Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's Wrong With Thinking in a Love Scene?

Is it unfashionable to have a romance character who thinks?  Thinks even in the throes of passion?  Maybe is thinking about being in the throes of passion?

Here's my problem:  I'm reading a scene in a romance -- no specific romance because, truly, this happens a lot in contemporaries, historicals, paranormals, you name it -- and the characters suddenly latch onto each other, kissing, groping, fondling, etc.  And their brains stop.  We know this because we (the readers) are still aware of the fact that they're in an inappropriate situation, or likely to be discovered, or are getting grass stains, or maybe she really liked that very expensive blouse that he's just ripped off her.  (Oh, and silk isn't that easy to rip.  But whatever.)  But the characters have no clue of any of this.  I have to think the author knows, but for her own reasons doesn't want her characters to think about any of that pesky reality.

Now, I know I'm being silly.  These two people are wildly attracted to each other.  That's the point: their brains really have clicked off in favor of their uh, loins.  And for some characters in some situations, this might make sense, particularly where the sexual tension has been building for some time, getting so intense that there's no reality except those two bodies touching.

But for other characters -- characters who had reservations about the situation or about the other protagonist, characters who aren't both really ready to explode! -- the caveman approach would seem so wildly unsubtle and unpersuasive that I'm amazed it works.  Oh, and they're physically uncomfortable to boot?  How can that possibly work without a powerful mood enhancing drug?  (Endorphins released by the extreme sexual attraction?  But really -- are endorphins that powerful all the time?  Even where the heroine is perhaps not as far along the passion continuum as the hero?)

Okay, when a heroine is worrying about getting grass stains on her clothes rather than succumbing to her hunger for his embrace, that's a love scene gone wildly awry.  But when she is, or should be, in physical discomfort (pressed against the sharp edge of a countertop, for example), why is that not competing with his embrace for her attention?  In real life, it can sometimes take some organizing to get all the minutiae of life sorted away so that we can give our attention entirely to romance.  Thus, it can be a wonderful fantasy to think that the attraction between the hero and heroine is so overwhelming that they can ignore everything -- even physical discomfort.  I get that.  But is that really the best fantasy?

Why not have the hero be both lustful and concerned for the heroine's physical comfort?  Are those two thoughts mutually exclusive?  Because -- let's be clear here -- acting on extreme physical attraction still involves some brain function.  And while we may want a hero to be so overcome with his need for her that he can't think straight, couldn't the class of stuff he can still think about include whether she's pressing against something cold/hot/sharp/etc. while the stuff he can't be bothered to think about is Everything Else (his work, his dignity, etc.)?

Recently I had an exchange with Moriah Jovan about forced seduction.  I don't disagree with her that "romance novel rape" is a powerful fantasy for some women readers.  "Romance novel rape" supposes that the hero is so carried away with his overwhelming lust for the heroine (and her alone) that he can't help himself.  I'm cool with that.  So he acts on instinct -- the instinct to couple.  (Still cool.)  His ardor for her overwhelms him!  (I'm good.)  And she's in a (non-sexy) painful position.  (That's where the author's lost me.)  I find myself thinking two things:  Why doesn't he get it that she's in pain and why doesn't she move or do something to get him to shift positions?  (Because their brains aren't working.  Yes, I know.  That's the point.  Why aren't their brains working just that little extra bit?)

Now, it may well be that I'm unusual here.  Please let me know if I am.  Or is anyone else struck by a love scene on auto-pilot to the extent that no one is thinking about physical discomfort, only about physical pleasure and release?

Here's the flip side of this question:  Is a love scene diluted if a character is able to think in advance about something other than his/her physical passions?  Or is losing all sense of self-preservation a necessary element to show how hot a character is for the object of lust?

