Friday, October 28, 2011

How much sex does your romance story need?

I don't participate often, but I read a lot of forums in the Amazon Kindle romance group. Reading them is like watching reality TV crossed with a documentary. The latest one that nabbed my attention was a forum asking if readers prefer one sex scene vs multiple sex scenes per book. Discussions ranged from closed door to graphic to multiple scenes potentially making it erotica. Once again I was struck by the variety in reader preferences.  And once again, I was confronted by the inability of any one author to please all readers in a single book, perhaps not even in multiple books.

Honestly, when I write a romance I never stop to think about how much sex is in it. If asked, I would have to work at counting the scenes in any specific book I wrote (though I have a friend who does this for entertainment). I don't keep track because what would be the point? One book might require one scene. Another book might require seven or eight. To me, my characters indulge the urge when it seems right for them to do so. If I have created a situation where they desperately need each other and believe that, then they are not likely going to delay gratification for 300 pages.

I am not that kind of writer.

I am also not the kind of person who would enjoy books where delays are artificial and done to draw out the tension beyond what real humans would be able to stand and remain sane. My characters are mature adults. The older a person gets, the less they tend to play waiting games. So my older heroes and heroines tend to do what they want more frequently and more quickly than maybe younger characters might. However, character age is not the indicator for me either. Instead it is whatever seems most natural for that person's nature and situation.

In Dating A Metro Man, Jenna's and Seth's relationship is based on sex. Seth uses their sexual relationship to keep Jenna close to him while trying to convince her to love him back the way he loves her. Initially, the physical seems to be all they have. Seth hates the situation and spends most of the book trying to change it. If I had to make a guess without counting, I would say there are probably more sex scenes in that book than any other I have written, but if it's true, it's because sex was the basis of the main character's initial and tentative connection.

In Dating A Saint, Lauren and Jim go through a lot of turmoil before consummating their physical relationship. They have complicated lives and a lot of decisions to make before the connection between them could be safely expressed in a physical way. I did not shoot to achieve first time "romance book perfect" sex either. Lauren and Jim have to emotionally overcome a lot to be able to be in each other's lives that way.

In The Right Thing, the heroine has not had sex in a decade. She is over 50. When they finally get to the sexual relationship point, the scene is pages and pages long and took pages and pages to happen. It is paced slowly because the heroine needs to go slowly and the hero knows that. I would guess this is the longest sex scene I have written to date, not that "longest scene" was a goal either.

Just for a counter-balance, Dating Dr. Notorious has the shortest scene, but could possibly tie for the most scenes. In that book, Ben and Regina are both just those kind of people who make no excuses for their needs.

One theme that emerged from those commenting in the Kindle forum was that sex between the characters had to "further the story" to be of interest to most readers. Viewpoints on what that meant varied greatly, but the gist was that if the sex scenes didn't show the developing emotional relationship between the two characters, the reader felt cheated. Some readers commented that if a book had several scenes (like 7 or 8), it should be labelled "erotica" so readers would know it was mostly just sex. I don't agree with the labeling, but maybe it explains the variety of readers my work draws if that is a predominant thought in reader's minds.

I would like to think I use the sexual relationship between my characters to show they are getting emotionally closer--more intimate--in every way. In my writing, a sexual relationship shows the growing intimacy and is not just a reward at the end for my characters finally getting things emotionally right. Instead, it is laughter and experimentation and comfort and thrills and a metaphor for living life. Initial sex can be awkward or the most amazing moment. Repeat lovemaking can be amazing or fall off into awkward fast. That's just the nature of "sex".  Personally, I don't know how to pull off showing a real relationship between mature adults with one single scene on which their entire physical connection hangs. That might work for 16 year olds, but not for characters over 50.

Good romance is about emotion and making a loving connection. Good sex scenes reveal the depth of each character and hopefully a believable emotional connection between them.

And above all, at least in a romance, good sex scenes should show love.

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