Warning: I’ve tried to keep it clean, but discussion of mature themes to follow.
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Venus guessed. “Since you two have…been together?”
Ross paused, hand hovering over the electric kettle. “A bit,” he admitted.
She offered him a slow nod, glancing down at the edge of the counter space, where there was a stash of pens and a flip-pad scribbled with future meal notes. “Well, sex shouldn’t be the most important thing in a relationship.”
He shook his head as he filled the kettle with water. “I know that-”
“But it is important,” she said, and here Ross raised his head in quiet surprise.
I’ve never shied away from sexual situations in my stories. I don’t consider a sex scene in and of itself pornographic, though it can certainly be used for that purpose. In most of my stories (as in life), sex is a way for two people to communicate beyond the use of words; the intense intimacy forged by being sexual with another person creates all sorts of interesting conflicts and realizations.
Venus, here, is stating my own opinion: Sex should not be the most important aspect of a relationship. But it is important.
Sexual compatibility can mean different things for different people. A couple with low libidos may have sex once a month…and it will be wonderful every single time. A couple with strong libidos may have sex once a day…and that can be beautiful every single time, too. Relationships are as unique as the people in them, and it’s the part of stories I really enjoy examining.
I like a sex scene to mean something, though. A conflict of interests. A learning experience. A personal enlightenment. Even a casual or detached sex scene can have important meaning for a character, at that moment in the story. I like using all of these approaches to sex in my stories.
What I’ve been enjoying with this latest endeavor, though, is the fade-to-black, or glossing, technique. Sex for its own sake doesn’t do anything for a story; I’ve always agreed with that. But sex also doesn’t have to happen “on-screen” for it to be worthwhile to a character’s or relationship’s development.
For Fearless, let’s say there are four sex scenes that are important for the development of the plot. Does that mean the characters have sex only four times in the story? Hell, no! But, I can show in a paragraph – or a sentence – what’s happening between them, without going into detail. I know what’s going on; the reader knows what’s going on. And I can get to the really important part – the ramifications or repercussions of that sex scene – that much more quickly, than if I delved into the detail.
Some writers and readers don’t like sex in their stories. That’s fine. I do like sex, though, when it means something. Just like in real life.
How do you feel about sex in stories?
Here’s an example of a longish excerpt that I could probably remove…except I like too much what it says about the crew, and it gives a neat little point for Amber at the end:
Venus gave Emma a bounce in her lap and bent her chin to the girl’s shoulder. “Emma. Who’s the best surfer in the crew?”
Emma’s face split into a wide smile, and she clapped her hands on her thighs. “Neville!”
The crew laughed, save for Scott, who shot his daughter an incredulous look.
“Wha-?” he said. “What do you mean, Neville?”
“See?” Neville told Scott with a wag of his finger. “That is why I am your captain. Even a four-year-old recognises my superiority.”
Venus snickered, then leaned in to Emma again. “And who is the sweetest?” she asked, glancing at the expectant faces around her.
“Danny,” Emma answered with a smile, and here the crew gave a collective teasing croon, while Danny blushed beneath this praise.
Venus twitched her nose and gave Emma another bounce. “And who is the cutest?” she asked in a mock-whisper.
Emma squeaked, burying her face against Venus’s arm. She mumbled something into her mother’s sleeve, which prompted a repeat asking.
“You can say it,” Venus told her, poking her in the belly.
Emma raised her head, her round cheeks redder than even Danny’s had been, and said, “Finchy!”
The crew turned their hooting to Ross, who thanked Emma with a pat on her head.
“I call foul,” Scott said, sounding miffed, while the other guys continued to laugh.
Amid this jaunty mockery, Amber rubbed her hand over Ross’s arm. But then she leaned out and looked at Emma, and asked, “But, whom do you love the most?”
Around her, the rest of them fell hushed. Save for Emma, who didn’t pause to think, but instead said, quite readily, “Daddy!”
“Oh, that’s my girl,” Scott said with a coo, and he pulled Emma from Venus’s lap into his own, which the little girl accepted gladly.
