Tag Archive: sex

Retro Caryn: Writing Erotic Romance

SEXCaryn is down for a bit after some minor surgery. Today we’re running one of her best-loved posts on the trials of writing erotic fiction. We know you’ll love this post and Caryn will be back with us all in no time.
When Fifty Shades of Grey crashed into the publishing world, everyone was aghast. On so many levels. Talk shows brought in therapists and psychologists— specialists on sexual abuse and relationships, and quickly labeled it mommy porn. Stuck home with my first broken ankle and nearly dead from boredom, I couldn’t resist the idea of reading something so risqué in the privacy of my own home. And thanks to the instant gratification that Amazon provides I fired up my eReader and was reading in less than five minutes. I’d never read anything like it and can’t deny it ambushed my libido in about a nanosecond.

It soon became the hot topic of conversation among my reader and writer pals. We debated and confessed: we loved it, we hated it, wanted to hate it but didn’t, wanted to love it but didn’t. The quality of the writing came up, which always annoys me. If you don’t like the writing, then stop reading. I don’t criticize other people’s writing unless they ask me to. Just like you don’t comment on someone’s clothing or haircut unless they petition you for your opinion, and even then I tread lightly. It’s different if it’s a crit partner, then the need for complete honesty is paramount, although I always bench my comments with a reminder that it’s just one person’s opinion, and other than technical errors, it’s up to the author as to whether they should take the advice to heart or not.

Conversation among my writer pals and my editor heightened. “Someone should jump on the bandwagon and write an erotic romance novel!” they all agreed. “It’s a huge new market and a great opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.” Hmm…I thought. That sounds kind of cheesy, like rushing to write a dystopian novel because of the success of The Hunger Games, or getting on the Vampire and Zombie train, it’s just felt wrong. Writing to Market is a topic of many a pitch conference, but doing it intentionally just to follow a craze seemed well, again, just wrong. We write the stories inside us, the ones we want, not one designed to please others.

But my mind started to wander. I discovered there is a whole world of books that follow the BDSM lifestyle and I began to read them. Confined to my couch, I had nothing much else to do. I’d write for some part of the day, but I was pretty much limited to reading and TV to amuse myself for months, especially after I broke my other ankle. I read a lot. And my mind wandered some more. Using my usual What if…? prompt when I went to bed at night, a story took shape. I furthered my musings, day after endless day. The debate and near-hysteria among my friends continued until one day a writer pal said to my editor (who was desperately trying to convince one of us to write such a novel) “Caryn’s the one! She can do it!” Well, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Was I insulted or pleased that I came to mind?

I soon confessed that I thought I had such a story in me and decided to give it a shot. The story came easily enough, romance not too difficult to write, but the sex scenes? Well, they were rough, and I’m not just talking about the sex. One of the trickiest parts for me is the language. I’ve written before about writing a love scene and Jenn has tackled the mechanics of writing sex, but this was on a whole new level. One of the reasons I liked FSG so much was that her language didn’t make me cringe. Some people like to talk dirty, but it’s just not me. I do have quite a potty mouth, but it doesn’t seem to find it’s way into the bedroom. I have no idea why. Maybe it’s left over from my good-girl Catholic school days, or my mother’s indoctrination about being a lady. In seventh grade she told me not to dance the twist because the Blessed Virgin Mary wouldn’t do it. It made me angry then and of course I disobeyed her, now it makes me laugh. Okay, TMI, I’ll stop.

Crafting a BDSM sex scene without going too far became my aim. And, of course, my female protagonist is never going to become a wimp or a true submissive, even if she’s involved in that world for some ulterior motive as an undercover FBI agent. And so UnderCovers is finished, and in the hands of my editor, who has been incredibly enthusiastic about it’s possibility for success. We’ll see. I had a blast writing it and even if it never sees the light of day, and it remains ‘undercovers’ forever, I had a ton of fun. The only thing that still makes me uncomfortable is: do I publish under my name or use a pen name? Not sure how my sons would feel about this endeavor… Yikes!

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Writing the Love Scene: Part II

kissSeems as if we were on a love theme last week. A little late, we should have hit this in February!

Robin wrote about love archetypes, in her post of the same name, a concept I’d never thought much about when writing a love scene, probably because my lovers develop their character traits as I write. Not much of a planner, me. My last post was more of a how-to-get-them-to-fall-in-love deal. In my research I stumbled upon a ton of “love tidbits” and so I thought I’d share more of them with you this week.

