In the era of Fifty Shades of Grey, it may be difficult to imagine that there’s an author on the planet endeavoring to write a classy yet compelling love scene (emphasis on love). However, based on the reaction to my novel Water Signs: A Story of Love and Renewal, I know that they exist, as do readers who feel the same way.
Therefore, this post is dedicated to all the writers and readers out there who long for a time when the depiction of carnal knowledge was mostly left up to the reader’s (or in the case of film, the viewer’s) imagination. For writers who want to apply the less is more principle to your characters’ love scenes, I’m sharing my experience. For everyone else, please understand this is not a judgment; different genres/styles/explicitness of description appeal to different audiences; I’m simply writing about my preferences and the way in which I incorporated them into my book.
As an author, it was definitely a challenge to unapologetically champion the worthiness of my characters’ ingrained moral and spiritual beliefs, while at the same time sympathetically present the challenges that inevitably arise when putting these mores into practice in the contemporary world. The last thing I wanted was for readers to misinterpret Maddy’s internal conflict between her desire to be with Ken in the Biblical sense and her unfailing belief that such carnal knowledge must not be revealed until marriage vows were taken in front of God and witnesses as some sort of parental “repression” based on the teachings of the “patriarchal” Catholic Church.
Not only do I stand by the values with which I was raised, I am eternally grateful to have been brought up in a traditional home, with a mother and a father who cared about imparting morality to their children, in addition to love, discipline and an appreciation for the United States. Part of my motivation for writing the book was to counteract the negative influences of a pop-culture gone crazy, and to appeal to an audience I instinctively knew was hungry for a story that would reflect their own experiences.
Nowhere in pop culture (except perhaps in Christian literature) had I seen an honest, respectful portrayal of the clash between normal human longings and Godly virtue. In most cases — whether in daytime soap operas (as anyone who remembers the early 80s character of Annie Logan on General Hospital can attest) or in a Lifetime movie (We Were The Mulvaneys, for example) — Christians who strive to live up to their moral foundations are presented as victims of an out-of-touch, oppressive religion whose time has long since passed.
So my challenge in penning Water Signs was to paint a sympathetic portrayal of characters with human flaws and weaknesses while also honoring their Christian sense of morality. Yes, the values imposed by God in The Ten Commandments and espoused by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament are more often than not difficult to adhere to on this earthly plane — which is a validation of their inherent worthiness, not a scathing rebuke of their irrelevance. If anything, the current state of our culture should be a glaring example of the dire consequences of trashing the principles that helped shape America into a strong and prosperous nation.
I’ve noted previously that my novel is about the journey, not the outcome. Thus, in the Prologue, readers discover right away that — no matter what happens over the next 435 pages — Ken and Madeline eventually get married “at the end of a long, arduous and oftentimes broken road.”
When writing about their long-awaited physical union that took place only after they’d fully reacquainted on a spiritual, emotional and mental level, I debated a few important points: Should the consummation take place following Maddy’s acceptance of Ken’s marriage proposal, or after they finally say “I do”? How descriptive should it be? Is it even necessary to write such a scene in the first place?
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that my readers deserved some sort of reward for suffering through 16 years of the moral struggles, miscommunication and heartbreak that characterized the relationship between the novel’s two main characters. Further, since 1.) Ken and Madeline are into their early 40s by the time they find their way back to each other; 2.) They take some time to reconnect in every other way before even getting physical; and 3.) Readers already know they end up as husband and wife, I decided to cap off a romantic proposal scene with an even more romantic consummation scene.
Most readers were fine with this for the simple fact that even the decision to wait until there’s an engagement ring on the woman’s finger is considered highly old-fashioned and backward in our modern world.
And I worked hard infuse the scene with plenty of romance — in part by having Ken demonstrate thoughtfulness in word and action. From candles to flowers to music, the emphasis is on the love, devotion, and passion these two characters genuinely feel for one another. Thus, the depiction of the consummation of the characters’ relationship is consistent with their core values, beliefs, and motivations.
In the end, it’s up to individual authors to decide what works for their love scenes. But if you’re striving for integrity, class, and subtlety, I can tell you from experience there’s most definitely an audience out there who will enthusiastically embrace this approach. Despite what we’ve been told by pop culture, there’s a palpable hunger for genuine romance and distaste for explicit, sad-masochistic sex in books. If you’re an author who feels the same way, I highly recommend tapping into that desire by writing a refreshing love scene with an emphasis on love — not sex.
Questions? Comments? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment.