Clara Grace Walker's Blog

Monday, November 18, 2013

“8 Rules for Sex Scenes.”

Let’s Talk About Sex, Shall We?

I’ve been reading a lot of books with sex scenes in them lately.  (New Kindle = new Kindle book addiction).  Not surprisingly, I have a few thoughts on the subject.  Now, originally, I had assembled those thoughts into a meandering, chaotic rant.  Fortunately, I did a little editing before posting this blog and organized my rant into what I now call my “8 Rules for Sex Scenes.  Bear in mind, this is all highly unscientific and subjective to the extreme.  Nevertheless, this is what I have to say on the subject.

For illustrative purposes, I have pulled a couple of sex scenes from my book Gratification, one involving the 2 main characters, Preston and Maggie, who have deep feelings for each other and destined for a happily-ever-after.  The other involves Rod and Taralynn, 2 supporting characters with feelings for each other at all and are using sex as a means to manipulate each other.  So, on to my rules.

Rule # 1:  (and frankly, if you decide to ignore ever other rules here, please remember this one).  Your sex scene should not be boring.  If I’m skimming through a love scene (and you’d be surprised how often I am), the author has gone off the tracks at some point…and not in a way that makes me think hot and steamy bad boy.  This is a scene involving sex, perhaps the most popular subject in the history of mankind.  This is not the place to bore your reader with mechanical descriptions and over-used clich├ęs.  So, how you may ask, does one keep Clara from skimming?  The answer to that question brings us to Rules # 2-8.

Rule # 2:  Answer the question:  Why are these characters having sex?  If your answer does not involve something about revealing character and/or moving along the plot, your characters should be doing something else.  Rod has the following thoughts while having sex with Taralynn, helping the reader understand why he’s having sex with her:  And Preston thought it was a bad idea.  In his mind, he savored a secret victory over Preston.  Now that she’d said the word, however, the reality of marriage to Taralynn got him thinking.  He wondered first whether she really meant it.  Or, was she merely toying with him, as he was with her?  Who proposed marriage on the very first date?  She could very well have her own agenda at play.”

In fact, this entire scene provides a glimpse into the minds of both Rod and Taralynn, and sets events in motion that come into play later on in the book, providing the reader with multiple things to think about while the scene is taking place.  This particular scene really packs an emotional punch, one that defies the reader to skim.  At the end of the day, that is what we authors should be going for:  an emotional reaction from our reader.

Rule # 3:  Use your setting to enhance your characters:  Not all sex takes place in a bed in someone’s bedroom.  If you are trying to convey intimacy, a private setting accomplishes this quite well, but it doesn’t have to be a bed in someone’s bedroom.  How about a secluded beach?  Or deep in the woods?  Setting is a great tool to set the mood and reveal something about your characters.  Are they people who would feel comfortable making love outdoors?  How about making use of other areas in the house?  In the first love scene between Preston and Maggie, they are so eager and have been denying themselves for so long, they begin making love in the kitchen.

In stark contrast, Rod and Taralynn have sex in a dark corner of the bar, emphasizing the lack of intimacy between the characters.

 Rule # 4:  Word choice matters:  As with setting, the specific words used can convey the feelings and attitudes of the characters involved.  With Rod and Taralynn, crude terms like ‘tits’ are used.  This shows the lack of caring he has for his partner.  Deep affection between partners can be shown with soft word choices and more injection of emotion into the scene.  Even between partners who love each other, however, cruder terms might sometimes be appropriate.  Make up sex, anyone?

 Rule # 5:  Less is more:  Naming of the actual body parts involved should be done sparingly.  That way, it will have more impact when they are used.

 Rule # 6:  Sex is not about sex.  It’s about emotion:  Even between 2 characters who care nothing at all about one another, they still, individually, have feelings about what is happening.  Maybe they feel contempt for their partner.  Maybe they feel indifference.  Whatever it is they’re feeling, it should show up in your scene.

 Rule # 7:  Sex does not happen in a vacuum:  Show what leads up to the act.  Let your reader see and feel it through your POV character.  What does she/he think/feel?  Engage their senses.  What does this person see, feel, hear, taste and smell?  Bring in their emotion.  No one makes love with a blank mind.  Are they fantasizing about something or someone?  Are they happy?  Sad?  Ashamed?  Whatever it is, let your reader experience it.

 Rule # 8:  Your sex scene should elicit an emotional response in the reader:  Note, this response doesn’t have to be arousal, (although, if this is a scene between 2 characters in love, you should be going for that as well), but your reader should feel something.  Be it sympathy, anger, disgust, tenderness, (depending upon the scene).  The emotional response you should be going for is determined by Rule # 2…why are these characters having sex?  Answering that question for your reader helps you achieve Rule # 8, provoking an emotional response in your reader.

