Soft, Hard, Harder

When you think romance novel, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Sex, right?

Now don’t get distracted visualizing.

As the title suggests, sex scenes come in different levels. They can even lean toward a softer side, the more graphic content eliminated. Each has their place in the pages you write. So let’s look at intensity, and what you might bring to your manuscripts; which I’ve learned from reading romance, research and (brows bouncing) experience.

Most writers have a preference and style to their sex scenes, depending on their genre. When I first started reading romance novels my go to author was Nora Roberts. If you’re a fan, she has a way of making us care about characters quickly and deeply. When her stories progress and hero and heroine are intimate, Ms. Roberts blankets us in a warmth, a caress, or a look using words that elude to what’s happening as main characters wrap themselves in each other. She skips over minute details that would be too graphic. Obviously, you know there’s nudity at some point, but she presents it in a way your grandmother who gets offended by a Victoria’s Secret commercials wouldn’t have a heart attack if she read the scene. On the other hand, she sometimes ramps up the intensity depending on the characters nature.

In Lori Foster’s, Men Who Walk the Edge of Honor series, scenes are a little steamier. The alpha males are intense in physique, mannerisms, and sexuality. Foster’s novels add descriptive instances adding more depth in sex scenes, baring more skin and, more heat than a PG-13 movie. When writing a sex scene use adverbs with more grit and aggression to get up close and personal with the sexy action verbs. This allows readers imaginations to overtake them making a cold shower or a romp with a significant other sound like a good idea. Be careful though, you don’t want to overuse adverbs. If you read any of the romance novels or series I’ve mentioned, in this or previous blogs, you’ll notice that the authors I’ve referenced use adverbs as little as possible. You want to show not tell. Look at this sentence. “Jacob was wildly out of control, as he took Charlotte.” Instead, omit “wildly” and describe what’s happening. “Jake was out of control. With no thought of time or place, he ripped open Charlotte’s shirt and pressed fully against her, desperate to feel her heated skin. His fingers wove through her hair and held tight as he yanked her head back and devoured her lips like he would go mad if he didn’t have her.” I think you can see how using just the word, wildly limits your creativity.

The next stop on the sexy train is Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Most romance readers know what I’m talking about, even the common lay person. Erotic romance novels like this have been taboo a long time and for good reason. Words on the page are stronger, harsher and can be offensive to readers who aren’t used to the subject matter. Some instances delve into BDSM and D/s (Dominance and submission). The details are so specific there’s nothing left to the readers imagination or in the least are so taboo they make readers uncomfortable. Nonetheless, the draw to the genre increases. Due to the stir that Fifty Shades caused, publishing houses are creating PG-13 covers drawing in broader spectrums of readers that won’t fear reading the hard core romance novel at their local Starbucks or in a doctor’s waiting room.

If we delve a little deeper into the examples above and look at the plethora of other romance novels out there, the sex scene is character driven; not solely on the page for sex’s sake. If you write an insipid man your female lead doesn’t enjoy being with, do you make the male character strong and commanding in the bedroom or a plain old missionary style man that she compares to a wet noodle? Pair violence with sex plus your main character, a scene becomes a catalyst vital to a protagonist’s character. The reader has to understand what kind of man is infringing on your heroines well being. The HEA (happily ever after) the reader expects has been turned upside down, creating conflict that tears at your heart and leaves readers wondering if the hero will scale the highest mountain to reach his soul mate, even if that mountain is an emotional jungle that resides in the heroines mind.

Your sex scenes are about the story you’re trying build. Use sex as an integral part moving the story forward. If you want to be soft, hard, or harder, if you need to express characters intensions, pick your words carefully. Ignore limits. Don’t be afraid to write what’s taboo either. If you’ve never written a sex scene, the first time is always the most nerve wracking.

On my website, Writers Canvas on May 10, I’ll introduce you to Jacob and Charlotte, so you can see how they meet. On May 17, 24th, and 31st I’ll show you the different levels of sexual content using Jake and Charlotte as their relationship grows. In the meantime, you can see why I feel, that just because something is classified erotica doesn’t mean it’s all about the sex, in my August 4th, 2013 entry.

Happy Writing!


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  1. Writing sex for sex’s sake, just as inserting violence for violence sake because you can, is gratuitous and detracts from the story. Interesting the “adverbs” part you wrote above. I never thought about that, but adverbs are a romance writer’s worst enemy. As Phil said above, what the reader imagines can be more powerful than explicit step-by-step actions.

    • vicky on May 10, 2014 at 3:20 pm
    • Reply

    Great blog wendi! I used to read romances in junior high. Mostly they were bodice rippers but they were titallating to me. You’re also right that i felt close to the characters so the love scenes were intimate even thoigh they weren’t graphic. Looking forward to following up with your writer’s canvas entries.

    • Sue Remisiewicz on May 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm
    • Reply

    I once read that Alistair MacLean left sex out of his action novels because he believed it slowed the pacing down. In the romance novel, I think sex does the opposite and helps to set the pace — “soft, hard, or harder” as you say.

      • Wendi on May 10, 2014 at 12:19 pm
      • Reply

      I think it can do both. It’s a shame he would limit his options.

  2. Ninety percent of good sex occurs between the ears.

      • Wendi on May 10, 2014 at 7:31 am
      • Reply

      I’d say that is an important percentage. Thanks Phil.

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