Did you know that…

  • Men who kiss their wives in the morning live five years longer than those who don’t.
  • When it comes to doing the deed early in the relationship, 78 percent of women would decline an intimate rendezvous if they had not shaved their legs or underarms.
  • Feminist women are more likely than other females to be in a romantic relationship.
  • Two-thirds of people report that they fall in love with someone they’ve known for some time vs. someone that they just met.
  • People telling the story of how they fell in love overwhelmingly believe the process is out of their control.
  • Falling in love can exert the same stress on your body as deep fear. You see the same physiological responses — pupil dilation, sweaty palms, and increased heart rate.
  • Being in love can induce a calming effect on the body and mind and raises levels of nerve growth factor for about a year, which helps to restore the nervous system and improves the lover’s memory.
  • Brain scans show that people who view photos of a beloved experience an activation of the caudate — the part of the brain involving cravings.
  • Couples’ personalities converge over time to make partners more and more similar.
  • The tradition of the diamond engagement ring comes from Archduke Maximillian of Austria who, in the 15th century, gave a diamond ring to his fiancée, Mary of Burgundy.
  • Forty-three percent of women prefer their partners never sign “love” to a card unless they are ready for commitment.
  • People who are newly in love produce decreased levels of the hormone serotonin — as low as levels seen in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to feel obsessed when you’re smitten.
  • Philadelphia International Airport finished as the No. 1 best airport for making a love connection, according to an online survey. (I was just stranded their for several hours and it almost happened.)
  • According to mathematical theory, we should date a dozen people before choosing a long-term partner; that provides the best chance that you’ll make a love match.
  • A man’s beard grows fastest when he anticipates sex.
  • When we get dumped, for a period of time we love the person who rejected us even more. The brain regions that lit up when we were in a happy union continue to be active.
  • There’s a reason why office romances occur: The single biggest predictor of love is proximity. Familiarity breeds comfort and closeness… and romance. Maybe that why so many movie stars fall in love when making a film and it’s tough to avoid that workplace romance.
  • A simple peck uses two muscles; a passionate kiss, on the other hand, uses all 34 muscles in your face. Now that’s a rigorous workout!
  • Like fingerprints or snowflakes, no two lip impressions are alike.
  • Kissing is good for what ails you. Research shows that the act of smooching improves our skin, helps circulation, prevents tooth decay, and can even relieve headaches.
  • The average person spends 336 hours of his or her life kissing.
  • Ever wonder how an “X” came to represent a kiss? Starting in the Middle Ages, people who could not read used an X as a signature. They would kiss this mark as a sign of sincerity. Eventually, the X came to represent the kiss itself.
  • Talk about a rush! Kissing releases the same neurotransmitters in our brains as parachuting, bungee jumping, and running.
  • The average woman kisses 29 men before she gets married. (There’s no research on how many frogs.)
  • Men who kiss their partners before leaving for work average higher incomes than those who don’t.
  • The longest kiss in movie history was between Jane Wyman and Regis Tommey in the 1941 film, You’re in the Army Now. It lasted 3 minutes and 5 seconds.

Need to test your love quotient? Check out these love quizzes on Cosmo.

Excerpted from Laura Schaefer’s Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor and Dr. Helen Fisher’s Why We Love.

Up Next From Caryn: I promise to be more serious. Maybe.

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Writing the Love Scene: Sex or No Sex

Vintage SexMy first foray into writing led me to an uncomfortable place: writing the love scene— and so I decided to do a little research before I made a total fool of myself. Since it was a YA novel, it was tame compared to what I’ve currently written, but I quickly understood that the elements are the same, sex or no sex.

I’ve been seriously in love more than once and figured this was something that would fall into the “write what you know” category. I soon learned how wrong that was. My Internet search revealed something quite startling. I gleaned it from a website written by an anthropologist who listed the reasons why we are attracted to a mate. I hadn’t planned on getting quite so scientific in my writing, scientist that I am, but the reason at the top of her list sent me reeling back onto my heels. It explained the success of Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey and endless other romantic stories.

I’ll give you three guesses. I’m timing you. Tick tock. Time’s up. Nope. You’re wrong. Okay, wait for it … it’s protection! We fall helplessly in love with the guy who rides in on the white horse and sweeps us onto the saddle a second before our imminent death. Who knew? Are we here at the hero model again? Maybe.

Recently, Jenn tackled the difficult task of writing sex and since I’ve finished my first erotic romance novel, I’ve got quite a bit of experience at confronting some demanding scenes. It’s often said that writing a sex scene is like writing a fight scene. It’s tough to orchestrate—keeping track of moving body parts, infusing intense emotions in a close setting, describing body language, and crafting meaningful yet succinct lines of dialogue.

The feminist movement encouraged us to save ourselves because waiting for a guy to rescue us in the nick of time would be just plain stupid. No one can argue with that logic. However we still fall head-over-heels for that guy who saves the day: Superman, Batman… you know who they are. Think back to the romantic tales that get your pulse racing, they all involve protection of sorts. When a strange man offers to share his umbrella in a rainstorm, or pulls you back as you were about to step into the crosswalk as an unsuspecting danger approaches (Yeah, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steel) triggers something that unfortunately is hard wired from caveman days when we really needed a man to protect us from the dangers that lurked behind every boulder.

