Actions we've taken as writers. Where are we? What are we doing?
I have finally come to that moment of truth in my current work in progress, the scene that reveals the true nature of my leading characters: the love scene. Maybe I should put that in all caps: THE LOVE SCENE. Yes, that’s better. I can’t overemphasize the importance of this crucial interaction between the hero and the heroine in defining who they are—not just for the reader, but for the writer in charge of shaping them.
For some reason, my hero and heroine are just not fully formed until I see how they respond together in bed. What they want from each other in that intimate setting is (or should be) a reflection of what they want from each other in the relationship—comfort, security, adventure, trust, freedom, a key for a prison, a cage for a demon, balm for pain, release for anger. And the traits revealed when the characters have their clothes off can be dramatically different from the ones they show when fully dressed. The gruff can be tender, the timid become bold, the weak grow strong and the strong are driven to their knees.
For some of my books, I had the key love scene—the first time the h/h make love—outlined in my mind before I ever began writing the rest of the story. I had the characters and the fantasy of their time together, and in some ways I built the relationship around that. (Is this too much information? Sorry! I did have a plot and all, too.) Sam and Rayna, the hero and heroine of Fools Rush In, my current WIP, were secondary characters in my two previous books. I should have had some idea of who they were. But I didn’t truly know them—their secrets, their needs, the things that brought them to each other--until I got them into bed together at last.
I’m still learning, so I won’t make any revelations here—S#$%&y First Drafts and all that. What I really hope, since I’m forced to work backward here, is that being together doesn’t change them! That is, being together can only change them into the characters we already know (since this is a prequel), and not into someone else. Tricky.
Of course, no book has just one great big LOVE SCENE and done! Well, actually there are plenty like that, but I hate those, and I certainly don’t write them. Ideally, the intimacy of the love scenes should progress as the relationship builds throughout the book until at the end the lovers are as close as they can possibly be, joined body and soul. First encounters are shadowed with secrets withheld, questions unasked, insecurities, lack of trust, even fear. Those internal conflicts which threaten to tear the lovers apart are often hiding in the background in that first scene, and quickly make an appearance as the characters reflect on what has just happened. As their commitment to each other solidifies, that, too, is reflected in more intimacy and openness in the later love scenes.
One other thing, since I seem to be talking rules now. I’m a firm believer in the school of thought that says the love/sex scenes in romance should contribute to the plot. In this case, of course, we’re referring to the emotional plot, but in romance, the emotional plot is equal to any other plot you have going—be that science fiction, suspense, historical or whatever. In my books, you had darn well better not skip the sex scenes or you will miss something significant between the lovers—a revelation, an important concession, an advance or a retreat on the road to commitment, or most often, the opening of a heart. Sex makes people vulnerable, and not just to diseases or pregnancy—that’s why we warn our teenagers not to engage in it frivolously. It’s dangerous. And very dramatic. That’s why it must be used to move the story forward.
And that’s why I use it to find out who my characters truly are.