Well, that’s about as windy as I get with one blog.  I look forward to reading and writing some well-written sex scenes, and feeling aroused, amused, disgusted, or whatever.

Happy Reading!
Clara J

Monday, October 14, 2013

Writing, As Seen Through The Eyes Of My MBA Hubby


Everything I do is quantified in terms of dollars and cents.  That’s how it is when you’re married to someone who has an MBA, a law degree and has successfully run four businesses.

For a long time, he called my work, “a hobby.”  That used to really tick me off.  As he pointed out, however, I was making exactly zero dollars as a result of my efforts.  I had no agent.  I had no editor.  I had completed several novels, but I had none of them for sale.  Anywhere.  And, regardless of how many query letters and/or proposals I sent out, there was nothing happening with my work to qualify it as a business.  Ergo, it was a hobby.

The creation of e-publishing opened the door for a lot of writers.  An author can now publish their work digitally.  For free.  And have immediate distribution.

Naturally, my MBA hubby saw this as an opportunity.  My excuses for not publishing my work vaporized; disappeared like morning fog in the rising sun.  Hubby felt more confident than ever labeling my efforts, “a hobby.”  So I e-published.  And guess what?  It isn’t simply a matter of replacing the gatekeepers.  All those decisions once made by editors and agents became mine.  Editing my work, repeatedly.  Marketing it, trying to make it visible in a sea of other books that have swam through the floodgates along with mine.  Self-publishing required registering my copyright, creating a cover, a marketing blurb.  And that’s in addition to all the other self-promotion any traditionally published author must do.

All of which brings me to my point.  I choke a little to say it, but hubby was right.  There are business decisions to be made.  The goal of any business, (save non-profits), is to make money.  It’s kind of a no-brainer.  Whatever you spend publishing and marketing your work, you need to earn back through book sales.  And preferably, a little something extra known as profit.

There are actual costs associated with publishing your work; even doing it digitally.  If you’re like me, and you draft and revise in longhand, (I know…I’m going to wait a minute for you to finish laughing), there is the cost of pens, notebooks, paper and printer cartridges.  Registering your copyright (and I wouldn’t recommend skipping this), costs something, too.  Next, there is the book cover.  You can do this on the cheap, using photos in the public domain, but I had a very specific vision of what I wanted my covers to be.  Fortunately, I have a relative who is a very talented photographer, and she did my covers at a very reasonable price.  Still, it’s a business decision.  And I can hear the calculator in hubby’s head clicking.  How many books do I have to sell to make up for the money I spent on the book cover?  It’s the same for marketing.  The word “free” has become very important to me.  As in, how many “free” ways are there to market my book?  And how can I take advantage of them?

I recently ran what I consider to be a fairly successful promotional campaign.  I offered by book for free for two days on Amazon.  Over one thousand copies of my book were downloaded during that time period, giving me over one thousand new readers.  This makes me giddy beyond words, (rare for an author).  But, naturally, the calculator in hubby’s head is still clicking.  While this promotion did not cost me anything out-of-pocket, it did cost me royalties.  The question becomes, how many new sales do I have to generate through word-of-mouth buzz, and readers willing to buy my next book, to make up for the ones I gave away? 

I have learned to start looking at what I do through the eyes of my hubby, and I now know this:  I love what I do, but if I want to be successful at it, I need to treat it like a business.  At least hubby no longer calls it, “a hobby.”

Happy Reading!

Clara  J

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Ups & Downs of Writing

Pardon me while I rant for a moment. I spend way too many hours sitting at a desk. The muscles in my neck and shoulders knot up on a regular basis and I’m prone to tendinitis.

On the plus side, I’ve got my first novel up for sale and, gasp, people are actually buying it. I’ve done all this marketing. Got a Facebook page and a Goodreads page, and started this blog.

Of course, I’d be ever so much happier if more people would buy my book and like my Facebook page, and be my fan on Goodreads, and, yeah, yeah, I’m sure you get it.

If all this sounds a little bi-polar to you, welcome to the world of writing. If you identify with any of this, you probably are a writer. This is a gig filled with ups and downs. It’s like a roller coaster ride you never really get off.

Down
I am deep in revision Hell with my third novel, Redemption. So far, I’ve had to: add chapters, delete chapters, change a sub-plot, add a character, combine chapters, re-arrange chapters and flesh out characters. And what I really would like to know is this: why doesn’t any of this ever come out right the first time?

Up

I had the most brilliant moment of clarity. Two major characters had this really deep conversation; one that both gave them insight into themselves and moved my plot along.

Down

I was standing in my shower when this conversation happened. Oh my God! Get me a keyboard! Please, someone get me a keyboard. Why does my muse have such a twisted sense of timing?

