Let’s talk about sex! Most romance novels have some level of heat. They can be ’sweet’ reads that end in one or two kisses that fade to black, or they can be ’steamy’ with open bedroom explicit scenes. They have one thing in common though: the heroine always gets off. Always. It’s about her pleasure. Her wants. Her needs. Her desires. Something that cis het women can’t always agree happens in their real lives.
As the author, Lareign Ward, states: "But I think the real issue Society in General has with romance novels is that they’re books centered on a woman’s desires, including her sexual ones, and they’re usually written by women. When done right, that sort of thing can feel revolutionary."
But how do you go about writing sex? There’s plenty written about bad sex scenes - including awards for the worst. The Guardian’s 2018 list included James Frey and Haruki Marukami. I expected better, right?
What makes a great sex scene? Your 5-step quick go-to guide (ahem!):
1) Know your heat level. A low level heat novel isn’t looking for graphic scenes that span pages and pages. And a scorcher novel isn’t looking for chaste kisses and closed bedroom doors. A book doesn’t classify as erotica unless the sexual relationship is the focus. In novels with high heat, the sex adds to the relationship -there’s a difference. Level 1-2 tends to focus on kissing with either no sex or fade to black. Levels 3-4 starts to move into the more detailed sex scenes, with erotica as its own category. As a romance writer, you’ll have to identify your heat level for prospective publishers.
2) Shiver with antici.........................pation. If they’re doing it from page one with no build-up (emotional conflict), the reader will be bored. You want the reader to be longing with you. Check out the Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz. What’s sexy is the stop-start, the will-they won’t they, the almost but not quite. But, if they are doing it left, right and centre, make sure there’s a strong emotional plot driving the series (Sleeping Beauty’s evolution, Anne Rice writing as A.N. Roquelare).
3) No purple-prosed euphemisms. Some of the worst I can think of: pulsating manhood, hunk of burning love, love sausage, meat injection. Pretty sure you’ve encountered worse. Again, check your heat level. Hard works great for most levels, cock, for those on the 3-4 scale.
4) Connection. If there’s no emotional connection, you’ve written a porn scene.
5) Using your senses. Sex is a sensual experience - literally all of your senses are on high-alert. This is the time to roll out your sensual writing. Taste, touch, smell, sight and sound...all important.
Writing sex is no different from writing any other scene. All the same principles apply - does it further the conflict of the novel? Does it reveal character? Does it make things more complicated for the characters? Yes? Then job done.
Maybe get a big glass of wine first though!
Are you horrified that I made such a comment? Where’s the motivation? The inspiration?
Relax, it’s here. But, this time of year is shocking for making really BIG resolutions/promises/goals. Like, I want to lose 25 pounds, or kayak across a glacial fjord (is that a thing?), and, of course, I want to write my first romance novel.
Here’s the deal: writing your first romance novel is a BIG thing. If it weren’t a big thing, everyone would be doing it. It’s Everest to the novice climber, the Comrades Marathon to the Parkrun plodder, and Masters’ Math to the eighth-grader.
So, what happens? This particular resolution/promise/goal gets shuffled along to next year, and the next, until, whaddayaknow? you NEVER write the book.
Is it the wrong goal? Almost, never. It’s the approach.
How do you eat an elephant? One spoonful at a time. Ditto, writing a romance novel.
Try break it down (and I mean really break it down):
No-one’s asking for you to whack out the entire first draft in two weeks. But 500 words a day? A thousand? Yeah. Doable.
Ask any tortoise - slow and steady wins the race and beats anyone still procrastinating.
By tackling the monumental task of actually writing the book in smaller steps, you’ll find that instead of putting it off, you’ll be looking forward to it.
Lists are popular. Five ways to leave your lover. Ten great gift ideas for the boyfriend who has no clue. Three sure-fire kick-starters for your relationship. When you squizz through the lists you’re hoping there’s no bait-and-switch. For the gift ideas, you’d be pissed if there was a suggestion to help more around the house. Yes, it could be thoughtful but is it strictly a gift? That would be a negative, Houston.
So, how come I keep reading lists like, 2018’s top ten romance list, or the best sex scenes in romance novels ever, and finding books listed that are not romance. Sure, they may have romantic elements, but they’re not a romance.
I recently read a manuscript, submitted to a romance publisher (the hint is in their title), that had no romance whatsoever. None. Did I suggest they accept or R and R? Of course not. It was a solid do-not-pass-go decline. This writer could have the best writing style in the world, but it was not a romance.
And, just before Christmas, there was an argument on Romancelandia Twitter about a writer who thought that a romance novel didn’t need to have a HEA in order to be a romance novel. What’s wrong with that? Um, everything.
There seems to be some confusion…if there’s sex, it’s a romance, if there’s some sort of yearning between two people, it’s a romance. Yes. And no.
What makes a romance novel a romance novel? Simple: the novel must be around the love relationship between two people which must have an emotionally satisfying ending, either a Happily Ever After (HEA) or a Happy For Now (HFN). If it isn’t about the relationship and the ‘happy’ ending, then it’s not a romance.
What about ‘Me Before You’? Is that a happy ending for the couple? Not a romance.
What about ‘The Notebook’? Is that a happy ending for the couple? Not a romance.
What about ‘Lace’? Is that about the development of a love relationship between two people? No, it’s about someone looking for their mother. Not a romance. Yes, there are romantic relationships within the novel but that’s not what the novel’s about.
Much like you wouldn’t expect to get to the end of a detective story and not find out whodunnit, you wouldn’t expect to get to the end of a romance and not have your two characters in some sort of relationship happy space.
Want to find out more about how to write a romance novel? The next course starts 25 JANUARY 2019.
HEA ROMANCE WRITING
Everything you need to know to write your own happily ever after.