Saturday, May 31, 2008

The function of Love Scenes

By Angela Knight

There seems to be a perception among some that titillation is the main purpose of love scenes in romance novels. In reality, such scenes are a powerful means to explore and deepen the emotional relationship between the hero and heroine, to intensify the romantic conflict, and to develop both characters.

In order to take advantage of that innate power, a writer should make sure she has a good sense of the internal and external goals, motivations and conflicts that drive her characters, and that she understands how those goals, motivations and conflicts interact to intensify the romantic conflict between them. It should not be possible for both characters to get exactly what they need and want; if one character “wins,” the other must lose. If both characters can get what they want without a major adjustment in the thinking of one of them, the conflict just isn’t strong enough.

For example, your vampire hunting hero can’t achieve his goal of killing the vampire heroine. Instead, the course of the romance should change that goal so that he wants to love the heroine instead of killing her.

The love scenes should pay a key role in changing those objectives. As they make love, he discovers she’s not the vicious killer he imagined.

Of course, you have to motivate his going to bed with her in the first place. If he doesn’t have a good reason to risk his life making love to what he believes is a vicious killer, the reader is going to think he’s stupid. Is he trying to use himself as bait? Why does he think he can get away with this without ending up dead? Obviously, he needs to have some believable plan to keep himself safe, or we’re going to think he’s Too Stupid To Live.

You also have to address her motives for making love to a man who thinks she’s a killer. Does she know what he believes? Does it bother her? What about her hunger for blood? She needs to drink blood to live. Does sleeping with him trigger her hunger? How does that make her feel? Does she feel guilt, or is it something natural to her? Is she irritated with his fear of her? How does that play out in their love scenes?

Think about ways to demonstrate the personalities of these two characters. How do they view making love?

Does the risk of making love to her add to his arousal? She could kill him. For some people, that kind of risk is the ultimate high. If he’s an adrenalin junky like a SEAL or something, that could play a role in his motivation.

Does she view making love as a necessity, or as a joyful act of mutual pleasure?

Try to come up with a scene that would best demonstrate or intensify this conflict. How does it play out when they make love?

What does it say that the passion between them is strong enough to bring them together despite this conflict?

To make it more believable that they would fall in love despite all these forces, you have to make the love scenes themselves as intense as possible. Each scene should deepen the attraction and passion between the couple so the reader can literally watch their love grow.

You do that by using sensory detail. Each love scene should make mention of some kind of sensory detail in every paragraph, whether it’s taste, smell, hearing, or touch. How does it feel when he licks her nipples or clit? How does she taste to him? How do those sensations make him feel? What’s the texture of his skin, or the smell of his hair?

Concentrate on the emotional impact of those sensations. Make those reactions as intense as possible.

Give thought to the setting of the love scene. Location has a strong emotional effect. Hurried, hot love making in public is far different than slow, languorous passion in the bedroom. Use locations which intensify the emotional effect you’re going for, and vary them. Creativity is the key to eroticism in fiction as in life.

Think what kind of props you can use to intensify their emotions. If he’s still afraid of what she’ll do, what if she ties him up? Imagine his combination of fear and intense, kinky desire. And how will he feel when she does nothing except give him fantastic pleasure? He was at her mercy, and she didn’t hurt him. She has proven she can be trusted.

Maybe the bondage scene is the turning point in the relationship – the point where what began in fear and deception starts becoming trust and love.

You MUST have a turning point in the romantic conflict, and it must be as dramatic as possible. When you’re doing a huge 180 in attitude like that, the hardest part is making it believable. The reader has to understand WHY this incident would make the characters view each other in a different light. She also needs to understand why it would shake everybody up.

As a reader, I have read books in which the characters suddenly go from “I hate him,” to “I want to have his baby,” without any explanation at all. Nothing will make me slam a book into a wall faster. You have to motivate these changes in attitude for them to be believable.

The ingredients to one of these huge turning points are: A.) A dramatic incident where the characters confront their fear. (The vampire heroine gets tired of putting up with his paranoia and ties him up and screws his brains out.) B.) The reaction of the character to that scene. “Oh, my GOD! She didn’t kill me! And it was...wonderful. She’s not who I thought she was. She’s HUMAN in all the ways that count. I WAS WRONG ABOUT HER.” C.) A scene that follows that demonstrates the change in his attitude – maybe the next time they make love, he’s tender with her, not just hot and horny.

In the scenes that follow this turning point, their love becomes more intense, the tenderness in their actions grows, their kisses become more passionate.

That scene changes everything. And because it has changed everything, their attitudes toward each other changes, and they find the strength to confront the Big Evil Bad Guy and beat him. They couldn’t beat him separately, but together, in love, they have the strength to defeat him.

Then, in the final love scene, you pay off the novel. I usually make this the last scene in the book. The characters are deeply in love, and they trust each other without question. There’s humor, because humor demonstrates trust. We don’t have gentle, teasing sexual humor with someone we’re not completely comfortable with.

It’s also a very passionate scene, with lots of soft touches and gentle kisses as well as hot sex. And the hero should – possibly for the first time -- say something really romantic to her in the afterglow. Men don’t make declarations of love – and mean them – easily. As readers, we know when this hard-edged vampire hunter tells the vampire she’s the center of his life, he means it. And we just melt.

