Thursday, June 11, 2009

Love Scenes in Paranormal Romance

Okay this is a segue from Rebecca's great alpha post on Tuesday as a chat a little about the evergreen topic of sex/love scenes in paranormal romance. These days the two are sometimes synonymous in publishing so I'll be coming from a little bit of a different area.

Is it necessary? Not at all. Some readers think the smexier the better but you don't exactly have to delve into the land of TMI to give the full force of a love scene or the connection between the heroine and hero. With a little description of emotion and characterization, a sensuous love tale can be told without taking the reader completely out of the story with shock value.

Put yourself in reader's shoes when considering your story. Is a love scene necessary at all? Does it fit with the characters? Some paranormal romance and UF books put on the sex to give conflict (or as the obstacles themselves) but many a times I've seen the story fall completely flat due to forced sexual tension between the heroine and her love interest. One story even started right off the bat with a kickin' action scene only to fall on it's face once one of the love interest(s) entered the picture. Realistically, would you stop in the middle of a fight just to make oogle eyes at the hot guy? Would you drop kick aside your job just to hop in with the next pretty face? Probably not, unless you want to die with one last smile on your face.

Focusing on the Paranormal Romance genre for now, romance has always depicted a relationship between the hero and a heroine. The couple works to overcome obstacles so they can be together and walk off into the sunset with an HEA. With the rise of the paranormal bit, there is an addition of an otherworldly nature. A bit of our own world but much more extraordinary. The world is open with all sorts of goodie magical creatures like elves, wolves, shape shifters, vampires and more in a battle for good and evil. The human world interacts with the magical world and often times an allegory of humanity itself. Urban fantasy doesn't exactly focus on the relationship but can also feature a love scene or two as well as a romance for the backdrop of the main story which paints the world. Most romance readers expect the hero and heroine to get together eventually and "consummate" their relationship. Nowadays the door is open on the bedroom, as so many editors and agents point out, which can be a good and bad thing.

Good because you can reveal a lot about how the couple feels about each other. Through a love scene, their feelings about each other and love itself can be revealed through how they touch and relate to one another intimately. Some psychologists say that how a couple relates outside the bedroom is just as important (if not more) as to how they relate inside of the bedroom. This is true for romance characters as well. How does he look at her? How does she treat him in front of other people? I love a good amount of sexual tension between my h/h whether reading or writing. I love to see the chemistry build over the course of the story along with that friendship that cements the bond leading to a satisfying HEA. A love scene doesn't HAVE to be there for me to enjoy the story and sometimes a love scene can even kill a story for me if it's too much and too soon. Which leads us to the:

BAD side of open door bedroom scenes and sex heavy PR. Most times I just don't want know or hear about weeping/crying/seeping orifices. Instead of dragging me in it can pull me away from the story and I've heard some readers voice the same feeling. I like sexual tension as much as the next gal but I believe the tension can be achieved and fulfilled without getting too in your face as it builds over time. Some stories rely on bedroom scenes to advance the story and I think this is a grave mistake, unless you're going for a certain audience. Plots often fall flat and the reader ends up getting mad if they are sold one story and end up getting something completely different. I've had this happen to me recently and I was not a happy reader.

Sexual tension and love scenes can't be used to advance the plot or as a way to skip ahead to advance the relationship if you are going for the romance, paranormal or fantasy audience. Every house needs a foundation to stand on and the story itself is the house. The characters, conflict, et al build that foundation for the story to stand on. If these are forsaken for random occurrences just to justify love scenes, that foundation is going to fall apart.

On the other hand, love scenes can still be achieved even if the bedroom is closed. Using wording to show the closeness of the couple can suffice even if you give a short summary of the couple finally coming together. I like to involve my readers body, mind and heart when they read one of my romances and I love it when authors do this in books I'm reading. More than just seeing how the h/h's body parts react to one another, I want to know how they feel. How soft their touch is, how tender they are with one another and how passionate and sweet the kisses are. Each character is different and how they treat others, especially the ones they come to care about, will unravel throughout the story with the love scene being a culmination of everything coming together.

A little goes a long way and with dialogue and some clever description, an author can have their readers on the edge of their seat with racing hearts and heated blood pressure without having to go completely into a drag out knockdown play by play. ;-)


Rebecca Royce said...

