Friday, October 15, 2010

Guest author Jade Lee: Sex & the Single Title Romance

The daughter of a Shanghai native and a staunch Indiana Hoosier, Jade Lee struggled to find her own identity somewhere between America and China. The answer was found not only at home, but in her own head. Her imagination allows her to explore China in her Tigress series, dragon power in her fantasy romance Dragonborn, and of course, the amazing power of love in all of them. A USA Today bestseller, Jade’s also a popular speaker appearing all over the country throughout the year.

Outline the sexual progression of most romance novels and you end up with something like this, give or take a few scenes depending on the genre. A sweet, of course, tops out in the first two. A genre historical may have multiple interruptus scenes. An erotic novel may just jump straight to the multiple choice section. Here it is:

First Kiss
Sexus Interruptus (aka – heavy petting)
First love scene (hero dominant)
Additional love scenes – chose from the following choices:
  • heroine dominant
  • oral sex
  • food event
  • scandalous location
  • toys / props
  • non-traditional organs or orifices (esp. paranormals)
  • multiple partners (non-genre romance)
  • skanky villain sex (provided as contrast)
Did I miss anything? Feel free to e-mail me if something’s not there. I always want to learn more!

In any event, given the above list, why oh why do we intelligent, successful women insist on reading the above laundry list over and over again? Obviously, we don’t. Our romance novels are something more than a list that boils down to inserting Tab A into Slot B. But what could it be? What does the successful romance author know about writing that our critics don’t?

Emotional Connection. Yeah, yeah, it all feels good or electric or tingly or throbbing (I had to throw that last one in), but what separates a love scene from say a pornographic picture? Or Rob Lowe on home video? Love. Fear. Anger. Frustration. Deeply felt emotions flow through the best love scenes. They are the substance behind the mechanics and why we return to our favorite genre.

Connect to the Reader. Long before the first caress, characters have to be drawn such that the reader roots for the heroine and falls in love with the hero. I as a reader need to identify with the heroine’s difficulty because I am the heroine. While I am reading, I want to live her dreams and traumas. In my hero, I want to see a man who would brighten my world and help raise my children.

But good sex goes way beyond the connection to the participants. Frankly, sex isn’t a spectator sport. So, while I’m living in the heroine, making love with my hero, what lifts the experience into something more interesting than a grammar class (where oh where does that dangling modifier go)? Ask yourself this: what is the emotion BEYOND lust that pervades the love scene? And (here’s the real kicker) how does it change?

All romance love scenes from first kiss to explosive orgasm should contain lust and at least a glimmer of love (skanky villain sex excluded). But overriding that should be another emotion that layers into every caress, every stroke, every thrust and moan. Anger (at something–the situation, past history) that love changes to peace. Fear that love changes to gratitude (subset: adrenaline sex that reconnects us with living). Jealousy that love changes to worship. Something lost that love transforms into someone found. That’s what I read for. Layer those into your love scenes and you’ll have something readers keep coming back to again and again.

Now it's your turn. Make a comment, add a sexual scene that I missed, or tell me that you love my newest book: Wicked Surrender. Here's a picture! And a link to my website where there's a book trailer. And one lucky commenter will get a free Jade Lee (or Kathy Lyons) book! So...tell me what you think!

Jade Lee


Tom said...

I don't normally read romance (I'm the Action Guy), but I have to say, I love your voice in this post alone! I may just pick up a book for giggles, though I'm sure my wife would be eager to read it too (she's the Romance Gal).

As for situations, how about the Solo Act? I have a book I am picking away at that involves some sexual tones (as well as action and supernatural), and I did detail a solo act. A friend said it was VERY well done. Yes, I I'm prideful. :)

Farrah Rochon said...

Great to see you here again, Jade! This should be a must-read for aspiring (and some established) romance writers who need to be reminded about what's important to a good love scene. It's all about the emotion it conveys. Love this!

And WICKED SURRENDER has a beautiful cover! Congrats on both it's release and the new Kathy Lyons Blaze!

Linnea Sinclair said...

Awesome post, my brilliant friend, and yes, it should be required reading for a lot of writers and authors. I judge a fair amount of writing contests and one of the things Consistently Done...well, Wrong (IMHO and IMHE) is formulaic intimacy. A sex scene does not a great novel make. (With an admitted nod here to reader expectations by GENRE. Erotica has different reader expectations than, say, SFR.)

