Sunday, 25 May 2014

Writing Love Scenes


There aren’t that many writers who don’t like writing action scenes or descriptive scenes. But few things give writers the jitters more than having to write love scenes. They can prove troublesome even for the more experienced writers.
Buy why? Surely they’re not that difficult?
The answers to these questions depend on the writer, the story and the ever-changing writing landscape. The difficulties come in various guises.
Firstly, many writers just aren’t into writing about the love and sex and would rather bypass it than try to even string any description together. They would much rather concentrate on action or violence or something else entirely. It’s just not for them.
And more often than not, when we have zero interest in something, we have zero interest in writing about it. I fall into this category simply because love scenes bore me. I’m not interested in reading it and I don’t want to write too much about it. This is why I have zero interest in romance stories.
Unless you are specifically writing a romance story, you’ll find that love scenes aren’t really a necessity. They often serve only to titillate the reader or act as a “filler” to prop up the story and fill a page or two. Movies do exactly the same thing.
Those writers who are not interested in love scenes instead hint at what might happen between the characters, thus leaving the readers to their own imaginations. This is a preferable alternative that works well.
Other writers choose to ignore the obligatory love scene altogether and just get on with the story. Unless the story absolutely demands the scene, why bother writing one? Get on with the story.
Other writers are just too shy to write love or sex scenes because they know that their nearest and dearest may read what they’ve written, and that might prove embarrassing. What will Auntie Mildred think? What will your kids say? What will your mother say? It leaves the writer feeling uncomfortable, however the way around this is to remember that love and sex is part of life; it’s perfectly natural, so it’s just as natural to write about.
Something else to think about is that love scenes can also be annoying. And that’s because too often they sound very cheesy and cliché ridden. Love and sex scenes are always in danger of becoming caricature; something that ends up reading like a Barbara Cartland romance novel. No writer wants to be ridiculed over badly written love scenes, but many still get it totally wrong because they forget about the reality of it and fall into the trap of overblown, rose-tinted romance.
There is also a danger that any love scene can be underwritten or overwritten. There is a fine balance between keeping it real and writing it so that it doesn’t sound like a trashy romance novel.
So, how do you write love scenes that won’t sound corny, trashy or ridiculous?
I mentioned before about reality. This is when romance novels differ from other genre novels. Romance is formulaic – boy meets girl, girl dislikes boy because he’s rough around the edges/dominant/a bit of a bad boy/rich and powerful etc., then boy goes about getting the girl, girl finally melts into his arms, they live happily ever after.
Reality is very different. This is the 21st century, not the 18th century. Real men and women act and react very differently, in different situations. Think about the context of the story and how it affects your characters.
Many writers fall into the trap of having their characters fall in love half way through the novel, despite not showing any sign of attraction in the first half of the story. Unfortunately this is cliché. It happens in movies too. Readers will see it coming before the first kiss happens, so there is little impact.
Hint at what will come, show the attraction, but keep it subtle. This will help generate interest for the reader, so when your characters do finally get together, the impact is increased, not diluted. Remember, you have to tease the reader at every opportunity.
Clichés occur because writers still write some scenes like old romance novels.  For example:-
She ran her hands over his taut, muscular chest and gazed into his bright blue eyes. They glittered with lust.
He pulled her close, cupped her face as he leaned in, his breath hot and needy, then…
Then the reader threw up into a bucket because it was so cheesy.
Think reality, think context of the scene and think about your characters – what would they really do?
The effectiveness of love scenes also depends on the strength of the writing and how you write it. Dare to be different. Many writers succeed at love scenes because they make it gritty, or they get to the point by avoiding clichés.  Others take the literary route and render a scene with beautiful description without making it tacky.
Some of the best love scenes I’ve read don’t read like love scenes. That’s because the writers have shown them in context and they’ve shown realism; they’ve been gritty or fresh and they haven’t allowed the scene to become over-written. For example:-
Reluctance lodged between them and dusted their minds with uncertainty and yet she felt compelled to touch his hand; a subtle invitation that made his mouth twitch into a nervous smile.
He gripped her hand; saw her expression change along with the contours of her face beneath the fragile light, and at that moment he felt something; a sensation he’d never felt before.
This is description of that first contact between two lovers. It shows the context of the situation and the realism of feeling nervous and a little shy as a prelude to that first kiss. It doesn’t rely on cliché. The choice of words makes the description work.
Love scenes can and do work, but only if well written. We all have strengths and weaknesses, so if love scenes are your weakest link, either avoid them or practice writing them.
Remember the following:-

