Filling the Gaps: Where’s the sex?

"Romance" covers show what readers want

“Romance” covers show what readers want

I’ve been working on Class Act today, hurrah! After too many days lost to sickness (me and the children) it was nice to get back to it, even if I didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped. I had a pretty rough day yesterday and it is hard to write, for me, when I’m emotionally drained.

So I spent the time I had looking through my current draft of the novel to spot areas that needed expanding. As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to write the highlights in my first rough draft, and then have to go back and fill in the gaps during revision.

One thing I’ve noticed that I leave out a lot is the sex. My books are fairly chaste, particularly by modern standards. There isn’t much nookie, even though Baby Blues starts with a sex scene (which was originally more detailed than the final edit). I find it’s not something that gets added in unless I think of it. Maybe it’s because I grew up reading (and loving) Georgette Heyer novels. (Class Act definitely has elements of a Heyer story). Maybe it’s because I’m a mother of two small children, generally too exhausted to give much thought to nookie in my own life (sorry hubbie!)

It’s certainly unusual. Most of the chick lit books I grew up reading (aside from Heyer) have at least one or two sex scenes, from the sweet, to the implied, to the steamy. I enjoyed reading them in my teens and twenties, although I’m not a fan of erotica or books that have sex as the main focus. But it is generally a natural part of relationships and therefore plays a role in the character and plot development, so why do I leave it out?

My Latest Read - lots of kissing!

My Latest Read – lots of kissing!

I am noticing, as I read Twin Curse, that there’s lots of kissing and physical contact (and I’m sure eventually sex). And I wondered, is that why my books don’t sell well and don’t get reviews? In the days of Fifty Shades of Grey, am I not fulfilling the need for a bit of action? Certainly if you search ‘romance’ books on Amazon, the covers suggest that bedroom action is a key selling point. When I write my novels, my aim is usually to explore characters at life-changing points in their lives: change of career, change of priorities, change of heart. They fall in love, but that’s only part of the story. The demons they battle are in their minds and in their past. But, to make the relationships genuine, there has to be some physical attraction.

I remember watching an episode of Bones once (a TV show about a forensic anthropologist who is also an author). The lead protagonist is proud of her books, particularly the scientific aspects of them, but her fans buy and read them for the sex. She actually has a friend of hers help her with that aspect of the stories and eventually gives her friend a percentage of the book royalties because she realises it is the sex that is selling the books.

I suppose the phrase “sex sells” didn’t come about by accident. But it feels awkward for me to go through the story and inject sex scenes where there are none. Particularly in Class Act, where the physicality of the relationship is a core part of the story. I was shocked to discover I’d got to the climax scene in the first draft without the couple ever ending up in the bedroom – even though it was a core part of the story! (The same happened in Baby Blues but at least she had the excuse of being pregnant / a new mother!)

And then of course there is the issue of how steamy to be. I prefer implied action, because what is a turn on for one maybe a complete turn off for someone else. I remember reading Mills & Boon as a teenager and giggling over the “throbbing member” type descriptions. Focusing on the sensations and the emotions is probably more my style. But there is a danger that it all gets too introspective and unrealistic: people don’t typically have internal dialogue when they’re in the clinch of passion.

Anyway, I don’t really have the answers, but I was intrigued when I realised how unromantic and chaste my romance novel is in its early drafts. Maybe I should stick with writing YA or move into MG fiction. I’m obviously more interested in plot points than pants! But, for now, I need to fill the gaps. I’m sure hubbie will be happy if I do some research and inject some sex back into things! 😉

6 thoughts on “Filling the Gaps: Where’s the sex?

  1. I love Georgette Heyer, her Mistress series especially! I am not a big reader of sex in books, if it’s there I’ll read it (and it usually is in most books now). It’s not that I’m averse to it, just I prefer the build up to that point more 😀 I don’t write sex scenes in my books, though I can get pretty steamy in some sections. I think the option is to write to the point you feel comfortable 🙂 Great post.

    • Thank you. I’m not uncomfortable writing the scenes (although I’m not very skiled at it either) it just doesn’t occur to me that it’s necessary until I realise a character is proposing marriage when a couple have barely snogged! Then, when I read it back, It lacks credibility to me.

  2. You know, there’s an entire group on Goodreads devoted to “clean reads.” A lot of the women there are authors themselves because they’ve had trouble finding romance without explicit sex scenes so they decided to write those books themselves.

    I think there’s a lot more women out there who want the sex toned down than some might think.

    As for me, I don’t mind as long as it makes sense in the story. If it feels like it was tacked on as an afterthought, or feels out of place, I don’t want to read it. Nothing graphic, though. It takes away from the story, imo.

  3. I think you can call it Cosy Romance, which is pukka bile icky sounding but just means that there’s snogging but no sex. If you do that, though it may make your toes curl, you should find that people looking for nookie scenes will eschew your book and people eschewing nookie scenes will embrace them. Personally, I think writing a good sex scene is really difficult and the time I tried it was funny, but in a way that was so not good. So maybe think a bit. Don’t change it because you think you have to. Romance is really tricky. As I understand it, if the wrong readers are buying your books they won’t like it.

    You know what Barry White said “Don’t go changing, just to please me…” well… them… this isn’t really working is it. But what I mean is, don’t do anything you don’t want to do or that doesn’t feel right.

    So for what it’s worth, I’d say, experiment with more books… and stick to your guns with the ones you’ve done.



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