Cecilia Tan, founder of Circlet Press and pioneer of alternative erotica, was one of the featured presenters at the RCRW Spring Fling in early April, 2017. I was thrilled to attend her workshop, Mastering Sensuality & Seducing the Reader.
Ms. Tan stressed the most important reason to write fiction: it is the one of the few tools we humans have to create empathy. To get us ready to find our way to empathy, she played a writing game with us.
We had to write down something that drives us nuts about either reading or writing sex scenes (mine was how much I hate “traitorous” body parts. Own your desire!). Then we wrote down a single sentence sex scene or start to a sex scene. The funniest example was, “He closed the door behind them.”
Now we were all warmed up and ready to talk about writing (not having) sex. Most participants said their trouble was mainly with what other people would think. Cecilia told us we had to block out the expectations of other people – not an easy task, but a necessary one. She suggested beginning with accepting your conditioning and programming about what is appropriate and what is not. Our own inner conflicts about sex are the magnifying glasses that allow us to discover our character’s own demons.
Next, we got down to the nuts and bolts of the craft of seducing the reader. She discussed setting the reader’s expectations. After all, if you go to a restaurant called Giuseppe’s with red checked tablecloths, candles stuck in empty Chianti bottles, and ropes of garlic from the ceiling, you’d be pretty surprised that they served sushi. Know your audience and know yourself.
Feelings and emotions are the most important part of any love scene. You evoke emotion by choosing the words your character might use. Does this person use clinical language (pudenda, clitoris, etc.) or gutter words (cunt)? Slang (vajayjay) or something flowery (garden of desire)?
From there, think about your point of view (POV). Sex scenes are almost always in an internal first or third POV. Occasionally, second person is used in choose your own erotica or in short stories.
The POV leads to how you use dialogue and monologue. Characters are rarely silent. What do their inner and outer conversations reveal during sex? Love scenes are about being cut open and vulnerable emotionally. The through line of confession emotions pushes and draws the plot along. This is how you integrate the emotions into sex.
Emotions lead to the body language and blocking. Action will logically follow how they feel. If she is feeling shy, she will look away and blush. If he is uncertain, he will rub the back of his neck. The blocking leads you who will take the lead and what the subtext is. Also, the emotions will lead to variation in your writing – not just sexual variations like in a chair or on a horse (!) – but how long your sentences will be and how the language gets used (will he start off prim and then get more raunchy?). She pointed out, though, that feelings are more important than the action. When you write, ask the important questions: Did he make her feel good? Does she like him? Why did he lick his partner – because he wanted to? Or because of some internal quid pro quo?
The sex scene, like any scene in a story, is about change. What are the emotional changes in the characters?
All of these tools answer the most important question of a love scene: is hope sparked or crushed by the lovemaking?
See Jane Publish would like to thank Linda Mercury for her guest blog.
Linda Mercury left behind varied careers as a librarian, art model, and professional clown to pursue writing.
Writing is by far my favorite! Librarians never get to read the books they manage, art models get cold, and clowns wear funny shoes.
My other passions include Middle Eastern History, reading, organizing, cooking, hand-made silk Turkish rugs, and the Nike of Samothrace.
LAST CHANCE! Don’t forget to enter my favorite romance writing contest of all time, the Golden Rose. This is the contest that got me published, but even before that I received wonderful feedback from judges who wanted to help me succeed.
Continuing the Janes roundup of the Rose City Romance Writers‘ Spring Fling Writers Conference, I’m sharing the highlights from Amy Liz Talley‘s workshop on Authentic Writing: Creating Characters & Worlds Readers Love.
Because I tend to be a plot-driven writer, I’m especially (even painfully?) conscious of the need to make sure my characters are always working as hard as they must to engage readers. Liz talked about four keys to creating believablity.
1. Flaws, secrets, and vulnerability
No protagonist should be so bad that she’s irredeemable or so good that she’s insufferable.* It’s the flaws and the need to keep secrets that make a character vulnerable and cause conflict as she tries to protect herself. And it’s also her vulnerability that makes her able to ultimately change for the better. (Hey, these are romances. Of course they change for the better!)
