I recently received a review of book 2 by the fantastic Pauline M. Ross of Fantasy Review Barn. Much cheering and excitement was had, but she also pointed a stern finger at the issue I tend to most avoid: sex.
I consider myself to be an action writer, though I do delve deep into the characters; perhaps I should say ‘action and agony’ instead, because I’m fond of emotional torment, as I mentioned in a previous post. Antagonistic relationships? I’ve got those. Friendships? No problem.
No. That’s the point where I hide under my desk and hope it goes away.
I have nothing against romance fiction, romance writers, sex in stories, or any of that. I do editing work for my friend Erica, who does great fantasy-romance, and I’ve read my share of questionable fanfiction. But the sex parts? I skim those. I don’t want to be involved with anyone’s squishy bits.
My characters beg to differ. They want to have sexytimes whether I like it or not. (And the answer is no, I do not like it.) They don’t require romance, they don’t need some elaborate plot to get them to hook up — they just want to be people. So sometimes I get backed into a corner by the characters and am forced to write a sort of shaky-cam view of naked blanket wrestling.
Or I just go ‘nope!’ and skip the scene entirely. Which is what I did for Cob’s first time. It was the comfortable choice, but having mulled it over for a little while, I’m certain it was a bad one. Not just because there has been some expression of interest in how that whole blanket-wrestling incident panned out, but because I’m supposed to be a writer. A verging-on-horror writer. And I’m squeamish about this?
So I examined it. Why can I throw Weshker and Sanava together just fine in one scene, but have to pull the curtain on Cob and his love interest before anything happens at all? There’s nothing traumatic going on, and the scene is quite important to characterization — since, as mentioned, it’s the main character’s first time!
And I decided it’s because I feel protective of Cob — which is surprising for all the danger I toss his way. He’s a kid in my eyes, wounded and awkward and previously friendless, defensive, sensitive. I find it uncomfortable to write him in a situation where his guard is down and his anxiety is up, where he’s vulnerable, because I don’t want him to get hurt.
What kind of an idiot am I?
Come on, me! That kind of scene is what needs to be shown! You can’t pack your characters’ feelings in cotton wool because they make you uncomfortable!
I’ve noticed myself doing this in book 3. I get to a tough scene and I either go ‘skip! recap later!’ or shaky-cam it up until it can only be inferred. These are valid tactics when necessary, but as a writer I can’t be using them as excuses to not write difficult scenes; they’re disrespectful to the characters and diminish the engagement of the audience. From an artistic standpoint, they also diminish exactly the impact I was seeking — they turn it into a guessing game.
The book 3 issues can easily be fixed in the next draft. I haven’t even finished the rough draft yet. The book 2 scene, though…
Nevertheless, I’ve told myself I’m going to write it. There doesn’t even have to be much! Painstaking descriptions of bodily gyrations, sound effects, and spontaneous backgrounds of sparkles and roses aren’t required. Neither is a point-by-point psychological evaluation of what having sex will do to/for the character. I just need something better than bookends that basically say “Let’s have sex!” and The next morning…
There has never been a scene there. I didn’t make one, decide against it and then take it out; I never wrote it. Beta readers have pointed at it and I’ve gone ‘nope!’ I should have listened. There are several who will go ‘I told you so’ as soon as I post this. Why did I refuse? Why did I sing ‘la la la not writing it’ until it went away?
Worst is, if I write it and like it, what do I do with it? The physical book has gone to print, and its ISBN is tied to its page count. If I make it very very short, perhaps I could fit it on the same page, but even then, there have been some copies printed. And what about the e-version? I’ve sold some of those too. This isn’t like fixing a punctuation error, or removing the magnificent Undead Hose from book 1.
(I missed an ‘R’ in the first upload of book 1, thus causing a wagon to be pulled by a hose instead of a horse. My artist immortalized my nitwittery with a picture.)
Okay, this is a weird pic to have in a post about a sex scene.
Anyway. I am going to write the scene, dammit! I am going to write it tonight! (2/23, me, no chickening out.) And I’m going to put it here as proof that I finally wrote it, and so anyone who was particularly missing it can read it.
Let this be a lesson to you, my fellow writers. If it’s an important scene, even if you don’t like it, write it anyway. You might regret it if you don’t.
Scene below. Hopefully.
Update: Scene below! Skip down to the bold text afterward if you don’t want to read it. This is from book 2 chapter 14, and I am including just a couple paragraphs of the old text before new material; including the whole section would be too long.
Fiora sighed. “Sounds almost reasonable when you talk about it like that.”
“You wanna convert?”
She smacked his arm and he grinned in the dark. Then, to his shock, her warm hand moved to his neck and she leaned in and pressed her lips to his cheek. Her long hair brushed against him like a million tiny fingers.
“You’re a good man,” she murmured. “Kind of an idiot, but good anyway.”
Flushed to his ears, Cob mumbled something incoherent. The moonlight limned her curves beneath the light blouse, and her eyes seemed lambent, a faint smile lingering on her mouth. The place where she had touched still tingled. His heart thundered in his chest, and he sat up cautiously, unsure if she would laugh. She shifted closer instead and took one of his hands in hers.
“There shouldn’t just be punishments,” she said. “There should be rewards. Not just the light, but the warmth as well.”
Then she guided his hand to her waist and coaxed him near, and he went gladly.
Cloth slid away under his fingers, under hers, to dizzy him with the feel of skin on skin. A part of him hesitated as if trying to spoil it, but the blood burned in his veins and her mouth tasted like summer fruit, her hands knotting in his hair with the same intensity, and he didn’t know what he was supposed to do but she did. When she adjusted his fumbling with a giggle, he flinched, but she kissed him and murmured, “You’re doing fine.”
And when he broke the drawstring of his breeches, when he pulled back for a moment and was struck by nerves, when he looked down at her among the grass and flowers, her eyes bright, waiting, watching…
She must have seen it, because she sat up and covered his frozen hands with hers, and looked at him not coyly but calm, and said, “Let me?”
And he nodded and buried his face in her hair, fingers tracing from the muscles of her shoulders to the smooth curve of her back, too scared to see, until she had finished his work. Until her hands were on his neck again and her hips against his without any barrier, pulling him down into heat and urgency like a new sun.
Afterward, in the crushed grass, he felt her move and opened his eyes. With the moonlight gone, her form made a dark silhouette against the star-strewn sky: sitting loosely, head thrown back, hands braced behind her. His mind was slow as syrup and his limbs too heavy to lift him, and so he stayed as he was, fighting sleep, watching her stare into the night.
He thought she smiled, but he couldn’t be sure.
That’s it, me?
All that angst over a few paragraphs?
…maybe I can fit it into the physical book after all. Where’s my shoehorn?
In all honesty though, I don’t feel right about tampering with the finished product except for error correction. If I edit it now, after it’s been published, when will I stop? Putting the red pen down has always been one of my weak points. And as stated before, I’ve already sold copies. I don’t want there to be two versions out there under the same label.
I think I’ll leave the book as-is. If I get the opportunity to do a traditionally published version, I’ll include this correction; likewise I can put it in when I do an omnibus e-version, like I intend to when I finish the first three. The omnibus would also give me an opportunity to retune a few things in book 1 that I never gave adequate attention…
No! No, me, stop! Put the red pen down! Nooooooooooo!