Here's why I'm interested in this.  I'm writing a book (as previously disclosed) in which the characters run a distinct risk of getting caught (not adultery -- blecch! -- but in a more situational/professional sense) if it's revealed that they're romantically involved.  (If caught, heroine has to leave & hero gets fired, maybe.  It would be a huge pain for them to reconnect.)  It's a temporary problem, so of course they could just lust for each other without acting on those feelings.  But where's the fun in that?  So I want them to get physical -- only I want them to get physical in a smart way and not risk disclosure.  I'm approaching this more as a reader: if I were reading a book with this set-up, it would bother me if they acted on their mutual attraction in a foolhardy way.  It wouldn't make me think, "Wow, that's hot!"  It would make me think, "Wow, that's stupid."

I want my characters to be both hot & smart.  But I wonder -- if they approach their romance in a creative way, does that diminish the full force of their sexual attraction?

P.S.  If you have a moment, click on the phrenology chart above -- Conjugal Love, Amativeness, Combativeness, and Philoprogenitiveness are all clustered together.  They're pretty far away from Language and Calculation, so I know this much:  If a character is conjugating verbs or doing her taxes while kissing, that is A Bad Sign.


  1. But I wonder -- if they approach their romance in a creative way, does that diminish the full force of their sexual attraction?"

    I am an atypical reader, though.

  2. Victoria -- Bless you! Maybe if we get enough "atypical readers" together, we can convince The Others that this is actually a reasonable approach to love scenes. Shhhh -- let's keep this plan to ourselves for now.

  3. I know this is how the romance world sees as the ultimate tribute by hero or heroine to each other. But for me, utter and complete disregard for ambient situations is irresponsible and disrespectful towards each other. Allowing yourself to get carried away because the temptation is so strong is one thing, because choice is involved. Getting carried away is quite another. Shows a reckless personality to me.

  4. "Ambient situations" -- what a perfect phrase to express the point! Thanks, Keira.

    And here's another thing I thought of after I posted: it's de rigeur to have the couple think about condoms (although as we know some authors "allow the readers to infer" the use of protection) but not other "ambient situations"?

    I may need to bug Moriah Jovan to come defend the other point of view, or this will look like a set-up.

  5. It's my pasting problems, really! I swear it!

    Actually, I agree. There are a lot of scenes where it does occur to me: 1) Getting caught here would not be sexy; 2) That was her favorite dress, asshole; 3) Do you KNOW what sand does when it gets in my vagina?

    The trick as the writer is to find an alternate way for them to be in a situation without having to think about its being appropriate or not. In other words, the characters shouldn't HAVE to think about why they can't get it on in X location because it's stupid. They just wait for Y location because it goes without saying that that's what should happen.

    If I want a hero to rip my heroines clothes off, she either won't care or she'll think something like, "Oh, he's going to pay for that later." or he'll tell her he'll get her a new one or she'll catch him and say, "I don't think so." Depends on the character.

    Grass stains? Heh. Did that. She had bigger problems at the moment.

    I always thought having sex on a beach was hawt until a friend said, "No. Sand goes EVERYWHERE. It's not fun." So...that's just not going to happen for me unless it's on a huge towel/blanket that's just been laid out.

    As for inappropriate times... Well, I like having my people get caught (cuz I'm pervy like that), but see... All my people are professional and have jobs and it wouldn't OCCUR to them to be so inappropriately carried away that it would endanger them that way. A surreptitious caress, yes. A heated kiss, yeah. Maybe. Nothing much more than that.

    So, um. I guess I agree with you? Heh.

  6. Oh, also, one thing I forgot. If the characters do do something stupid or (almost) unbelievable, they get called on it. They either suffer the consequences or explain.

  7. Moriah -- Thank you! I also think, "But what if she really loved that bra/blouse/whatever"? I just assumed I'm being pedantic and prosy, and that no one else would have that reaction.

    I get it that spontaneity is a good thing, and being crazed with passion is even better, but I just hate it when people lose IQ points on me. Stay safe and stay smart, protags! Stupidity should not be a sexually transmitted disease!

  8. This Balogh: Snow Angel celebrates aware, adult and awesome mutual attraction and snow melting love-making. Being a Balogh, there are some issues to resolve, but it is their HEADS not just their hearts being part of their passionate encounters is what makes this book soar!

  9. Janet -- trust you to make me buy yet another book! (Not to worry, I love them all.)


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