Sadly, much of why we fall in love is beyond our control, relegated to the primitive regions of our brains and not very different from the rest of the animal world. In hindsight I made some poor choices in love, but I just couldn’t control myself. Even when someone else pointed it out to me.

Here are some other factors you might want to consider when orchestrating a love affair between characters. I’m citing things that have been documented by the scientific community: anthropologists, psychologists and animal behaviorists.

  • Woo slowly. Caution in courtship is found even among primitive animal species. Did you know that the male wolf spider must enter the long darker entrance of a female’s lair in order to copulate? He does this slowly. If he’s overeager she gobbles him up. Court your characters slowly, the longer you keep them apart the bigger the payoff for your reader once they get together. *
  • Use His/Her Name. When two people meet, using the other’s name during conversation scores big time. During the early days of dating my husband, he actually said, “I love when you say my name.” I thought it odd at the time, but now, I totally get it. *
  • Meeting in a dangerous situation is a perfect setting for falling in love. Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher says “Any kind of novelty, particularly something dangerous drives up dopamine levels in the brain. Intense romantic love is linked with elevated dopamine activity. That’s why vacations can be so romantic; novelty triggers the dopamine system and partners feel some of that early glow of intense romance.”
  • Love maps. Sexologist John Money says, “Long before you fixate on anyone in particular you’ve developed a mental map that determines what arouses you sexually. These love maps vary from one individual to the next. Some people get turned on by a business suit or a doctor’s uniform, by big breasts, small feet, or a vivacious laugh.”
  • Money Buys Love. I know this sounds awful, but come on! A handsome billionaire would be at the top of anyone’s list. Since the dawn of time women are drawn to men with property or money.
  • Love At First Sight. Do we really believe this? I’m not sure, but it certainly works in a novel. In fact, according to anthropologists love at first sight may have a critical adaptive function among animals. During the mating season the female of any species needs to breed. And it’s always her choice. Once she decides, she’s in a hurry. If he looks suitable, she grabs him! *
  • Love Makes Us Stupid. Yeah, we’ve all been there. Seems your good judgment goes right out the window when you fall in love. Dr. Helen Fisher again, “Yes, neuroscientists have found that some of the thinking and decision-making regions in the prefrontal cortex can deactivate when you’re in love. And with less blood rushing to this region, social judgment can be suppressed.”
  • Looks Count. Beauty is a bit subjective. When the Beatles first arrived on our shores there was serious debate as to who was cuter. Obviously, there was no answer to that question. But the DaVinci Proportion is often cited as a mathematical calculation of what is pleasing to the eye. You can calculate your “beauty” quotient here.
  • Body language. Psychologists generally agree that ninety percent of communication is non-verbal and much of it is sexual. Dominant creatures puff up. Codfish bulge their heads and thrust their pelvic fins. Cats bristle. Pigeons swell. Gorillas pound their chests. Men thrust out their chests.* Who can resist a guy with great pecs?Passion
  • Chivalry (It Isn’t Dead). Make your man a gentleman. Even if he’s an alpha male mowing down every guy who annoys him, when it comes to his woman, make him gallant and tender. The sex could be rough, but there needs to be a caring, kind man underneath the covers.*
  • Opposites attract. Truthfully, people tend to be more attracted to those resembling themselves. According to research, this old adage is not indicative of a good match. It makes for writing joy however, setting up countless opportunities for conflict between your lovers.*
  • The Copulatory Gaze is probably the most striking human courting gesture. That unsettling stare of a handsome man who walks by you in the airport. Your lover’s eyes say many things, so be creative and intense with eye language.*

I’ve decided there are tons more tips I’ve collected on this topic so I’m going to give Part II next week. Meanwhile, in the event that you’re not actually writing a love scene, consider this information vital as you date that new guy. Go find somebody and fall in love, or fall in love all over again with the one sleeping next to you! LOL

*The Biology of Attraction (PSYCHOLOGY TODAY online)

Up Next from Caryn: Writing the Love Scene Part II




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Writing Sex

Beautiful nude brunette lying on a white bed on white backgroundFor a few heart-stopping moments, I considered leaving this post blank because writing sex is difficult. Seasoned writers I know avoid it like the plague. I thought maybe I’d toss in a few photos instead: one of Bigfoot and/or the Yeti; possibly a couple of anatomical drawings from a medical textbook; a quote or two from D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Anais Nin and Georges Bataille. Pass the buck, so to speak.

