This post is prompted by comments Laura Vivanco made to my blog of yesterday.
Laura: thank you for the referral to this morning's Romancing the Blog here.
I agree with what Wendy Crutcher is saying. The success of erotic romance has raised the overall heat level of romance in general. Unfortunately, many writers (and editors) think they can capitalize on the trend by dropping a couple of sex scenes into a novel.
Wendy's post described one of the two biggest mistakes writers can make. She talked about reading a sex scene that was "very jarring. It didn’t fit the tone, or . . . the characters’ personalities."
The first mistake a writer can make is by trying to throw a random sexual encounter into an existing manuscript. Trying to spice up a novel, the writer picks what looks like a good spot and drops a generic, cookie-cutter sex scene in. The scene doesn't fit and, like Wendy, the reader is pulled out of the story by the incongruity of it.
Laura touched on the second mistake, which is found at the opposite end of the spectrum. In this error, you have a writer who is so uncomfortable writing sex scenes that s/he builds an almost unbearable level of sexual tension, but never pays off, leaving the readers feeling cheated and angry.
When you create a lot of sexual tension, you need to pay off in a big way. Think of Maddie and David in the late '80s television show Moonlighting.
For those of you who weren't fans, Moonlighting was the comedy drama that made Bruce Willis a star. He played David Addison, a detective, who finds his agency owned by a supermodel who has been cheated out of her fortune by a crooked business manager. The model, Maddie Hayes, was played by Cybill Shepherd.
The sexual tension between Maddie and David was almost unbearable. Week after week, viewers wondered if they would ever "do it." Finally, in the finale of the third season, they did consummate their passion--in a spectacular manner that involved sweeping things off a table and pursuing each other across the floor. It was a payoff in a big way.
But, once the sexual tension was gone, the show fell apart. Although the series was renewed for two more seasons, the show had lost its raison d'etre. The program ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.
I mention Moonlighting because it's a perfect example of what I was talking about last night. Without the sexual tension to sustain the show, the series needed to find a new way to establish a different kind of tension. Unfortunately, the writers never managed to develop that new tension.
Mechanical sex scenes are about as interesting as reading an instruction manual: "Insert Part A into Part B and pound into place." Yuck. It drives me crazy to see writers wasting great opportunities to advance the plot and plumb their characters' depths.
When are you more relaxed or inclined to share intimate secrets than after making love? A post-coital sex scene is a terrific opportunity for a hero and heroine to learn important facts about each other or about the story.
Writers are trained to remove any scene that does not further the plot. This stricture should apply to sex scenes, too. They should NOT be periods of time out. Don't end the chapter with the sex scene; embellish it. Keep your reader reading instead of skipping over endless mechanical descriptions.
And, before I leave this subject, take a look at Laura's post today over on Teach Me Tonight here. She has a great post on the differences among book cover art in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.