2. Past influences and backstory
Threaded through the on-page revelation of the character, old wounds and triumphs going all the way back to childhood — or even further into family history — help explain why a character does what she does and make her more than just a two-dimensional leaf blown anywhichway on the plot wind.
3. Consistent behavior
Faced with the twists and turns of the plot, the character should act in a way that internally consistent with the driving forces of her flaws and backstory. She’ll behave as she always has right up until the plot forces her against the black moment at the end where she must finally change.
This is less about the characters and more about the creator. I’m not a huge fan of research — I love Wikipedia! — mostly because of how lost I can get answering an otherwise simple question about what sort of ionized gas is emitted from a black hole. But Liz had a great example: Since she was speaking in Portland, Oregon, in the spring, she noticed all the plants she doesn’t have where she lives in Louisiana near the Texas border. And they don’t have tulips in the spring! Too warm for the bulbs to overwinter. To create a believable world, a writer needs to know what springs from the very dirt of your creation. No pressure!
Spring is a great time for creation. And since Oregon is having one of its wettest rainy seasons on record, I’m getting a lot of indoor computer time. Hope you are finding inspiration from our Spring Fling recaps!
* Obviously, these are guidelines, not “teh rulz”!
A finalist in both RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart award and RITA award, Liz Talley has found a home writing sassy contemporary romance. Her stories are set in the South where the tea is sweet, the summers are hot and the men are hotter. Liz lives in North Louisiana with her childhood sweetheart, two handsome children, three dogs and a mean kitty.
You can visit Liz at www.liztalleybooks.com to learn more about her upcoming books, including her most recent ALL THAT CHARM, the latest in a series about best friends who are each bequeathed the chance to make the most of their lives and love.
All the Janes from See Jane Publish recently attended Rose City Romance Writer’s annual Writing Conference. This year the presenters were Allyson Longueria, Farrah Rochon, Amy Liz Talley, and Cecilia Tan and we decided that each of us would write about our lessons learned from each class. It’s my privilege to share with you my admiration for Farrah Rochon and our mutual love for Sticky Notes.
Farrah’s presentation was called “For Serious Plotters Only: How to go from an idea to a fully-developed plot before you ever type Chapter One”. As a reminder, there are generally three types of writers:
Pantsers: People who write by “the seat of their pants”. They don’t outline their stories. They feel like if they know where the story is going, it’s not fun to write it.
Plotters: People who like to plot out their story before they begin to write their story. They enjoy the security of knowing exactly where their story is headed on the pages.
Both: People who do a little of both methods. They do some plotting to jumpstart their stories but leave gaps for creative inspiration.
The way people write their stories is part of their own personal process and there isn’t a specific method that works for all types of writers but there are some universal tips to help train your brain to bring out your best story. In Farrah’s presentation, we learned about the power of post-it notes. With my Type A personality, I was immediately drawn to the idea of color coding my thoughts to double check that my storyline and character arcs were fully developed and left nothing unresolved for the readers.
Farrah walked everyone through her process of taking an science project tri-fold heavy-duty poster board, which would naturally break-up the white space into 3 sections and create chapters with two different color notes, one for the heroine and one for the hero. This gave her an overall view of her story and allowed her to make sure both characters were active participants in their happily ever after. I had seen this process before and it was within my writing comfort zone.
My ah-ha moment was her other example. When she was under a tight deadline, she did the opposite process. After she wrote the story, she used the post-it process to make sure she covered all her bases. She went beyond a two color system and even used different shapes to cover certain subplots and additional characters.
The post-it note plotting process can be used to create your story and then validate that authors included all the necessary elements. I love plotting stories and the fact that I can do it twice made my heart happy. Of course, there is a danger is that I will spend too much time plotting and not enough time actual writing but for now, I am having the time of my life covering my wall like a television detective trying to solve a homicide.
