Love Scene vs. Sex Scene: One Author's Take
Each of my romantic suspense novels details the development of one couple's relationship during a time of crisis. There's plenty of suspense, a full-blown mystery plot, and quite a bit of world-building, which includes the development of a number of secondary characters close to or at odds with the protagonists (a girl's gotta have her pool of suspects, after all). It's a whole lot of book to work into four hundred or so pages...
Which is why is annoys me no end when some rarely-seen acquaintance or relation (let's call him Uncle Walt) gives me an Ooo-la-la waggle of dandruff-flecked eyebrows and says something in the order of, "So, you still writin' those smut books?" Usually there's an associated elbow-nudge, apparently a holdover from junior-high days. Argh! Of course, it goes without saying that "Uncle Walt" has never bothered to actually *read* one of my books, a suggestion that is invariably met with a variety of pathetically-lame excuses (that mostly translate into "I don't read").
I've learned the best response (after the reflexive eye-roll) is to murmur something to the effect of, "I'm writing romantic suspense, if that's what you're getting at," and quickly shut down the conversation. Because it wouldn't help to explain that out of the 400 manuscript pages, maybe five or six (fewer than many brand-name, bestselling male authors include in their mystery, suspense, or horror novels) are spent detailing the characters' carnal relations. It wouldn't help to defend myself with awards won or reviews received or to attempt to educate a guy who hasn't "read" a book since high school and whose idea of great art is a rerun of King of Queens .
Because in the pea-brain's mind, I've copped to the word "romance." Only Uncle Walt doesn't hear romance at all but S-E-X, which to him can only mean porn. Which misses the point of romance *entirely* and makes me pity poor Aunt Tillie.
For the record, let me elaborate on the differences between a love scene and a sex scene.
1. A love scene illuminates some stage in the protagonists' emotional journey. It's revealing of character and conflict and sometimes even serves as a metaphor for some other aspect of the story. Sure, a love scene can be a turn on for the reader (might be worth noting, gents, that research has shown women who read romance enjoy more frequent and satisfying lovemaking with their partners than those who don't), but that's not its reason for existing.
2. A sex scene's primary purpose is titillation. The reader's physical reaction takes precedence over logic, characterization, or - heaven forbid - literary technique (although there are many excellent writers of erotica in today's marketplace, many of whom incorporate the emotional journey of a romance).
3. Love scenes should not be interchangeable. Since the characters are unique individuals at a particular stage of their relationship, each encounter should be distinctive and revelatory. Hot, of course, is an added bonus.
4. Focused on "the act," sex scenes can get boringly repetitive, so the author often resorts to alternate forms (toys, fetishist stuff, "taboo" types) to keep the reader from losing interest.
5. Emotion matters, first and foremost.
6. It's all about the T&A, baby.
Teenage boys often don't grok the difference between love and sex. This takes maturity and emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, some men never come this far. Memo from your wife, Uncle Walt: please grow up (and do something about that dandruff in your eyebrows)!
Anyone else have something to add about the difference between love scenes and sex scenes? Or do you have an "Uncle Walt" story to share?