Love Scenes: I’m Too Sexy for My….Thesaurus

I’m cross-posting over at the Castles and Guns blog today–comment here or there!

A month ago, I would have sworn that writing a synopsis was the most painful exercise a writer could go through. I don’t mind writing blurbs or overviews–they can be sharp and provocative and teasing. The synopsis has to boil 98,000 words into a few pages, hitting all the major plot points, wrapping up the ending–and somehow STILL be sharp and provocative. Just kill me now.

For the past week, I longed to write a synopsis. Would have welcomed a synopsis. Because I found something worse–my ultimate writing nightmare. The love scene.

I have a voice, and it is not the voice of a poet. I don’t write flowers and sunshine. When I entered my first book in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest and made it to the quarterfinals in 2009, I got a Publishers Weekly review. The reviewer called my writing “clean and sturdy prose,” a euphemism for straightforward and non-lyrical. I write in short, choppy sentences. I describe things in straightforward ways. I go light on simile and metaphor. I abhor adjectives. Blame it on the journalistic training, or a low bullshit tolerance.

Which brings us to love scenes. As a reader, I like a good love scene. But really, you have Tab A, Slot B, and a few secondary portals, and they can all fit together in only so many ways. I know that what makes love scenes work is the emotion behind them, but the author still has to WRITE them. 

So first there’s the issue of what to call the tabs and slots without resorting to Heaving-Bosom-and-Throbbing-Manhood Syndrome. I prefer straightforward names, but I’m not writing erotica–paranormal romance is a different animal, and some of those words probably won’t fly. My list of what qualifies as Purple Prose is extremely long. I’m running out of words.

There’s also the Ridiculous Synonym Syndrome. “Groan” is a good word, as is “moan.” A little breathlessness is cool. But how many groans and moans can one have in a ten-page scene without being absurd? And, I’m sorry, but my characters cannot mewl or bellow. There’s just no dignity in sounding like a helpless kitten or a raging bull. I’m running out of words.

Just kill me now.

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

9 thoughts on “Love Scenes: I’m Too Sexy for My….Thesaurus

  1. I feel your pain. I was stunned by how difficult it was for me to write my first love scene, and I still struggle with it. I found that sitting down and making a list of all the synonyms I could think of helped a bit, and it gave me a good chuckle.

  2. LOL. I was nervous when it came time to write my first love scene. Then I did it. And it didn’t suck. In fact, I’d read so many Ellora’s Cave books up until then, that it was pretty hot. I still write hot. I embarrassed my CP.

  3. Hey, Elizabeth–want to sell your list of synonyms? LOL. (only half joking)

    I hear ya, Angie. I took an “alternate” (read: G-rated) scene to my live crit group because I just couldn’t bring myself to read the scene out loud in a mixed group. I’m assuming the next two I have plotted will be easier. At least the characters will KNOW each other–ha.

  4. I tried writing a love scene once, but ‘they’ ended up going around in circles and never actually even touching. I guess my Catholic upbringing has made me more of a prude than I thought!

  5. Writing erotic love scenes is a challenge and just like a real love life, practice is required. I unleash my inner slut and write those naughty thoughts that race through my mind just before I… lol

  6. Cinette–I come from a Southern Baptist background, so believe me, I know what you mean. I’m sitting here writing, all the while thinking, “My mother cannot read this. If it gets published I will tell no one.”

    I love the idea of “unleashing my inner slut,” Kat–that’s priceless! I need to channel my inner tramp. I know she’s in there somewhere.

  7. I’m fortunate not to have this problem, so I’m talking through my hat here, but it seems to me that more than your thesaurus, you need your honesty. The more intimate the scene, the easier it is to write in a way that doesn’t ring true and therefore the greater honesty is demanded. I think you know what I mean.

    Too often discomfort produces a scene feels dissociated from the story; we have read this same scene before but the names have been changed hereto protect the guilty-feeling. Sometimes we look at a piece of writing that falls short of what it ought to be and we think, “this is lazy,” but where uncomfortable topics are concerned “timid” might be closer to the mark.

    I’ll leave you with a quote from the poet Frederico Lorca: “The poet is the professor of the five bodily senses.”

  8. Hey, I’ll take a that list of synonyms, too. *smile*.

    Those scenes are difficult for me as well. I usually write it pretty blunt the first draft, then curve it down to where I need it to be. Takes a few attempts for sure.

    I have a few crit partners who write way more steamy than I do, so it helps that they can take a look at things for me. 🙂