I readily admit that I am not very good at sexiness, in my writing or in real life. I steer clear of book covers with half-naked people on them (I’m lookin’ at you, Fabio), and Magic Mike or 50 Shades of Gray hold absolutely no appeal. After getting a review or two about how my characters’ relationships and interactions are not steamy enough, I began to get a little more than frustrated. What if the author didn’t want to have her characters get into sexy romps? What if she wanted to explore intimacy through non-sexual interactions?
Immediately I began venting to my best friend about the issue and then posted on a women’s writing group that I am part of on Facebook. I expected to get some responses from people who agreed with others saying to suck it up and cave into society’s demand for clandestine moments and characters exploring their “inner goddesses,” but I was shocked to find that many writers agreed with me and that the overarching message was to stay true to myself and my characters.
Before I am a writer, I am a reader, and when I write, I keep myself first and foremost in mind. What would I want to read? What turns me off as a reader? I’m not a complete prude, I like reading romantic scenes and intimate moments between characters that obviously care deeply for each other. If those scenes include sex, that’s fine. For me, as long as the emotional connection is there, I’m usually more than okay with it. What I cannot stand is gratuitous sex or violence in a work with no other purpose than to arouse or scandalize the reader. Recently I decided to read some paranormal romance in preparation for a series I intend to write in the future. I was incredibly disappointed by the series I downloaded as a bundle. Like clockwork every thirty or forty pages there was an erotic scene. Rolling my eyes, I read through plenty of moaning and groaning, but what made it awkward wasn’t the acts themselves, it was that the characters could have been anyone. It was as if the scenes were written in a vacuum with blank-faced characters. If the reader cannot connect with your characters and want to share in the intimacy, why bother writing these scenes?
I should outright say the reason I tend not to write sex scenes in my books. It isn’t because I’m a prude or think sex should never appear in novels, it just never seems to fit in what I’m writing. I enjoy writing the lead up or those tender private moments, but once your characters are in the heat of the moment, can they really express themselves enough to further plot or character development? My main thought is: sex is not the be all and end all of romance or intimacy. You can have sex without romance, so why not have romance without sex?
Some other avenues of intimacy to explore are obvious, kissing, cuddling, undressing, touching, embracing. What are your characters thinking as these things happen? Does s/he enjoy these things? Are they doing them to please their partner? How are they doing them? With urgency, slowly, passionately, coolly? How a character does something says just as much as why they are doing it. Why not play with different forms of love? There is sexual love, romantic love, and platonic love, so you aren’t limited to just couples. Friends can be intimate with one another as easily as couples. When you’re upset, does your friend wrap their arms around you or speak close and quietly to make you feel better?
Romantic moments are as much about sexuality as they are about intimacy. They don’t necessarily have to be the same thing.
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