There's been a pressure of late from publishers to "ramp up the sex" or "add more sex" in novels when I think it's not so much sex per se they want but the emotional connection and/or the tension that comes from the developing emotional connection. That's much harder to write than "sex." As you point out, skanky villain sex doesn't feed readers' needs (one hopes). So adding more pages of insert tab A into slot B isn't the answer, any more than adding more dead bodies to a mystery is an answer. Victims in a mystery are far more impactful if they have a meaning to the protagonists/plot. Random bodies piling up soon lose their value.

Same with random bodies piling in sexual positions in romance. IMHO and IMHE, of course. ;-) But then, I've always felt the chase slightly more fascinating than the capture.

Big hugs girlie! You rock, ~Linnea

Jade said...

Hey guys! Sorry, the hotel network has had me blocked all day.

You're right, Tom. I forgot the solo act. Which has been done well in many books. Good catch!

Jade said...

Hi Farrah! Fun to be here. Yes, I love my cover!

Jade said...

Linnea! You rock, girl! Thank you, your post is lovely!

Ok, I'm off for a late dinner but I'll check back in.

Liane Spicer said...

Lovely having you on the blog again, Jade! Enjoyed your insights into what makes sex work (or not) in romance novels.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Great tips for romance authors, Jade. Congratulations on your recent book release. Love the cover.

Jade said...

Thank you for having me, Liane!

Hi Jewel. Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed the tips!

KeVin K. said...

For men the making love part is often doing something outside the bed in service to the woman. Giving up the overseas job opportunity to stay close, fending off the lion, bringing home the entire paycheque and depositing it in the joint account, etc. For most men the sex is the reward for having effectively demonstrated love.

And my impression is women do not see sex as the purely biological act unconnected to emotion or commitment the way most men do. When a guy says "it was just sex" every other guy on the planet knows what he means: Essentially the solo act with another person.

Love for most men has to do with commitment and acceptance. We learn in high school that girls only like us until someone cooler comes along. Admitting you're hurt, admitting you can't handle something is equivalent to letting the quarterback stuff you in a locker. The girl you love will never respect you again. (And that's biology: Why do guys get all grinny and try to show off when pretty girls pay attention? Female attention triggers a massive endorphin dump; pain sensors are suppressed and the heart races as the male animal gears up to fight other males and win the female animal. Society frowns on actual combat, so guys substitute sports, acts of derring-do, and general silliness.)

I realize the target audience for romance is female. But for a love scene to ring true to a male reader (as something more than a sex scene) there has to be some act of commitment or sacrifice leading up to the sex, or that makes the sex possible.
The sex act itself? Back to the high school must-be-cool rule: With no other motivation, the guy will try to be better than whomever he thinks the gal might compare him to. With love, he will want his partner to feel as good or better than he does. The guy will be particularly loving and careful if the gal has been traumatized through sex in some way -- this will go back to doing something of service to her to demonstrate his love.

What turns most romance novel love scenes into parodies for male readers is the guy being wracked by conflicting emotions or thinking anything poetic. (Or just thinking period. Remember the oldest tactic for males wanting to delay is to *think* about something.)
Men do have all of those thoughts and emotions -- but working them through is part of the commitment process.
I have no idea whether keeping them where they actually occur would diminish the love scenes for the female reader. It may be that having the man think like a woman is vital. But for verisimilitude, you might try separating sex and love in the mind of your male lead.
See what happens.

Jade said...

Wow kevin. I'm really going to have to think about that one. Good information!

Jade said...

Congratulations Jewel Amethyst! You've won a Jade Lee or Kathy Lyons book! Please email me at

Liane Spicer said...

I have to echo Jade's 'wow', KeVin. Fascinating look at the other side.

Sex workers aside, I doubt that sex is ever "just sex" for women, no matter how casual the encounter. Maybe that's why romance novels are so popular with women: they provide a fantasy comfort zone where we pretend to understand the incomprehensible.

Shauna Roberts said...

JADE [waving hi!], I wish more romance writers would keep your points in mind and write sex scenes more like yours. I avoid most "hot" romance novels because so often the sex displaces plot instead of being an integral part of it.

KEVIN, what fascinating info! Thanks for sharing that.