The Novel Approach welcomes Skylar M. Cates back today to talk a little bit about crafting a scene, and she’s also offering the chance for one reader to win an e-copy of any book from HER BACKLIST. This is a Rafflecopter giveaway, so click on the widget below to enter.
Crafting Scenes: From Sex to Sadness
I’m often asked where I get my overall ideas for a book (short answer = everywhere), but I thought it might be fun to explain how I work at different types of scenes. Crafting a scene is important. I like to write it once and then rewrite it, layering it more and more. That’s also why conferences like Rainbow Con are so important. It’s a chance for all of us — writers and readers alike— to spend a few days sharing our love of a good book and of craft.
In my real life conversations, the focus is kids or money or house chores. Yawn. How fabulous it is to escape for a few precious days and be able to squeal with joy over words, ideas, and books? That’s just one reason I’m so grateful to be able to go to Rainbow Con. I know that everybody there is as excited as I am to discuss the LGBT genre!
The description might be longer, a little lush, reflecting the character’s mood. Or I might have a stormy day, but the character is whistling. Juxtaposition often works well. For instance, the character might be having a lousy day full of petty annoyances like traffic jams and no coffee (although personally, no coffee is major to me). He’s grumpy and irritated…. But when he sees the love interest, the opposite reaction blooms inside of him. Suddenly, he doesn’t mind being caffeine deprived. He might show this happiness in an action or in his dialogue.
Then I consider how happy is he? Word choice makes a huge difference. Is he amused? Does he grin? Chuckle? Belly laugh? Does he snort helplessly and hold his sides?
The crafting comes in here. You do not want the character to belly laugh if the scene is not that amusing. Or if the character is not one to laugh. Unless this is a pivotal moment of change for the character.
If they are old friends, like Jesse and Aaron in The Only Guy, the shared amusement may stir up memories. If they formerly distrusted each other, like Rafe and Daniel in Exposed, the happy scene might be an opportunity to learn to open up and play, like in their miniature golf scene.
Happy scenes are often overlooked. But they are critical. Falling in love should make you happy. Hell, if it is the right person it should make you ecstatic.
But guess what the ultimate happy scene is? It’s not when the MC realizes he’s in love. He might be freaked out or tormented with doubts about it. No, for me anyhow, the ultimate happy scene is when the MC realizes he is loved back.
Some authors love writing these. Some dread it.
I’m in the first group.
Sex scenes need strong verbs and sensory images. How do things feel? What do they see? How does it taste? What sounds are heard? And, of course, the writer must decide the heat level and reflect that in the language, too.
Should there be dirty talk? Is the sex sweet or angry? Most importantly, how will the MCs feel before and after sex? This might change. Or each character might experience a wildly different reaction. In any case, I always strive to make it go beyond insert tab A into slot B. I’m not going to lie. There are moments when the sex scene frustrates me more than my characters. After all, how many times can I use the word dick or cock or rim? Hmmm…actually, I love those words, lol. But if I focus on my goal for the scene more than the semantics, I find crafting the sex scene to be enjoyable.
Are sex scenes always totally realistic? Maybe not. Romance is in part our fantasies, right? If I wrote Het romance, you can bet my hero would LOVE going down, even if not every man does. I don’t want my MC finishing in one second and then grabbing the television remote. No thanks.
So for me the sex scene must be realistic, but I’m not obsessed with every detail being true. I want the reader to be excited and flushed and happy reading that sex scene. I want them to go: “Whew.” Maybe fan themselves. Or if the scene is a tender one, maybe melt a little inside.
Most importantly, I want my MC to connect to the sex emotionally. Even if I write the scene in one character’s POV, I am always asking myself how both men are feeling, and what I want to convey from this scene? In The Last Guy Breathing, Henry and Locke have rough, hot, slightly public sex. This fits their emotions at first, which have the enemy-to-lover vibe, but as they fall in love, there is more tenderness and dialogue.
In contrast, in my novella The Holiday Hoax, they were both pretty inexperienced and sweet, and the sex scene was gentle and faded out more than any of my other novels.
The key to crafting a good scene for me, whatever the emotion, is having the character act and react. He makes choices. He might fuck up. But he is going through a period of transformation that the scene highlights.
In Here for You, I attempted to write more sad scenes than I ever did before. I wanted scenes of absolute shock.
How did I craft this? Careful choices. I deliberately let the images and the dialogue get fragmented. When a person is in shock, I don’t believe they think in complete thoughts. I wanted colors, sounds—I wanted the reader to sob along with Cole, to be there with him. His shock needs to be felt by the reader or it is no good to me.
No two characters should react to grief identically. I deliberately considered how would this person react? How would another? And I tried to keep that realistic. Some people cry at weddings and laugh at funerals, for example. Others do the reverse.
If my character is not acting and reacting to the event, then it might be this scene has failed. What do I do then? Honestly, in that case I scrap it. And it hurts, it hurts! This is the point I usually go and drink too much wine or eat too much chocolate. But then, I take a deep inhale and reimagine it. I will fight to do the scene right.
Perhaps that is the part I want to end with? Whenever you craft a scene—–happy, sad, or sexual—– be willing to fight for it!
There is no greater joy than having a reader take the time to say the book made them have the “ feels”. Whether they tell me it made them laugh or cry, I will do a happy dance that I did my job. Seriously, hearing that a scene you crafted touched another person makes all the hard work worth it.
Thanks for hosting me!
Skylar’s upcoming projects:
The second book in my Sunshine and Happiness series, Lovers, Losers, and You is due out from Dreamspinner in late September. I’m working on book three and four too. For those who have asked me about it: yes, Owen, Marc, Tomas, and River are all getting stories. I’m also working on a holiday novella for my Guys series.