Romance writers do it for love
by Jessa Slade on February 9th, 2009


Currently working on: The big bad
Mood: Teeth gritting

Happy almost Valentine’s Day!

What better time of the year to talk about writing sex scenes than Valentine’s Day? Er, not that Valentine’s Day is all about sex, but it does tend to go there, doesn’t it? If it’s done right, of course :wink:

I’ll be honest here (and honesty is a useful tool for Valentine’s Day AND writing sex scenes); I often skim sex scenes when I’m reading. Not because I’m a vaguely repressed romance writer working out her problems in cheap self-therapy on the page, but because – like a long-term comfortable relationship where maybe the fires have dimmed a little – sex scenes can sometimes feel rote and perfunctory. We’ve all heard the tease about romance novels where you crack the spine at the halfway point and, whoopsie, fell into bed and had sex.

Even with whips and whipping cream – even with prehensile tentacles if you read the farther-out-there stuff – the sex has to MEAN something. I want my sex scenes to work harder, to get down and dirty, and go deeper…

Okay, I can see this posting has the potential to get me into trouble. But that’s exactly what I want from my sex scenes. The potential for trouble. I want to know that this scene is important – just like all the rest of the story. That clues and pitfalls and moments of truth are hidden in the otherwise eons-old insertion of tab into slot.

So how do you create a special Valentine’s Day – and a special sex scene?

Engage all the senses: The archetypical Valentine’s Day includes chocolate, champagne, roses, and a candle-lit bubble bath. So too on the physical level, a good sex scene should play with every nerve ending – the thick creaminess of the dark chocolate, the gleam of flame-light on slick wet skin, the rich sweet scent of the roses as the petals float across the water only to sink under a surging splash as he raises himself over her… But Valentine’s and sex scenes aren’t just about the physical.

Reveal more: Hey, we’ve all bought Valentine’s Day panties. And let’s just say the price does not reflect the square footage. I like a sex scene that uncovers something about our heroine. It’s a dangerous moment, that unveiling. In opening herself to the hero, she risks more than the twenty bucks spent at Victoria’s Secret. Our hero faces the same moment, but please don’t picture him in Valentine’s Day panties. I mean, unless that’s your thing. Although I’d go more Abercrombie & Fitch.

Find the core: No, you naughty-minded reader, not THAT core. Well, actually yes, that core too. But I was thinking of that defining moment that is the reason you cannot skim a good sex scene – it’s the moment the hero metaphorically pulls out the velvet Valentine’s Day jeweler’s box. Locked in that dark, protective box is a shining jewel that he will hand to the heroine for safekeeping. Will she accept? Whatever comes next (and you know there’s more to come), that bond will mark them forever.

A spontaneous sexual romp on a sunny Sunday afternoon is wonderful too – in real life and in a book – but the ritual that is Valentine’s Day and the crafting of a meaningful sex scene can be as sharp-edged and delicate as scissors wielded on a construction paper heart, with as many mixes messages as a box of candy hearts. The story that doesn’t miss a beat here can win my heart.

What was your most memorable experience of Valentine’s Day? The passing of those cheap little postcards in grade school? An impromptu game of spin the bottle? A proposal from your hero?

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14 comments to “Romance writers do it for love”

  1. 1

    [...] Romance writers do it for love Crossposted from Silk And Shadows [...]

  2. 2

    All Valentine Days are special, since I married my hubby in what will be 32 years ago next month. Spending time with him is precious everyday of the year, more so on this day.

  3. 3

    I am one of those unlucky one who actuallu got dumped on Valentine Day… but that was a long time ago and, now happily married, I kind of forgot about that LOL

    I like the idea of Valentine Day but not the pressure associated with it. Kind of like the perfunctory love scene in the romance novel that seems to be there just to fill some pages.

    Just like telling someone you love them, the love scene has to have some meaning when the two lovers strip their souls and reveal more to each others.

    Happy Valentine :)

  4. 4

    How’s this for memorable — I gave birth to our older daughter on Valentine’s Day!

  5. 5

    Sweets all around. In college, my girlfriends and I tried to start an anti-Valentine day. Everybody just said we were bitter. Yeah? So?

  6. 6

    I’m not big on Valentine’s Day and never have been. But for some reason, the honey is into it. My favorite one year was he left me the little Valentine’s NERDs boxes, strategically placed all over the house. And he’d written a funny/romantic ‘to’ and ‘from’ on every one.