Up

At lease I have a muse. And she has provided me with some pretty twisted villains. It’s much more fun to torture your protagonist with a truly twisted villain. Now then, I am finally clean, dried and dressed; sitting with pen and paper in hand, and little bits of the conversation are coming back to me.

Down

The wrong bits of conversation are coming back to me. Where’s the insight? The character development? The stuff that was going to move my plot along? How come the only bits I remember are the ones I would probably end up editing out anyway? Ugh!!

Up

If it was really as good as all that, it would come back to me. That’s true, isn’t it? And anyway, now that I’ve got the creative juices flowing again (like the way I worked the title of this blog into this post? Clever, eh? Wink, wink), ideas are pouring through my brain like a fountain.

Down

But are they really good ideas? Will anyone read them? Will anyone like them?

Up

Never mind all that. Keep your chin up, girl. You’re doing what you love for a living. How many people can really say that? I have a life I love and I am genuinely happy. By any objective measure, I am blessed. Yes, writing is a solitary exercise, filled with ups and downs, but it’s one I wouldn't trade for the world.

And, since I’m a real “the glass is half full” kind of gal, I think I’ll this on an up note. 

Happy Reading!
Clara
www.facebook.com/ClaraGraceWalker

The Musical Connection

I consider OneRepublic’s Counting Stars the theme song to my novel Gratification. Though written before Counting Stars hit the airwaves, it captures the soul of the book, almost as if I called OneRepublic and asked them to write it. (I didn’t, and they didn’t, but hmmm…what an idea). As a music lover, I frequently hear songs that remind me of my work in some way. Conversely, I can be writing along, deep inside a character’s head, and find myself humming some tune said character likes and/or identifies with.

When I listen to Counting Stars’ lyrics about feeling so right doing the wrong thing, I think of Gratification’s Rod Skinner, a man completely caught up in his own desires and living them out with gusto. Other lyrics in the song capture the flavor of my book as well. Taking money and watching it burn, and no longer counting dollars, but counting stars, remind me of Gratification’s focus on money; the way people use and abuse it, and the things some people will do to get it. The song’s fast, upbeat tempo is also a good match for Gratification’s fast pace and ambitious characters. When I hear this song, I see various scenes from my book fly by like a novel-driven music video.

Proving they have a real knack for synchronizing their music to my books, OneRepublic also provided me with my theme song for my next book, Gossip. Their song, Secrets is a perfect complement to a book about tabloid publisher Nicholas Beck, who suddenly finds himself the subject of rumors and innuendo, as his personal tragedy is put on display for the world’s consumption. The slower tempo also mirrors the more serious tone of Gossip, which is to Gratification what The Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars.

While Counting Stars was an after-the-fact theme song, Carolina Liar’s Show Me What I’m Looking For was a during-the-creation inspiration for my third, (still in progress), novel Redemption, the final installment of the Desire Never Dies trilogy. This song’s aching, desperate lyrics about humility and the search for something greater played frequently in the background of my thoughts as I wrote Redemption. I hear them still, as I work on the revisions. In Redemption, much as in Show Me What I’m Looking For, we have characters whom are lost, but not without hope. There are lessons to be learned here about the true strength of humbling one’s self and the courage it takes to admit your mistakes. Redemption’s theme was unmistakably influenced by this song.

Music influences my writing in other ways also. I know, for example, that Preston’s character in Gratification would hear the song If You’re Gone by Matchbox Twenty and think of his lost love, Maggie. While that fact never worked itself conveniently into the novel, I could picture him as I wrote, sitting alone in his apartment, listening to that song and missing Maggie.

Occasionally, the music floating around my brain will make it onto the page, and sometimes, my characters are as aware of the music as I am. Rod liked using music as a tool to keep his female conquests a little off-balance. We see this when he takes Taralynn to the punk rock bar called The Dungeon. In his personal life, however, as shown in Gossip, Rod prefers 80s pop music. His musical tastes make a statement about his character, as well as providing a slight edge of humor to a darker-toned story.

It’s not only what music a character likes, but also what they pretend to like, that reveals something about them. Patrice McKenzie, for example, loves attending the opera and the symphony. Not, however, because she has any real appreciation for the music. With Patrice, it’s all about appearances. In this way, Patrice exemplifies Gratification’s theme of deceiving appearances.

Andy and Taralynn Clarke have no appreciation for music whatsoever. And that tells me as much about their characters as Preston’s fondness for sad love songs tells me about him. With Andy and Taralynn, there’s no room in their hearts for a love of music, because they’re already consumed by their love of money. Cue, Counting Stars. As I said, I consider it Gratification’s theme song.

Happy Reading!
Clara
Gratification
www.facebook.com/ClaraGraceWalker