Friday, March 12, 2010

How soon is too soon?

Out on the interwebs there's a bit of discussion going on about how soon characters in romances should engage in intimacy. How soon is too soon?

I always think about the limo scene with Kevin Costner and Michelle Pfeiffer in No Way Out. They go at it hot and heavy and when they're all finished, he tells her his name. Um, that's too soon for any of my stories.

Call me old fashioned but I can't think of any circumstances where my characters will engage in sex while still strangers. I know this is not an issue with all writers. But it's a personal issue for me. Can't do it. Can't make it work.

Some writers say it depends on their characters. I submit that our characters originate somewhere in the depths of our minds and much as we like to believe they just pop up full blown from the ozone, they reflect our beliefs and ethics to some extent.

I've read quite interesting stories that began with stranger sex. But my characters won't be engaging in that behavior...which leads to the original question. How soon is too soon?

Publishers of erotic romance have varying requirements, but most prefer the sex to start fairly quickly in the story--and continue at a steady rate through the story. This creates a problem for the writer if they don't write "stranger sex". How many scenarios can they create that support immediate sex?

The basic one of course is the story line where the characters already know each other--perhaps are already intimate--and the story begins in effect in the middle of some crisis in their lives. Maybe they've had an argument and are making up. Maybe they've separated and are coming back together. In any case, they are not strangers and have a history.

Orrrr, perhaps they are dealing with some major crisis and end up in bed (up against the wall, in the back seat of a limo...) with each other in response to that crisis. He (or she--usually the heroine) has almost died (been murdered, threatened, etc.) and the hero is impelled to place his stamp of ownership on their relationship. Okay. It happens. Not my favorite story line, but it works if well-written.

Another possibility is the someone-will-die-if-we-don't-have-sex-immediately scenario. I admit. I used this scenario in my very first book. I was a complete newbie and couldn't figure out how to meet the submission requirements. And after all my maneuvering, the story still didn't quite have enough sex in it to meet the heat levels. Hmmm. Sometimes it's better to go with the story and just let the requirements go.

This is my new philosophy. Write the story. Don't worry about the sex. Like all human partners, there will be great variety with the characters. Some will go at it like bunny rabbits. Some will be more restrained. Some will take every opportunity to engage in sex. Others will seek out a more romantic, less spontaneous intimacy. With every story, it will be different. So rather than try to engineer X number of sex scenes in a book, I will write the story. And if they happen to end up in bed, well, that's fine. In that case, that will be the right thing for that set of characters.

The truth is there is no one-size-fits all for intimacy. And that's a good thing because we're all individuals.



  1. Hmmm--I've used stranger sex a couple times in quickies--usually magic or other powers are involved. Once in a non-paranormal where they both think they're dreaming, at least at first. But usually? No. Totally agree though--go with what fits the story and let the clothes fall where they will.

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  3. I actually used "stranger sex" in a paranormal also. It was a shifter story and I used the "heat" and "danger" elements that immediately turned into part of the conflict. I have to agree though, the sex has to fit the story.

  4. I used stranger sex in two of my stories; one was alcohol-induced loss of control and the other was simply lust-induced. In the first case, the characters discovered each other's identities within weeks of the incident, and in the latter, three months later. Can love evolve from a bad judgment call? Who knows? I hope I've written a good story to back it up.

    I'm with you; I tend to roll my eyes when I read unrealistic contemporary scenes, but you never know what drives people to react in certain situations.

  5. I think it depends on the story and what the author is comfortable with. I've used stranger sex in several futuristics and paranormals, as well as contemporary. It really depends on the characters and their situation. Great topic for discussion, Anny.

  6. I tend to be uncomfortable with 'stranger sex'. Maybe it's that old fashioned southern stuff. I don't know. I often have former lovers reuniting or will do the sex under stress thing. I worry about this all the time and I'm sick of stressing it. I'm writing the story and they'll have sex when they are meant to have it.

  7. No, there is not 'one size fits all'. I'm sort of liking the sci fi genre because if I need to, or if my characters need to, they can have stranger sex. In my mind, there must be a damn good reason, but it can happen.

  8. I don't agonize over it or analyse it or need ot justify it. Sex happens as does plot development

  9. I'm one who believes it depends on the characters. My Whisper and Sigh was written all about one day in time without the characters ever introducing themselves.

    Hahaha, my word verification is soonest!