  • Avoid cliché and clichéd phrasing
  • Keep it in context
  • Getting to the point sometimes works
  • Make it different – it all depends on your descriptive skills
  • Cast aside the idea that all your family will read it. Just write what you feel comfortable writing.

Most of all, ask yourself: does the story absolutely need a love scene? If not, don’t write one. If it does, then think carefully about how you construct it. Choose your words wisely.
Next week: Creating suspense and atmosphere

6 comments:

  1. This is really helpful post. Love scenes are truly a difficult thing to write without, as you say, falling into the cliché swamp. All of my novels have been romances and my formula has been to take things so far and then leave the reader to imagine what comes next. Your blog has given me food for thought regarding my current WIP - thank you!

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    1. Thanks Jo, glad you found it useful.

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  2. Great advice. My love scene consists of a touch of a fingertip and a glance as a packet of Rizla gets passed across a crowded table.
    Do you have any do's and dont's on sex scenes?

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  3. Hi Darren,

    Like love scenes, sex scenes, if not written correctly, can fall foul of cliché and ridicule in equal measure.

    They should be treated the same as love scenes - be realistic rather than resort to the usual overblown narrative such as, 'he gasped as she touched his powerful manhood with a grip of steel...' etc. That's not far from the silliness of Fifty Shades etc. Make sex scenes realistic, whether it's romantic and slow or gritty and dirty. A penis is a penis, a breast is a breast and so on. Keep away from silly descriptive adjectives for male and female parts. Don't let your descriptions become a contender for the Bad Sex Awards.

    I enjoy sex scenes in books that describe it exactly as it is - sometimes rushed, sometimes clumsy, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes awkward, sometimes beautiful, sometimes violent...the authors have chosen their words wisely in their descriptions.

    Less is more. Don't overwrite a sex scene. Make the reader work for you, make them imagine more than what you're letting on. Too often writers go into way too much detail on sex scenes by describing everything that happens. That's OK for the female erotic market, but not so good for your gritty thriller or crime novel. Short sex scenes provide light relief to the reader before the action starts and the pace picks up again.

    The Do's:-

    1. Keep it real - sex isn't always what it's cracked up to be!
    2. Less is more
    3. Make the reader imagine a lot more
    4. Choose the right descriptions

    The Don'ts:-

    1. Don't write the scene like it's a bad Mills & Boon novel - that's how clichés happen
    2. Don't overwrite by boring the reader with too much information and overblown descriptions.
    3. Don't underestimate your reader - they want to use their imaginations.
    4. Don't use too many adjectives and fanciful description otherwise the scene will make the reader cringe. Simplicity sometimes works a treat.

    Hope you find that useful!

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  4. Great advise. I had a strange experience when I let one of my friends read one of my sex scenes, well, its not strange when I think about it. I am writing a gritty(another word for violent and filthy,)novel aimed at adult males. I saw him the next day and he said it was good, but not long enough.(as he raised his eyebrows!) I added to it, he re read it and said it was much better,(as I put several disturbing mental pictures out of my head.)
    I hadn't thought of this before but 'duration' seams to be important to a certain group of readers. (I wont be offended if you delete this.)
    Regards
    Darren
    I love your comment on Fifty Shades by the way...though I'd use a stronger word.

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    1. I like the comment about 'duration' and there are plenty of readers that will love all that, so go with what works. Seems duration is important to most of us!

      As for Fifty Shades of Shite, I was being polite lol. But I think it sums up my feelings on that one!

      Good luck with your writing.

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