    I so agree with your post on the meaning of sex scenes. Even the authors I read who write a lot of sex scenes, I want growth and discovery with each scene, be it character or plot. Otherwise, I’m skimming.

  7. 7

    Passing out valentines in elementary school is definitely one of my favorite memories. It was great because everyone got one, nobody was ever left out. I also remember writing those Roses are Red, Violets are Blue poems to my parents in class.

  8. 8

    Like Jane, one of my favorite memories from childhood was from fourth grade — carefully decorating my shoebox with white paper and red hearts and doilies, and cutting that rectangular hole into the front so my classmates could “secretly” leave me a Valentine. I say secretly because I remember our teacher letting us go out into the hallway by ourselves, one at a time to privately put our Valentines in the boxes! Even though we had all, of course, written out one for everyone in the class. And you know how you get the box of cards from the drug store or the grocery store? There were JUST enough for everyone in the class so you had to use them all. Well, I remember agonizing over who I would give “You Tickle My Fancy” to … It sounded so racy. What was a Fancy anyway (and how did you tickle it?)? And did you give it to a guy? Or a girl?

  9. 9

    Joey, since I happen to know you and your sweetie are computer folk, the one NERD to another Valentines was perfect.

    And LOL on tickling fancy. No wonder you ended up in this profession, Kim.

  10. 10

    Like Kim - I had that delightful grade school experience with the cards. I would sort them, assign them….

    In later years, hubby and I were on our own, out of town, with 4 kids, so Valentines Day was sort of shrugged off as too much trouble.

    But one year we decided we could go out to dinner, just the two of us. Fancy place, with reservations too! The prices were outrageous, the food tasty but tiny, the service slow and the atmosphere crowded and loud. Fortunately, when we left, there was still time on the ‘babysitter clock’ so we zipped down to Burger King for some food…

    Um, that’s back when Burger King was considered - quality fast food.

  11. 11

    Before I was married I was caught up on the whole “perfect” Valentine’s day. The first year I was with my husband (then boyfriend) we did the whole works. Flowers and cute stuffed animals at work, candy, candlelight, romance, wine, and trying to enjoy a dinner in a crowded restaurant.

    That was the first, and last time we celebrated Valentine’s day that way. It wasn’t true to who we were. Now its a movie at home, dinner, a beer for him, glass of tea for me, and silly gifts that aren’t pink or even associated with Valentine’s day. I prefer it that way, and they’ve become my favorite way to pass the Hallmark holiday. :)

  12. 12

    I was actually successful in keeping an anti-Valentine’s Day going for six years, even after I was in a relationship. We called it Black Friday (or whatever day of the week it happened to be). One year, we went out drinking wearing heart stickers cut in two.

    Valentine’s Day leads to much more heartache than it should–it’s just a made-up holiday, for god’s sake. People in relationships have ridiculous amounts of pressure to create the perfect Valentine’s Day experience. And singletons, well, there is little more bitterness inspiring than the day that reminds you just how single you really are.

    On that note, all the singles in San Francisco might want to check out Bitterfest. It sounds pretty funny.

    Me? I’ll be keeping it low-key with hubby. We take a few minutes to remind each other of our love, and then we go on about our regular day. Much less pressure, and we still take time out to make each other feel special.

  13. 13

    I can only remember three Valentine’s Days from my past … the first isn’t even my memory, it is my mom’s. And it is a cute memory and really describes my personality from the get-go.

    Mom came to pick me up from first grade on Valentine’s day. I was walking across the schoolyard when a gust of wind knocked me a bit (I weighed about 30 pounds, if that, says Mom). I dropped my lunchbox. The lunchbox fell open and all my Valentine’s cards went skittering across the grass. Two boys from my class ran around and picked them up, while another boy patted me on the shoulder and calmed me down. Mom thanked them and they said, “Oh, we like to do things for Robin, she says we are big and strong.”

  14. 14

    Valentine’s Day has never been a big deal for me. My fiance… never did anything for it, although it didn’t really matter to me. I wrote him a poem, since one year we were long-distance.

    My second boyfriend, though, brought both me and his wife (we were in a poly relationship) flowers. I cried, because it was the first time anyone had really thought of me on that holiday.

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