Deliver that scene with all the emotional intensity you can, and the reader will search for every book you’ve ever written and buy it. And as for the editor – she’ll snap your book up and pay you a nice advance, because you’re the writer she’s been looking for.


Sincerely,

Angela Knight

Friday, May 23, 2008

Point of View

I wrote this lesson for my class on writing love scenes. I like the way it turned out so much, I thought I'd share.


By Angela Knight

Point of view is one of those concepts that gives newbies fits. One reason for this is that the effect of POV can be very subtle – so much so that most readers don’t notice it at all, so new writers don’t understand its importance.

There’s an easy illustration of POV that should clarify the issue. It’s a gimmick often used in television mysteries where they don’t want to show the identity of the killer, so the camera is positioned as if it’s looking out of his eyes. You can see the knife in his hand, you can see the victim, but you can’t see the killer’s face, any more than you can see your own when you’re not in front of a mirror.

That’s point of view. You’re in the character’s head, experiencing the scene as if you were that character. You think his thoughts, you feel the sensations he feels, you hear what he hears.

Most writing teachers will tell you not to switch point of view in the same scene. That’s called head hopping, and it’s considered a deadly sin. Why?

Let’s go back to our knife-wielding television killer for a moment. Imagine that the bad guy is in a fight with other bad guys, all armed with knives. Now imagine that every shot, the camera switches to the point of view of a different person. One minute you’re swinging the knife, the next it’s coming at your chest. Or you’re in someone else’s head completely, and you’re in a different fight.

In all my years of watching television, I have never seen that done. Why? Because it would confuse the hell out of the viewer. He’d have no idea who was doing what.

The reader has the same problem when you head hop. It throws her completely out of the scene as she tries to figure out whose head you’re in. Any time she has to stop reading and go back and reread to figure out what’s going on, you’ve thrown her out of the story. Confuse her too much, and she’ll just stop reading.

So head hopping is bad. Yet Nora Roberts, the highest paid romance novelist of all time and my personal goddess, switches POV constantly. I’m reading her latest right now, and I couldn’t help but notice how she does it.

First, Nora only switches POV when she’s got a good reason. In most cases, one POV per scene is a really good rule, and I suggest you stick to it. It jars the reader less. But there is one kind of scene where being in the heads of both characters is a benefit, and that’s the love scene. And the only way you can show how making love affects both characters in one scene is with a POV switch.

So how do you pull off a switch without confusing the reader? Well, there’s the line break – skipping a line to indicate a switch. Then you start the first sentence of the new POV with something like, “John bit back a moan as Mary ran her tongue over his nipple. God, she was good at that.” By using John’s name first thing, we clearly tell the reader whose POV we’re in, so there’s no confusion. (Note: I don’t use, “God, she was so good at that, John thought.” “John thought” is redundant, since it’s obvious we’re in John’s POV.)

Really, you don’t even need the skipped line. Making the switch with a new paragraph is fine. But in both cases, you absolutely have to start with the character’s name, and a sensation that plainly shows we’re now thinking his thoughts.

If the line was simply, “John moaned,” the reader will probably assume we’re still in Mary’s POV and Mary heard John moan. But by adding a sensation and then a thought, we establish that we’ve done a POV switch. “John moaned at the feeling of Mary’s wet, hot little tongue flicking over his nipple. God, she’s good at that.”

Now, there are little niggling things about POV you need to keep in mind.

Let’s get back to John and his sensitive nipples. “John moaned at the feeling of Mary’s wet, hot little tongue flicking over his nipple. God, she’s good at that. John’s brawny pectorals flexed and his blue eyes darkened in reaction.”

If you’re deep in John’s point of view, he can’t see his own blue eyes darken. Nor can he see himself blush, or a hard frown cross his mouth. You’ve just jumped cameras again, changing POV in the same paragraph. Now your verbal “camera” is located outside John’s body, as if you’re watching John instead of being John. This is BAD, and is considered the mark of an amateur.

What you can do is show what John feels when he experiences, say, a blush. “John felt his cheeks heat. Oh, great – now he was blushing like a sixteen-year-old girl.” That tells the reader he blushed without jumping POVs.

Also, watch the tone of John’s POV. You don’t want him to sound like a woman. That line, “John’s brawny pectorals flexed” was definitely not in John’s POV. It’s an out-of-character line, because John probably doesn’t think of his pecs as “brawny.”

When you’re in deep point of view, you have to stick to the language and thoughts the character would use. Thus, John is not going to think about the heroine’s “lovely brocade mauve curtains,” unless John is an interior designer. Most men wouldn’t know mauve if it bit them on the butt. And “lovely” is a word men just don’t use unless they’re talking about a woman.

You want John to sound like the butch Alpha Male marine he is, right down to the frequent “motherfuckers” strewn through his thoughts. (Though if he’s a banker or something, I’d probably go easy on the “motherfuckers.”) By using the technique of being deeply in the character’s head, you can create a very strong sense of him as a character. Readers feel he’s real.

And that’s what you want.

By the way – when switching POVs during a love scene, I still wouldn’t do it more than once. It’s too jarring. We want to experience how each character feels during that scene, but we don’t want to give the reader psychic whiplash.


--Angela Knight