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! 😉

Pinteresting

Amanda Martin's Pinterest board for Pictures of LoveI’m always late.

I was late getting the kids to nursery this morning. We were late to a Christening yesterday, although, thankfully, so were the baby’s parents. I am always sliding into the chair at the doctors or the dentist hoping that they, too, are running late.

The thing I am usually proud of being late for is getting on a band wagon.

Who wants to jump on a band-wagon too quickly? 

Sometimes it’s because it’s a band wagon and I don’t want to climb on until rush hour has past and it’s a bit less noisy and smelly : I didn’t read any Harry Potter until the third book was out. I only saw Avatar last month and I’m resisting the urge to see what all the fuss is about with Fifty Shades of Grey.

Sometimes I’m late on a band wagon because I’m stupid. I don’t think something will work for me or I don’t see the point. Like Twitter and Pinterest. Now I’m still there with Twitter: I have an account and tweet occasionally (see, I know the terminology, just about) but I can’t get into it. I think maybe you need to be able to see it all the time on your phone or computer to make sense of it. My technology isn’t there yet. It leaves me feeling like the person arriving late at a party, who comes in mid-conversation and doesn’t understand the punch-line to a joke because they didn’t hear the beginning.

Pinterest though, now that’s a different matter. I originally dismissed Pinterest as not useful or relevant to me, although I enjoyed seeing my friends’ posts; links to lovely crafty things that I might have the time one day to do with my children. I hope. Then I read an article, sent to me by LinkedIn, about how photographs can help people engage with your brand. I don’t have a brand, but I am about to self-publish my first novel. So I thought I’d better see what Pinterest was all about.

And oh my how much do I love it?

I love photos anyway, photography being a former attempted-career. And I have always had scrapbooks for my novels (usually on my laptop but sometimes actual physical cut and paste ones.) For my first novel, Finding Lucy (currently unfinished because I inconveniently went into labour before completing the first draft) I have a giant scrapbook of pictures of the main characters, taken from stock photo sites. There are also biographies, timelines, star signs, pictures of their houses including floor plans for ease of writing scenes. It is my treasured possession.

I haven’t done a scrapbook for Pictures of Love, my current WIP, because if I get scissors or selotape out now, the kids are on me like ants on jam. So I have a file on my computer, full of photographs I took when I went to London to visit my locations in Fleet St, Earl’s Court and so on, as well as headshots of people I have found that look like my characters do in my head.

And now I can pin all those pictures in one place and carry it around with me anywhere I can get internet access. I can share it with my friends, show my beta readers what I think my characters look like and see if they agree.

I can put pictures on a site without worrying about copyright, as everything is sourced. [Update: it turns out this isn’t enough to stop you worrying about copyright. Since writing this post I have deleted most of the content from my Pinterest boards for fear of infringing someone’s copyright. I may be over-reacting, but better to be safe than sorry. You can read about someone who has learned this the hard way here and here (comment #76).]

And because everything is sourced I erase another problem – file location. For some of the images in my scrapbooks I wasn’t organised enough to keep internet URLs.

Idiot.

I have spent the last two days trying to track down all the images online (sorry family). And thankfully I have found most of them. My husband is not so lucky. I designed a fab (if I say so myself) front cover for his children’s novel Max and Shady, and got a copy printed for Christmas a couple of years ago. Only now he wants to publish it online and we can’t use the cover because we can’t find the image in order to purchase usage rights.

So Pinterest I thank you: for keeping me in tune with the zeitgeist, for giving me something fun to do while watching Euro 2012 (not that I need to worry about that so much now) and most of all for keeping me organised.

If you want to check out my Pinterest boards, to see what my sexy leading men (and women) look like, you can find them here.

Have you used Pinterest to plan out your novels or create your universes? How has it worked for you?