But then I got all responsible, and Robin reminded me that it’s Valentine’s Day on Friday, so I stopped wringing my hands and stared the beast down. It’s simple really: some things are harder to write well than others. Comedy, for one, relies on timing and a host of other factors to avoid falling flat. Horror can also be tough to do well because badly paced blood and gore will achieve the opposite of the writer’s intention: a roll of the eyes rather than a shiver; a giggle instead of a shriek. Badly written sex will make both writer and reader cringe, and while it’s possible to track down and burn all copies of your embarrassing book three years after it hits the stores, the World Wide Web holds onto everything with a death grip.

Let’s ask the question–what’s a book without a good romp between its covers? (Possibly better, but that’s not what this is about. No. This is about sex, something we all do, have done or hope to do, and ignoring it is almost as bad as telling our children that some long-beaked bird or the UPS dropped them off on the welcome mat.)

Sex can be many things: gratuitous, pornographic, sensual, hysterical, mean and dirty, shameful, erotic…it’s endless, all the adjectives I can think of…and it’s often the biggest elephant in the room. Why? We aren’t nearly as shy when we write about food, a close friend of sex.

I have a couple of theories.

  1. Because sex has to lug around a legacy of shame, like pooping, farting, and burping, only worse. It’s messy and what, you’re going to argue with me?
  2. Because a lot of the time when we have sex, we’re naked, and naked=vulnerable. Vulnerable=assailable and assailable=dead. Understandably, we don’t want to be dead.
  3. Too much pleasure is bad for the soul. Yes, well, tell that to the Romans–look what happened to them. Imagine how uncontrollable we’d be if we all just went out and had sex all the time. No one would do any work. Nature has found ways to deal with this: dogs come into heat, elephants musth, fish…whatever. Human beings are another story, and the only way to control our urges is to weigh them down with morality–all the stuff that makes us fearful and guilty and ashamed. And here we arrive back at #1.

We must grapple with and overcome all that if we’re to write about sex. Here are a few approaches that just might do the trick:

  • Consider your language. The words we associate with sex are often the first stumbling block. Personally, I always thought that a penis sounded like something bred in a Petri dish. You had to handle it with care and pick it up with tweezers. Vagina isn’t much better, having connotations of some kind of saw toothed animal trap. Unfortunate imagery doesn’t make for a salivating tingle, unless you’re Freddy or Jason. But it’s not all bad news. There are any number of synonyms, sadly, many of them almost as icky. It’s hard to take a va-jay-jay seriously (although it’s a lot friendlier), or a dong. Cocks are meant to crow and sometimes it’s a stretch to imagine they’re good at anything else. (If you’re cringing, imagine how I feel.) There are better ones, but I’ve about reached my sharing limit. Here’s an exercise: Find as many crude, rude and disgusting words as you can–nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs–and write them down, over and over again, then read them, over and over again. Somewhere along the line, they’ll lose their connotations and become just words, and as writers we’re wordsmiths. We understand things like context, character, voice, and tone, and once we strip our words of their baggage, we can use them with the deftness our readers expect of us.
  • Consider your reader. Say what you like, scold and berate me if you must, but men and women are different. Most online porn targets males, and heaven help a young girl whose first boyfriend is raised on it. Since I’m not going to turn this into a rant at how porn objectifies and subjugates women (and men too), let me just say that most often the hammer and nail approach is not your best option. I’m a fan of subtlety, and I trust my reader’s imagination. Stimulation doesn’t have to be ‘in your face.’ There can be more sex and eroticism in what is inferred than what is stipulated. I don’t mean an embarrassed shuffle around something you’re trying to avoid, because readers will pick that up too. I mean creative use of imagery and language. Sex is everywhere. It’s in the way a honeybee approaches a group of petals, and the way they open up for him, in the way a cat rubs up against a sleek pair of ankles, and in the contact between the palm of a hand and a hip. One of the sexiest scenes I ever saw was in Mountains of the Moon, when Patrick Bergen inhales cigar smoke, blows it through his mouth into a glass of cognac, and inhales it again through his nostrils. (Okay, so each to her own.) Tenderness is sexy. Look for it in strange, unlikely places. Just don’t forget to work.
  • Consider your characters. They may know nothing or everything about sex. They may need it hard and quick, or slow and shy.They may struggle to come to terms with it. Don’t take them somewhere they don’t want to go, unless that’s your specific intention as a writer, and odds are, that will be painful. Gratuitous sex in a novel is worse that a bad joke.

When crafting sex, the writer’s challenge lies in his/her ability to create mood. Sex should show up if it must, and if it’s as integral to a character’s development as all the other elements and experiences the author considers in crafting a novel. Erotic writers have more of a platform than ever before, thanks to the pioneering efforts of those who refuse to flinch or turn away, including the greats I’ve mentioned above. And the numbers indicate that readers are ready for it. Be brave, be strong, experiment. Be sexy.


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