OK, so one of my writing group members starts her novel-in-progress – a police procedural – with a sex scene that’s very much of the raven-tresses-heaving-bosoms-rock-hard-manhood variety. We discussed this in our meeting… and my take was that people who are looking for a police procedural will put the book down because it opens with that scene and that people who want a book that includes that kind of scene will be disappointed when chapter 2 comes and all of a sudden we’re dealing with cops in the precinct house.
Post-meeting, she sent a couple of links to web sites that teach you how to write love scenes. Suite 101 has a section called Writing Erotica that explained the difference between erotica and pornography. It also included helpful examples of words to use…including the following: coarse, decadent, furtive, hunger, innocent, lubricate, mesmerized, organ, pacify, scorching, secluded, shuddered, strip, tantalize, tempt, throbbing, whisper, writhe, and yearn.
So here goes: His coarse, decadent hunger for the innocent was furtive, yet scorching, as her whisper tempted, even tantalized him, with a yearning that made him writhe and his organ throb. To pacify him, she lured him to a secluded place where he shuddered, mesmerized, as she stripped.
Dang. Can’t fit in “lubricate.”
The other link was to a site called enotalone, where there’s an article about erotic talk. Not for writers, this is actually advice on how to have a more satisfying romantic life by spicing it up conversationally. (If I ever said, “Honey, your lips taste so good to me,” my husband would stop mid-smooch to look at me, inquiringly, as in “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”)
My own view is that character-driven romance in a mystery novel – particularly one with a female protagonist – adds a human dimension to the characters and can be a plus if it’s in keeping with the whole gestalt of it. Think of how much fun Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum has with cop-boyfriend Morelli and dangerous bad boy Ranger. Stephanie has an irreverent attitude and her sex life’s irreverent, too. Oral sex may be had and talked about, but somehow it’s all in keeping with the story. On the other hand, there’s not much hanky-panky for Cabot Cove’s Jessica Fletcher… the very thought’s a little disconcerting! And when I read Lawrence Block’s Small Town, it’s so full of various kinky characters and a wide variety of sexual hijinks that I felt like I was getting maybe a little too much insight into the way the author’s mind works.
I guess that’s what it comes down to. When people shape a story, they shape the story they want to read. And when they shape a love scene/sex scene/romantic encounter… they’re using their own perspective to decide what makes it interesting. And for “interesting,” read “sexy.” When someone writes about illicit sex between nameless people with perfect bodies, it doesn’t do it for me. And I’m a little bit embarrassed that it does it for them.
Still, it sells. So who am I to say?