Author Susan Lyons gives us an inside look at the morning panel "Writing Sin-Sational Scenes" - one of the many panels this year's RT BOOKLOVERS CONVENTION.
Anyone up for a little sex in the morning? We were at 10:00 a.m., as authors Jo Davis (http://www.jodavis.net), Tara Nina (http://www.taranina.com) and I (http://www.susanlyons.ca), together with moderator L.A. Banks (http://www.leslieesdailebanks.com), presented a panel discussion on Sin-Sational Scenes at the RT Booklovers Convention.
L.A. and Tara write paranormal romance, Jo writes romantic suspense, and I write contemporary romance – and we all like it on the steamy side.
The panellists fielded questions from L.A. and from the audience. Here’s a summary of some of the things we discussed:
What is erotic romance and how does it differ from erotica and from sexy romance? The main story in erotica is a woman’s sexual journey. There may or may not be a romance. The main story in erotic romance is the romance. That’s true in sexy romance as well, and there is no clear dividing line between erotic romance and sexy romance, it’s more like a continuum of steaminess. None of these books is simply a string of sex scenes. The essence of each is a story, character development, and emotion. We write explicit sex scenes because we believe in “show, don’t tell” and a sex/love scene, because it’s so intimate, reveals a lot about each character and about their relationship between the lovers. The scene can demonstrate change, growing affection, tension and conflict, and be very emotional. We want the reader to share the experience with the characters.
Are there limits to what you’ll write? There’s such a huge range within erotic romance and very few things are taboo, but each of us has our personal comfort zone. We all feel that you need to write what you can personally relate to. If it doesn’t turn you on, or even worse if it makes you feel icky, you’re not going to be able to write it authentically. Love scenes come out of character and are intrinsic to the story and the developing relationship and they should evoke emotion in the reader – and to do that, they also need to evoke emotion in the author.
How do you handle shapeshifters having sex? That’s a tough one because if the shifter has sex with a human when the shifter is in animal form, some readers will see that as bestiality and not like it. Tara mentioned that one of her shifters is a bear and during sex he must fight against shifting because if he had sex with the heroine in bear form, he could kill her.
Do you ever get writer’s block in the middle of a sex scene? For us, usually the characters drive the action so if we get stalled, it’s because the characters did something unexpected or aren’t having fun or feeling the emotion. We need to stay true to the situation rather than try to force something that doesn’t feel right (e.g., if our characters aren’t in the mood for sex, we shouldn’t make it happen). If we’re stalled in a sex scene (or any other scene), often we need to get deeper into our characters’ minds and hearts and let them show us the way.
Do you write both female and male point of view in sex scenes? We all write both because we believe readers want to know what both the heroine and hero are thinking and feeling. We’re aware of having a balance, so the reader doesn’t go too long getting only one character’s point of view. Jo often has one scene in one POV and the next scene in the other. Susan sometimes does that or sometimes, in a longer sex scene, switches POV around the middle. Tara switches more frequently within a scene.
How does a relatively new writer get comfortable writing sex scenes? There are various things to try, if you’re having trouble diving into the scene. Find a time when you’re alone and won’t be interrupted, relax, and pour yourself a glass of wine. Turn off the internal censor. Don’t agonize over getting it right the first time because that rarely happens. Just fly at it and type whatever comes to you because you can always go back and revise (one audience member says she prints out the first draft double-spaced and when she reads it on paper, more ideas come to her and she scribbles them down). Try closing your eyes and visualizing the scene as a movie unfolding, then write down what you see. Alternatively, say it out loud and record it. One audience member mentioned the program Dragon Naturally Speaking, which translates your speech into words on the screen.
How do you deal with putting your sexy books out into the world where people who know you will read them? First, you shouldn’t write things you’re not comfortable with. As the writer, you’re finding characters who tell you certain kinds of stories (that’s part of finding your voice). If the characters are telling you sexy stories and you’re happy with what you’re writing, then don’t be embarrassed about it, be proud and own it. If someone asks you how you can write sex, you could say something like, “Oh, you don’t like sex? You don’t have sex? That’s so sad. I’m really sorry for you.” Remember, sex is natural and beautiful. Women need to own their sexuality rather than be embarrassed or ashamed, and writers of erotic romance are helping them do it. Of course, if you do have good reasons for keeping quiet about your writing (e.g., because of your job, church, etc.), then write under a pen name and be careful about sharing your secret.
What do you enjoy reading? We all have diverse tastes and read widely.
Of course, in addition to the discussion I’ve summarized, there were stories, jokes, and lots of laughs. Thanks so much to L.A. for being such a great moderator, and to Jo and Tara for being such fun and thoughtful presenters, and to our wonderful audience who asked great questions and shared their experiences.
By the way, if any writers would like my short handout on writing Sin-Sational Scenes, feel free to email me at email@example.com.