This is a great, wonderful post.
Its such a complicated decision, to write one, to not write one, does the plot call for one, just how much of one? And then some of my favorite series have basically become porn books, which is fine, but its strange to go from basically a PG read to that overnight.
Thanks for bringing up this important topic.

Rae Lori said...

Thanks Rebecca!

I personally love sensual romance more than the erotica type of books and also I know how it is to feel pressured to have to "write hotter". I tried it once and I didn't feel comfy. It didn't feel like me.

I know some other authors were going through this as well and I thought I would write something to help them see that they don't have to write what isn't comfortable for them. The same effect can be achieved in different ways (readers would love the variety!) and personally I love the more soft and sensual descriptions to define such complex characters.

Diana Gabaldon does this SO well I think! Wish I could borrow part of her brain lol.

Sandra Sookoo said...

Great post! I can recommend my Foodie's Guide. Sexual tension with no sex ;-) But I'm biased LOL

Anyway, I like you. I recently bought an ebook that was billed a paranormal romance with no rating. Reading it became a chore when it veered off into stuff I'm not comfortable reading. And what was more, it didn't have anything to do with the plot and didn't affect the outcome of the book, which was a sorry enough event in itself.

The WIP I'm dealing with now is at 70K words and still no sex scene. Why? Characters aren't ready, plot doesn't call for it, and the jury's still out on whether I'll even put on in or not. It was easy to decide on the previous book, but not so much with this one.

It's a writer's/reader's choice. I just wish the vague ratings on books could be shored up a little :-)

Annie Nicholas said...

I agree with you Sandra on the vague ratings. Many writers wonder what constitutes erotica vs erotic vs steamie. I know I do. I wish there was a guide book with all the rules laid out. Even when a writer tries to sell their MS how do they how to bill it to the editors?

Rae, great post. I've written every level of hotness but it depends on what my characters ask for. Presently my Sci-fi is tell me lots of tension but really where can you have sex on a crowded spaceship? Maybe they'll figure it out for me. LOL

J Hali said...

Rae, great post and I'll tell Purple and Peter to behave when they come in for a talk tomorrow.

Do I think readers should be told how 'hot' what they're buying might be? Yes. It should be their choice. Better ratings may help. When readers buy from certain well branded publishers - they know what they're getting when they surf into that house.

No author should ever feel pressured to write sex because someone else does. That's just wrong.

Very thoughtful and well done, Rae.

Cathleen Ross said...

Great post, Rae. For me, the sex should grow out of the characterisation and paranormal heroes are the sexiest on earth and elsewhere, but no one should be pressured to write that way.

Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...

All I can say Rae is, Amen! I'm always on the lookout for when someone will come forward and say what you said and look at it - many others of the same opinion coming out of the woodwork.

Nothing kills a story more for me than gratuitous sex!

Sexual tension is needed in a romance, but consummation? No. It depends on your characters and your story.

Another friend of mine recently tackled something similar on her blog and this is what I told her:

Put the sex scene in if the story calls for it, and it will be different for every story because it pertains to the characters and every character is different. Same goes for every story.

The difference many need to understand here is that sex when well-used in the story, like a plot point for example, can be a great tool. There's a difference between sex and a love scene inherent to a story. Sex is about the mechanics, while a love scene has the mechanics as the backdrop for emotions and character involvement. That's why it can look like a writer dropped a gratuitous sex scene in a story, because it has no involvement with the story per se.

It then comes to mind that the way your characters are portrayed will also call for the type/frequency of love/sex scenes in the book. A story about a character who is a dominant, while not erotic in nature, will need some in-your-face sex scenes with the door wide open. A story about a regular girl and a regular guy will have a more toned-down sex scene. Think Basic Instinct versus Maid in Manhattan.

It all depends on your story and your characters, and this every writer should know before penning down a sex scene.



Anonymous said...

As a writer of open door sex scenes, I try to make sure they tie into the plot and are sensual and not pornographic.

It depends on writer and story. I've read romances with implied sex scenes and thought they were wonderful. I've read hard core novels and thought they were trashy.

Great post.


Rae Lori said...

Thanks guys! Great comments here. I couldn't agree with you guys more. :-)