Thursday, June 02, 2011

Problems with Passion

While writing a romance novel, ELLEN WHYTE discovers that describing intimacy isn’t as easy as she thought

IT’S A NO-BRAINER that romance stories revolve around passion. Once you’ve settled on a plot that involves mutual-attraction-must-overcome-obstacle, unrequitted-passion-gets-a-break, or hate-at-first-sight-turns-to-love, you have to decide on how you’re going to handle the canoodling.

When I started writing Blackmail Bride, I wasn’t sure if I should do the Jane Austen thing and keep the hot stuff confined to a few bold looks and some awkward yet terribly significant silences, or whether I should emulate Jackie Collins and let it all hang out in graphic detail.

I was open to either option. Being of a practical turn of mind, I decided to go for what was more popular. I conducted my own beer poll by asking a few dozen friends which they preferred. Much to my surprise those who said they are not regular romance readers confided that they skip sex scenes. Those who are self-confessed romance addicts told me that details are a must. However, the caveat was that the scenes must be part of the story, in character, and tasteful.

Clearly there was no choice here: I wanted Blackmail Bride to appeal to romance fans, which meant I’d have to get down and dirty. In a classy way, of course.

As I had my story all mapped out, I thought adding in some sexy stuff wouldn’t be too difficult. I settled down to write and in the middle of the second chapter, on page 23 to be exact, landed my heroine Lucy in bed with Jack, the hero. Getting her there was a piece of cake, but once she was in the right position (pardon the pun), the scene froze.

To my horror my writing fell completely to pieces.

The first effort came out like a scene from Pamela, Samuel Richardson’s 18th-century heroine who finds herself totally helpless after her wicked noble boss takes away her shoes. After falling about laughing at the absurdity of it, I rewrote the scene and ended up with something that read like second section of the Kama Sutra, the bit that describes 64 types of sexual acts in an “insert slot A into tab B” style.

As Lucy and Jack were clearly having a problem, I decided it was research time. I picked out a dozen of my favourite romances, and leafed through them all. I then had to put them all back on the shelf because my taste runs to Austen, Daphne du Maurier, William Makepeace Thackeray and other classic writers. While they were masters at hinting about bedroom antics, severe censorship laws forbade them to go any further than the odd mention of a heaving bosom or a flushed look.

My romance-loving pals gave me a list of the authors they think handle sex well, and with that in hand I took myself off to a second-hand book fair, and treated myself to a massive haul of contemporary romance tales. And my, oh my, what a mixed bag it was!

On the principle that mass sales must offer a wealth of knowledge and information, I started with an armful of Mills & Boon novels. I was lucky that my first read was a jolly tale from Australia that had plenty of zip and a fun heroine. The second and the third stories were a huge disappointment. They lacked plot, characterisation, and even decent writing. How on earth that rubbish ever got published is beyond me. To my relief, the other half a dozen stories were competently written.

I then read a smorgasbord of stories from various publishers ranging from contemporary to paranormal, and from historical to erotic. Some of the tales were excellent, some were instantly forgettable, and others were absolutely awful. However, as quality wasn’t the issue at hand, I skipped lightly through the plots and concentrated on the ‘dirty’ bits.

My study was certainly an eye-opener. At one end of the scale were the authors who got stuck in exactly the same way I had but hadn’t bothered to try and overcome it. At the other were those who had a wonderful talent for smut.

It took me a while to realise that the middle ground was somewhat familiar. After some time I realised that style of passion emulated the classic tale by D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I have never liked Lawrence very much, but having revisited him, there’s no denying that he was an absolute whiz at passion! Take the first time in chapter six when the lady of the house accidentally comes across the gamekeeper having a wash: “He was naked to the hips, his velveteen breeches slipping down over his slender loins. And his white slim back was curved over a big bowl of soapy water, in which he ducked his head, shaking his head with a queer, quick little motion, lifting his slender white arms, and pressing the soapy water from his ears, quick, subtle as a weasel playing with water, and utterly alone.”

Deciding that this hot stuff was the goods, I had a good read about the affairs of the lady and her servant, and then sat down to get Lucy out of her frozen state and into Jack’s arms where she belonged. How well I succeeded is for you to tell me. What I can say is that learning to write rumpty-tumpty scenes has been terrific fun. On the next rainy afternoon when you’re bored, have a go at penning such scenes. I’m telling you, it’s an eye-opener of a learning curve.

Ellen Whyte’s Blackmail Bride is available at Ellen used her mother’s name “Normanda Whyte” because it sounds more romantic for a romance novel.

Reproduced from the April-June issue of Quill magazine


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think sex scenes by Jackie Collins, Jilly Cooper, Judith Krantz and Harold Robbins are rollickingly good!

Friday, April 15, 2011 7:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Linda said...

Hi Eric,
I just discovered your blog whilst looking for "good beginnings" links to put on my "into reading" web page for my senior students at my school in Singapore. I'm their librarian! Please put an RSS feed link on your blog!!
Great blog! (what's with the forward dates on your posts?)

Sunday, May 01, 2011 4:22:00 AM  

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