14 Oct

Scenes. Again.

From the interwebs:

My book is a romance, not erotica, because you can take out the sex scenes without affecting the plot!

If you can take out any scene without the whole plot falling apart, it’s a bad scene.

In romance, sex scenes are markers of relationship development. In many books, the characters are intimately involved for a prolonged period, but not every boning session during that time warrants page time—only the ones at points of change. A few examples:

  • The first time is obviously a change from a platonic status to a sexual one.
  • A subsequent encounter triggers the realization in a vulnerable moment that pants feelings have changed to heart feelings.
  • An encounter that’s more _______ (rough, tender, spontaneous, daring) than the usual reveals there’s another side to a character or relationship to explore further.
  • Make-up sex after a fight or reconciliation sex after a split signifies new understanding and appreciation of each other.
  • My favorite is always the combo of relationship-building sex and external plot events: “While you were busy screwing, A Bad Thing™ happened that you could have easily prevented if you’d been here, so I hope the orgasm was worth the guilt and angst you’ll be wallowing in for the rest of your days.”

The crucial point in all of these is SOMETHING HAS CHANGED. Every scene that follows should be about the situation post-change. Behavior should adjust accordingly. If you “just take out the sex scenes,” there should be an obvious, logic-destroying gap in how they got from point A to point C.

BECAUSE SEX SCENES HAVE THE SAME TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS AS EVERY OTHER SCENE.

With the exception of friends-to-fuckbuddies, it’s possible to show the above changes without sex. Just as when the change you want is to remove the protagonist’s Obi-Wan so he has to fend for himself, you have creative options to choose from: kill sensei, have him leave in anger, send him off on another mission. You choose based on what consequences you want to set in motion because the scene doesn’t exist in isolation. The action in the scene matters less than the change it causes. If you choose sex as the action that creates the change, the scene is no more disposable than any other chosen action would have been.

If your sex scenes don’t matter to the plot, it’s not because it’s a romance. It’s because the scenes aren’t doing their job. That’s not a romance issue—that’s a writing issue.

21 Sep

The Billionaire Beast by Jackie Ashenden, and Other Thoughts

This week, I read The Billionaire Beast by Jackie Ashenden, which is a Beauty and the Beast-inspired romance in which “beast” means “going through some shit” rather than merely “is an asshat for no reason.”

I have Thoughts and Feelings that extend far beyond this individual book, so this will be part book review and part a long, rambling post about romance in general and writing and humanity and myself and maybe some other stuff. Because the spiel as a whole takes some negative turns, I want to make it clear up front that my feelings toward the book itself are overall positive. When I finished reading it, I immediately went and bought two other books in the series, which I don’t do if I’m even slightly meh about a book. I’m going to talk about some things that might make it a no for some people. It wasn’t a magically perfect book for me, either, so this isn’t a Unicorn Review, and I’m aware some of my positive bent is because it was a thought-provoking read and my head is full of stuff to chew on, and I like that more than I didn’t like the things I didn’t like. But if you were exactly like me, I would recommend this book to you without reservation.

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11 Aug

The Sentence-Writing Book

Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark is a Kindle Daily Deal for $2.99, price matched at B&N, Kobo, and Apple. Since I can never remember the name, I call this “the sentence-writing book.” Whether you’re writing letters, memos, homework, articles, blog posts, or fiction, this book is filled with strategies to tweak your writing to be more effective at the sentence level. Clark explains at length why old writing chestnuts typically presented as “NEVER DO THIS THING” are indeed problematic when carelessly done but can be wielded to good effect with intent. Once you understand the effect of passive voice and adverbs and so forth, you can make an informed decision about whether that technique belongs in a sentence or needs to be eliminated with a rewrite.

I give paper copies to students, writers, and everyone else I know who has occasion to communicate via the written word. If you fall under any of those headings, I recommend grabbing this helpful guide digitally while it’s cheap.

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