Friday, April 5, 2013

Putting the Sizzle in Steamy Scenes (Part One)

Shakespeare could get away with reducing Romeo and Juliet’s wedding night to a few lines of dialogue and a morning kiss goodbye, but in a world where movies and television are full of sex, it takes a bit more to satisfy a modern audience looking for "steamy scenes." With that in mind, I’d like to share with you an article I wrote several years ago that is still relevant today. Part One this month, and Part Two next month. J

So how do you get beyond what one writer calls the "blush factor" and create passion on the page without resorting to pornography? How do you know when to be explicit and when to draw the veil?

Being of rather high blush-ability myself, I asked a group of burgeoning romance writers for input. Their feedback includes some great tips to bear in mind.

First of all, writer Janet Franklin pointed out how important sensuality is to the creation of mood for these scenes:

Writing steamy scenes is a very intense experience. I find that putting on a romantic CD really helps get things rolling. Then I might light a few scented candles and close my eyes to focus on my characters. I let them talk to me about what they want to happen, what their deepest wishes are, what their fantasies are. I then think about how they would go about fulfilling and getting those wishes fulfilled. I also focus on their previous relationship and experiences together. For me, steamy scenes need to be gradually approached as the characters woo each other. (Unless, of course, you're going for the instant "lust in the dust" aspect, which has merits of its own.)

As a romance reader, I look for all my senses to be involved. I look for the romance of the act, not the physical blow-by-blow (no pun intended) of what goes where. Steamy scenes are an important part of romantic fiction; I think an author owes it to her readers to go beyond lights out, fade to black. But it takes a poet to bring those scenes to life, to heart, to soul. And that's the true mark of a romance author--to bring her readers into the intimacy of the scene in such a way that they don't feel like voyeurs, but interested participants. Don't forget the other senses as you worry about touch.

Jennifer Turner offered some good concrete advice as well:

When I got to the hot scenes in my book, I read books that I knew offered such scenes. From them I picked the parts I liked best, reworded them, and using the 'personalities' of my Characters, blended it into my own scene. Also, I read somewhere that most editors hate the word MOAN in a sex scene. They say it makes them think the person moaning is in pain, not ecstasy. Plus, I think one of the key things to remember, is making all action believable, like say, it wouldn't be believable to have the Hero carrying the Heroine through the woods while kissing her and trying to get a hand down her shirt. He'd probably run into a tree and drop her on her butt. Another thing, there should be dialogue during the encounter, at one point or another anyway. People in real life don't just foreplay, but they speak to each other, murmuring endearments, especially in those first dozen or so encounters.

The above advice is important to remember, but realize that it is subjective. While some editors may hate moaning characters, there is still a lot of moaning going on in published literature—therefore it is not a universal thing. Check the guidelines for a particular venue before submitting, just like you do for any other genre--and follow them slavishly. They are there for a reason.

Writing sex today is not an easy thing. The days of bodice ripping and heaving bosoms are now passé for most readers. Although I personally see nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned romance, the reading populace in general are often more progressive in their tastes. It is not enough to fade to black at first contact. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, "fade to black" was originally a cinema term for a scene where the director literally did just that—had his cameraman iris in to a black screen. The physical aspects of the scene were left strictly to the imagination. Traditionally, romance writers in general treated sex the same way. But as tastes have changed, more explicit detail is expected.

However, full out graphics must be handled with sensitivity. The lead in is almost as important as the final consummation. Wynelda-Ann Deaver offers the following advice about creating atmosphere, with a sample of just how important foreplay can be:

In order to get to the point where I can actually write a steamy scene, I do a couple of things first. One of them is to write a dance scene, whether I use it or not. For me dancing is so sensual, so primal that all my inhibitions dissolve with the song. I have "soundtracks" to my writing, and pick the songs that I write certain scenes to very carefully. The following scene was written to Meatloaf’s "I’d Do Anything for Love (But I won’t do That)" from Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell. I love that song…can sink into the beauty and romance of it:

"Well, their singer has agreed to stay on for a couple of weeks. Until they can find a replacement, at least." Cole sat down next to Lacey, draping his arm over her shoulder.

The contact felt right, if not exactly easy. Lacey could feel the warmth of his arm through her tee shirt, and it sent a thrill through her.

"They’ll be practicing in a couple. Want to stay and listen?" Cole played with a strand of her blonde hair absently.

Lacey turned to look in his eyes. They were pensive, lost in thought. "Sure."

The band was good. Lacey found herself bouncing along with the songs. When they started a rendition of "Satisfaction," Lacey started humming along with them.

Cole smiled. The song summed up his feelings at the moment. "Shall we dance?"

"But there’s no one else," Lacey said.

"Exactly. We’ll have much more elbow room this way."

Grinning, Lacey allowed him to pull her up from her chair and followed him onto the dance floor. It felt silly, to be dancing in a club without the camouflage of other couples. More exposed.

Soon, the eyes that might be watching no longer mattered. Cole spun her around, brought her back in close to him. His hands were firm on her waist, bringing her in as close as he could. Branding her. Lacey snaked her arms around his neck. A slow, secret smile teased her lips. It was deliciously wicked to be in his arms, his body moving against hers. She could feel his breath, wanted to make it her own.

The band went smoothly into another song. Cole tightened his grip on her hips as she arched her back and leaned into the song. He wanted to feel the expanse of bare midriff that she revealed, but was afraid to get in too deep. Her dancing was a slow seduction, bringing him to the edge of control.

He slid a hand up her back, guiding her back up to him. She was humming in his ear.

Cole dipped his head, caught her lip gently in his teeth. He breathed in her gasp, slid his tongue gently against her lips. "Lacey?" His voice was quiet, shook with need.

"If you apologize again," Lacey whispered, "I’ll have to hurt you." She reached up and brought his head down to hers. Took him in a kiss that branded him as hers.

"Sing for me," he breathed against her lips.

Lacey looked deep into his eyes. Trusted the warmth, the heat she found in them. The band was playing an old song, one of her favorites. Still, she remained undecided.

His hips moved against hers. "Princess, please."

Softly, she sang for him. Only for him. Their bodies moved as one, she could feel his heart beat against her chest. She knew instinctively that he would demand more from her. More than she had ever given before. Possibly more than she was willing to give.

She barely knew him.

She knew him all too well.

Her voice gained strength. With a growl of satisfaction Cole slid his hands up her back, bringing her even closer. He wanted to shout for joy when she framed his face in her hands, her voice strong and true.
She hadn’t noticed that the singer on stage was now silent. That Lacey was the song, and the music followed her.

Neither of them noticed Tag walk into the club. He watched with narrowed eyes his baby sister making love on the dance floor with a man that he didn’t know. Saw her utter captivation.

Heard her sing. Truly sing. He hadn’t heard Lacey sing in…forever. Her voice was powerful, full of hurt and hunger and vulnerability and power. Perfect.

The bartender who had taken her in back the night before came up to Tag. "Can I help you, Sir?"

Tag shook his head. "I’ve already found what I was looking for." He turned and left his sister in Cole Haggerty’s arms.

Lacey smiled shyly at Cole as the music ended. "Perfect," he whispered. Then bent his head to claim her lips.

Scattered clapping from the stage brought Lacey out of his arms quickly. She could feel herself blushing bone deep.

Cole swore softly. He needed another cold shower, damn it.

---- From Princess, By Wynelda-Ann Deaver

The only other trick I have up my sleeve for writing steamy scenes is really odd. Sometimes the only way I can get over the blush factor is to write the scene on brightly colored construction paper. It seems to free my mind from its hang-ups.

Tune in next month for Part Two.

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