IS IT LOVE, OR JUST SEX?
By Irene Radford

Is it love, or is it just sex? This is a question that has plagued humankind since the beginning of time. As Authors, we can take the easy way out: close the bedroom door and let the readers figure it out.

But what about the times when your setting is such that doors have not been invented yet? Sometimes the story really needs the intimate interactions between characters. Their reactions in the aftermath can reveal more development than any number of confrontations before hand.

If you have never written an intimate scene before, it can be as embarrassing as reliving your first experience. There is always the thought: ďMy mother might read this!Ē

Forget your mother. She knows what goes on in the bedroom. But letís face it, even though we see sexual situations on TV, in the movies, or on the bus, there are taboos in our society. We, as writers, have to acknowledge the taboos as well as the requirements of our story. Euphemisms instead of anatomical names for body parts can alleviate some embarrassment.

When I was writing GUARDIAN OF THE BALANCE, Merlinís Descendants #1, I had to establish that Merlin, a traditionally celibate character, had truly done the deed to get a descendant. To do the story justice, I could not just present Merlin with a daughter. I had to show the unusual circumstances that allowed him to beget a child in the first place.

So I wrote a pagan ceremony around a bonfire on Beltane. To build tension in the scene and establish conflict I had to remove the white robes from all of the participants, except Merlin. I had to show Merlinís desire to participate as well as the geas imposed upon him by the gods so that he had to remain aloof -- and clothed. The tension in the scene rose along with the throbbing drums of the ceremony. I had fun and overwrote the scene letting it all hang out. Weeks later I edited it down and cleaned up the language.

But was it love or just sex?

That scene was truly just about sex. My characters had affection for each other but the scene was about sexual release, not about love. I could highlight the anatomy and sensations that come into play and forget about the emotions involved.

The aftermath of the scene sent Merlin into direct confrontation with the gods for breaking his geas. His arguments for letting him continue his destiny set the tone for the character for the rest of the book, as well as his internal conflict. The aftermath was a reaction to the sexual act, and had nothing to do with how he might feel about his partner.

Later in the book, my heroine Wren, (Merlinís daughter) has an encounter with the love of her life, Arthur Pendragon, King of the Britains. This is truly a love scene. Childhood friends grown to maturity, they have the lusury of exploring the wonder of love with their bodies. Yes, I mentioned the anatomy, and the sensations of arousal. Yes, I showed the release. But I concentrated upon the emotions. There is tenderness and joy along with the excitement. There is also a tentative exploration into the idea of commitment.

The aftermath of this scene deals entirely with emotions: betrayal of their love, shattered joy, and tenderness turned bitter. They end all possibility for a long term relationship or a commitment. This was a love scene. It went far beyond just sex.

Both scenes were consistent with the flow of the action in the novel as a whole.

I have read several romance novels where the love scene is postponed to the very end of the book. Either the characterís or the authorís convictions forbade a consummated love scene outside the bonds of marriage, but the readers and/or editor expected at least one such encounter. If the couple wait until the end of the book and after the marriage, where is the tension? All of the issues that separate them have been resolved, they have permission to engage in sex. In my opinion, the scene just adds pages to the book.

The only time I have seen this work for me was in an historical romance. All of the heroineís problems stem from the fact she had been the kingís mistress ten years before. A jealous queen dowager now wants her dead. The heroine has very good reasons never to become another manís mistress no matter how much she loves him. Then in the course of the book, she becomes horribly scarred. The tenderness and respect shown by the hero in the final love scene help both of the characters heal. This is the pay off for the reader. Truly a happily ever after ending.

So, when faced with the necessity of writing an intimate scene, the author must ask some questions:

Has the sexual tension been foreshadowed? This is necessary in both a sex scene and a love scene. Otherwise it is just titillation.

Do the characters care for each other? They do not have to acknowledge this, but it must be shown in the scenes leading up to it. If the emotion is not there, then you had better demonstrate that both characters are capable of casual sex and can then move on.

Does the scene have a place in the story, or is it just to titillate and increase the page count? If the plot can move forward without the scene then axe it or close the bedroom door. Believe it or not, some plots do need the love scenes. What emotions are involved? Is there wonder, tenderness, joy, love, or commitment? If not, then take another look at the scene and decide if this is the best presentation.

Is the scene prompted by anger between the characters? This gets complicated. Is the anger another side of love? Or is the animosity real and well motivated? If the latter, then this becomes rape and must be looked at even more closely. Do you truly want your hero or heroine committing such a heinous crime? This is a quick way to lose the readerís sympathy.

Who is your audience? Are you targeting teenagers, middle-aged women, the Bible Belt? The above audiences might require you to tone down the scene, or even close the door. Broad spectrum Science Fiction/Fantasy audiences tend to be more liberal. Think about it before you write the scene.

Once you have answered these questions to your own satisfaction, you can make the decisions about including the scene or not, the vocabulary, and the degree of sensuality. A discussion with an agent or editor doesnít hurt either.

So, stop blushing, turn off the lights, close your eyes if you have to, and get writing.

And remember: itís true what they say. The first time is always the hardest.



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