical inventiveness will lead to fun and/or laughter AND emotional intensity...

Okay, okay, I quite obviously want it all :-)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

First off, glad to hear your cousin's okay.

Secondly, about romance... it's all about the character. I'll say that about pretty much any genre, though. I want to relate to my characters and see life through their eyes.

Thus, the emotional part is extremely important. And yet, the blocking is, too. Without the physical movement, the reader doesn't know WHY the character is feeling this, and so we can't feel it along with her (usually) or him.

Edittorrent said...

You know, I always thought that character was more compelling, too, but the reaction to one of the sex scenes I read made me wonder if those more daring and unusual moments in a sex scene might be what creates the true sizzle.

I'm not talking about a standard kiss-touch-missionary sex scene. When I got to one of the details in that scene, the crowd became very still and you could tell I had their complete interest as that part of the scene unfolded. But they didn't know the characters very well because this was just an excerpt. So that made me wonder.

Unhinged said...

Emotional impact, definitely. I read for the characters and I wants LOTS of sexual tension, a lot of yearning, obsession and legitimate misunderstandings about each other. The longer the writer makes me wait, the better. It might make me mad, but it'll keep me reading until the consummation.

Genella deGrey said...

In a romance, the ‘type’ of sex (position, indoors, outdoors, on the bed, on a table, etc) isn’t necessarily what makes it work or not for me – But the discoveries they make, about themselves or each other whether emotional or physical. *Especially* the first time the couple makes love.
PS - I'm glad your family is safe, Theresa!

Natasha Moore said...

When I'm writing my erotic romance sex scenes everything seems to be about the details and the characters reactions to them. It's almost like things go in slow motion so that the reader gets to experience every little thing the characters see, feel, taste, smell, hear.

PatriciaW said...

Emotional impact does it. That with a little unusual which can put the scene over the top. Doesn't matter whether it's inspy or traditional. (I've not read much erorom so I can't really comment except to say that I can handle graphic when the emphasis is on the emotion and not the body parts or specific techniques.)

I mean, no matter how much emotion is invested, there are only so many ways to excite with a basic kiss-touch-missionary scene. Maybe it's not so much that it's unusual to me but that it is to the characters and therefore, the excitement in their POV brings excitement to me as a reader.