Now for those who are still following me down the rabbit hole, there is a whole new level of plotting for the extremists. Did you know that there is actual dry erase paint? You can paint an entire wall with a material that will allow you to write from base to ceiling with dry erase markers. I feel like I have found my summer home improvement project. If you have already done this to a wall, please share your experiences with us.
Up until this past weekend I’d never heard of Allyson Longueria, publisher of WMG Publishing, but as it turns out she’s a force to be reckoned with, and she has strong opinions on what authors and should and should not do when it comes to marketing.
At the annual RWA Rose City Romance Writers Spring Fling Allyson presented her BEST tips over three hours. It’s been a couple years since I’ve actively marketed my books, so the refresh was great, but the Amazon Ad words advice caught my interest.
Here are my top takeaways from Allyson’s class:
Series always sell better than stand alones, so think about using multiple starting points within your series. If your series has been around for a while consider marketing “anniversary” editions as on-ramps for new readers.
Amazon Ads: YOUR BOOK COVERS need be as chaste as possible – no skin showing or your book will be bounced! “Active Covers” sink in the algorithms, too – classic embrace, dangling bra strap, etc. MORE on Amazon Ad Words later.
As an extreme example– If this was your book cover, it might never see the light of day over at Amazon.
Amazon: Quotes and reviews placed after the blurb, not within the book description. Again, it’s all about the algorithms (until the algorithms change, again).
BundleRabbit is the latest greatest resource for authors who want to curate anthologies and “series starter” bundles with other writers.
Yasiv is another great site you should check out!
Reminder: Your eBooks are a long-tail investment. Don’t spend hundreds on a great cover and skimp on the formatting. The entire package needs to be professional.
Back to Amazon Ads:
We used the Product Display Ad in class.
A daily budget of $10 is standard with click buys between 25-50 cents.
ALWAYS choose manual targeting—auto is too generic.
Add your own key words—things got interesting here! A few dozen keywords? Forget it. To move the needle you need somewhere between 400-600 key words. One attendee said anything less than 700 was useless.
What to add in your 700?
Along with all the usual suspects like “romantic heroes”, “Godesses”, “Witches”, etc. your net should also include:
Authors similar to you, and popular misspellings of their names
Misspellings of your author name
Misspellings of pretty much everything commonly misspelled, as long THE KEY WORD IS RELEVANT TO YOUR BOOK.
Sneaking in non-relevant words is a no-no that will sink your ad in the algorithms.
Finally, real Amazon Ad Word numbers from an editor who does this every day: Allyson shared her data. For around $4.00 she accessed 78,000 views and that equaled 30 clicks.
So far, on all of her campaigns, her authors have earned back the money spent in promotion. When it comes to discoverability, Amazon Ad Words is a new tool that most authors should be considering.
Do you have any additional tips on using Amazon Ad Words? Please share in the comments.
I like this photo for all its differences. Not just skin tones, but strong hands and slender fingers, painted nails and bare, jewelry or not, and is that one faintly hairy wrist? All reaching to the center. Go, Team Women!
When I create characters, I often start off thinking of them in archetypal terms: hero, villain, leader, trickster, warrior. Even as I flesh them out with unique characteristics, some of that primal core still shines through.
For me, one of the “base line” characteristics is — especially in a romance! — who is the hero and who is the heroine. But though the words (and sexes) are different, the arcs are strikingly the same: both have wounds, both have hopes and fears, both have dreams they don’t quite dare reach for. I like to play with giving the “hero” traditionally feminine characteristics, while the “heroine” explores some masculine traits. From that, I’ve seen that men and women are more alike than different even while their differences add to the diverse beauty of our world.
So today, I hope women are empowered to pursue all their potential. And I hope men get a chance to cheer for the women in their lives — and maybe consider the archetypal heroine in themselves. And for anyone who identifies somewhere in between or outside those binary poles… We’ve got a long way to go, baby. But meanwhile, Happy International Women’s Day to all Janes everywhere.