On Valentine’s Day, if I am currently working on a writing project, I start thinking about doing a romantic scene. It always seems like such an appealing idea—until I get started.
Writing a love scene is probably one of the hardest things for a novelist to do, because most of them are just hilariously inept or downright embarrassing pieces of drivel. When I was a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, our book editor would routinely take unwanted piles of the Advanced Review Copies (ARCs) that he got and pile them on our Freebie Table. People would paw through there for the good stuff. I usually got there when the dregs were left (because I was busy working, but that’s another story).
Once in a while we would take some of those romance novels with lofty themes, turn to the sex scenes and read them aloud to each other. This made for much hilarity because the writers often tried to use metaphors that were absurd (her twin towers of alabaster perfection) or just downright stupid. (He kissed her, she liked it; and he kissed some more until all their clothes were off.)
All those memories of horrid, lewd, foolish and poorly written love scenes made me reluctant to write them at all. I usually found myself in the habit of having the couple run to the bedroom, then, boom! The lights went off and next thing you knew they were enjoying cuddling in the morning sunlight. Such a scaredy cat I became. However, who wants to deliberately step into the limelight where readers laugh uproariously at your hard work?
Somewhere along the line I realized that running from the task is chickening out and it wouldn’t help me as a writer. If romantic love is an important part of the human experience, then I had no good reason to avoid it.
But how? I kept wondering and not getting any answers.
I should have found the answer in a class or asked one of the writing professors at the vaunted summer writers workshop I attended twice at the University of Iowa. Maybe taking it up with a read romance writer would have been a good idea. Alas, no, I toiled away solo.
Eventually, it was participation in a little Yahoo Groups mailing list that opened up my Victorian writing behavior. Several of the writers had dared to wade into the romance waters and didn’t get chewed up by the sharks in the process. Several good ideas jelled: don’t feel like you have to describe body parts that are best left imagined, don’t have anyone swooning or getting picked up and tossed on the bed (might sound romantic, but it reads like rape), and definitely never mention just how orgasm is achieved and who said something like “the earth moved for me.”
You simply take two people and get them doing what they usually like to go together: laugh, tease each other, utter words of genuine affection, and keep the darn lights low.
I still turn the lights off pretty quickly. Grown ups get the idea of what’s going on and how it will continue. I’ve never felt the need to describe the sexual climax. Look, it even reads as ridiculous right here on the blog. However, I never shy away from writing about feelings and strong emotion, which are the guts of any good novel.
In my second book for the Story Plant, Dateline: Atlantis I have a romantic triangle going on and have two sex scenes: one that hints at bad things to come, and another that’s as pleasant as eating a bowl of white chocolate ice cream with raspberries.
I chose to close a chapter about two lovers who have a problem committing to each other at the same time with a single paragraph. I ends like this:
“She slips into his arms, and they make love without effort, their bodies gliding together, their every move as natural as the rising of the dawn. Without a word, they seal their coupling with a promise, bounded in spirit, that they should never leave each other. (A gem) consecrates their love, and after exhausting themselves physically they drop into the sweetest sleep of their lives. The sleep of requited rapture.”
The phrase in parentheses is there to not spoil the plot for prospective readers.
As for my new work-in-progress (or WIP as we writer like to say), tentatively titled Sixty-four Carats, the main character is unfortunately dead. He never found love on this earth, but he has two nieces, twenty-three and twenty-one, who surely will have a few romantic adventures before all is finished. Plus, the uncle, who is quite engaged with the two women spiritually, will certainly see to it that they find happiness in love. Too bad I’m not yet at the point of writing a love on Valentine’s Day.
Would a quick short story do?
Lynn Voedisch is the author of The God’s Wife and Dateline: Atlantis.