Amber – like a lot of my protagonists – has father issues. Which is weird, to me, since I have always enjoyed a good relationship with my own father. With my mother, too. I grew up a pretty happy kid, even if we never “had” a lot. I always felt my parents were people I could trust.
But I also crave their approval. And perhaps that’s from where these character issues come.
Daddies and daughters. They’re always the same, deep down.
In one early episode of the science fiction comedy series “Red Dwarf,” the character of Rimmer receives word that his father has died. Another character, Lister, asks him if he loved his father. Rimmer replies that he despised his father…but he still desired his father’s approval. Maybe that’s what plagues my characters. No matter what difficulties they have with their families and loved ones, they still seek that praise we all want, as children.
Amber may say she hates her father…but I think that line’s important for her to voice.
How do you write family in your stories?
Sometimes, we write little moments and interactions that we love…but they serve no extra purpose to the overall story. For me, this represents one of those moments:
Ross snorted and laughed in the same breath, at once recalling that afternoon on the beach when he’d been just shy of twenty-one, freshly returned from Torpoint and eager to be a civilian again, free to ride the waves, with Neville sitting beside him in the sand. And how Neville had started to have The Talk with him, only to be interrupted by Ross’s pointed and unconcerned recognition of the reason behind his friend’s mumbling and hawing:
“Are you trying to tell me that you’re gay?” Ross had asked, with some impatience.
Neville had stared at him for a long pause of time, his expression unreadable. Then he’d murmured, quite quietly: “…Yeah.”
Ross had considered that for a moment, then asked: “Do you fancy me?”
“Wh-?” Neville had sputtered, as he’d given a quick shake of his head. “God, no! You’re a breeder…!”
“Well, then, no worries, mate,” Ross had told him then, hitting him in the shoulder with the back of his hand before forcing himself to his feet. “Now, come on; I want to catch some waves before supper.”
And that had been the end of the discussion, so far as Ross had been concerned. Neville was simply Neville; and if his friend being gay meant that Ross didn’t have to compete with him (handsome, stylish, good-guy Neville) for the attentions of any pretty girls in the village, all the better.
So the very thought that their friendship could be about anything more than the mutual platonic interests in their surfing or the shop made Ross laugh again.
I really like the flashback exchange that happens between Ross and Neville, but it’s unnecessary explanation. By the time this flashback occurs, the reader should already know that Ross and Neville are good friends, and each one’s sexual preference has no bearing on that friendship.
Readers are free to read into text what they want, of course, and Ross’s perspective might even be different from Neville’s. But to take valuable reader time to make that explanation seemed like a lot of extra words, no matter how much I enjoyed the flow of them.
Have you ever edited out a scene or conversation that you really liked? Did you agree with that decision? Or, did you regret it?
What is it about us writers, that we put our beloved characters through an emotional wringer?
Ross has his share of lucky, happy moments, but he’s got to deal with a lot of heavy seriousness, too. Here’s an excerpt from (the recently-rewritten) Chapter 11, that always touches me a little:
Ross walked into her room, to find Amber still asleep, just as Sam had said. Still propped up by the thick, confining torso brace moulded around her, to keep her back in position. Still hooked up to those tubes and monitors he hated. And yet, despite all of that, still so lovely, like the faery tale sleeping beauty whose story she’d once told him was her favourite.
He blinked; the thought was ridiculous. But that didn’t stop him from bending close, to press a kiss to the ridge of her cool brow, his heart pattering with anxious hope.
She didn’t wake.
Not that he’d really thought she would, because that would have been mad. But it brought a low smile to his lips anyway, and he kissed her again, leaving her with a promise for tomorrow.
I’ve always enjoyed writing parallels in my stories. In my last big story, one of my favorite moments was a retelling of the Orihime/Hikoboshi myth, as it related to my two protagonists. For this story, there’s a throwback to Brier-Rose, or Sleeping Beauty.
I think faery tales and folklore are a charming way to draw parallels to situations in modern tales. Do you use classical stories references in your own work? How? Why?
I came across this writing meme a while ago, but only recently did it come back to me.
The rules are:
Go to page 7 or 77 in your work-in-progress.
Go to line 7.
Copy the next 7 lines (or 7 sentences), and paste them into your blog. (No cheating!)
Tag 7 authors to do the same.
Now, I don’t particularly care to get tagged in these things, so I didn’t do the last step. But I did like this idea, especially since the way this worked out, it highlights a piece of the story and character/romantic development that comes back into play later in the story (and which I recently felt the need to rewrite).
So, here’s my 7 lines from page 77:
But Amber just stepped over to him and lifted the book from his hands.
“That’s all right,” she said, as she sat down beside him. She flipped open to what seemed a random page, but the way she touched her fingers to the picture of a pretty princess laid out upon a bed of spiralling thorns told him differently.
“This one’s my favourite,” she said. “Brier-Rose.” She looked up from the pages and faced him with a tiny smile. “Sleeping Beauty.”
He smiled back, easing close to her on one arm. “You are quite the romantic,” he said.
She shrugged. “Faery tales are simple. The villain is always defeated; the hero always wins. The princess always finds true love.” She paused, her gaze falling once more to the half-coloured illustration beneath her fingertips. “And the father never forgets his children.”
Prince Florimund finds the Sleeping Beauty [Public domain image via Project Gutenberg]
Ross is right: Amber’s an incurable romantic. But I really like the way that she’s telling him a lot, here, even though she’s not spelling things out for him. That’s the way I like to tell stories, too: letting the reader decide how dialogue, action, or interactions can be interpreted beyond a surface level.
This excerpt happens all the way back in Chapter 5 (which feels like a lifetime of writing ago, though really just November 2011)…but it has repercussions throughout the rest of the story.
If you decide to participate in the Lucky 7 Writing Meme, let me know in the comments. I’ll happily link over to you!
I know I’ve said a million times that you shouldn’t go back and re-write until you’re finished…but, rules are made to be broken.
The “original” draft of Chapter 11 moved things along at what I thought was too quick a pace. There was too much pluperfect recap in the first two pages or so that just felt rushed, to me; an “info dump,” of sorts. So, while this does not change anything that happens in the chapters following, and while it may very well end up hitting the floor when I do my first big edit (in which I’ll likely cut about 10-15% of text), I’ll at least have gotten the words down.
The sofa wasn’t very cosy – it was too short for him to stretch out properly, for one thing – but it was a hundred times better than the chairs in the CCU lounge or in Amber’s room, which were barely comfortable enough for sitting, let alone dozing. And it was hours closer than his own bed, to which he wasn’t quite ready to retreat, yet, with Amber still alone at hospital. Still, he managed to drift into a fitful sort-of sleep, waking just past six with a crick in his legs and a rotten-tasting dryness in his mouth.
Stumbling to the bathroom, he managed to find a bottle of mouthwash and freshened up a bit with that. He washed his face, too, pausing to take note of the dark circles under his reddened eyes, and the uneven two-day growth of beard on his face. He smelled of nervous sweat and musk, as well, but there was little to be done about that, beyond a cursory wash of pits and appendages at the sink.
As shit as he looked, though, and as shit as he felt, he knew that it wasn’t anything compared to what was waiting for Amber. And it was for that reason more than any other that he frowned at his own ridiculous vanity, swiped the spare keys from the kitchen counter, and jogged back to hospital as quickly as he could do, ignoring the fresh rain that pattered down around him.
There are few things worse than waiting in one of these damned chairs.
(photo courtesy visualphotos.com)
Maybe I originally glossed over a lot of the hospital scenes because writing them has been so difficult for me. It means going to a place inside of my memories that I don’t like to visit. Except that the pain and uncertainty in those moments of just waiting, not knowing, can’t be approximated any other way. Not by me, at least.
I don’t enjoy hurting these characters, who are such a part of myself. But through pain, we grow. And Ross needs to grow, if he’s going to be fearless.
Have you ever relived a painful part of your past, to get more in touch with the heart of your story?