I’ve started writing a scene that I think will be pivotal in my book. It’s a scene in which my hero and heroine have sex, but the sex will propel them into a new stage of their relationship. My critique partners have emphasized that it’s important that I show why my heroine has been unwilling to move forward quickly with the romance—she won’t move in with the hero—even though she must make a decision soon about whether to return to her old job across the country. If she goes, the relationship dies.
So to write this sex scene with as much sensitivity and weight as it needs, I wrote a scene that sets it up—my heroine tells the hero about her mother, and in so doing, reveals her feelings about family, home, and security. I wrote this scene from the hero’s POV, because I wanted readers to see his reactions to her story, and I wanted him to ask the questions I thought readers would be likely to ask if they’d been in the room with her. I spent some serious time on the scene, and it’s not bad. I’d give it maybe a B-.
But I think I can do better. I plan to rewrite this scene from the heroine’s POV. It’s her story, and it might have a stronger effect on readers if we see the impact it has on her as she reveals herself to the hero. While I’ve been mulling over how to get the most from this scene, I’ve been reading various blogs, essays, articles, and commentary on how best to show character, dialogue, the romantic moment—you name it. I want to dig deep for this one, and I like to see what others think and say about the emotional journey.
I ran across an essay about Erich Fromm, a German social psychologist, psychoanalyst, and philosopher, who wrote The Art of Loving. Fromm says that people think that to love is simple—what’s difficult is finding the right object to love or to be loved by. But that’s not it. People in love assume that the intensity of initial infatuation—“one of the most exhilarating, most exciting experiences in life”—demonstrates the intensity of their love. But as time passes and the individuals become better acquainted, their disappointments kill the initial excitement, and the love dies.
Fromm’s idea is that love is not something that happens to us passively and by chance; it’s not something we “fall into.” Instead, love is a skill we attain through practice, just like we acquire mastery of any other skill. People have to work at it.
This is where “the art of love” comes in. Fromm writes that to master any art—music, painting, carpentry, medicine—you have to study theory, and you have to practice. Most people fail at love for a simple reason:
… in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power — almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.
How can these observations inform my scene? My hero has to listen and learn what my heroine is trying to tell him. He’ll have to read between the lines. She already has a stellar grasp that infatuation doesn’t last. I think she has to decide in this scene whether she can be vulnerable with the hero—whether she can trust him with her worst insecurities. They have to understand at least subconsciously the “theory” of love. It’s going to be a first for them. And then maybe, in the rest of the book, I can show that they are “practicing love.”
I know what practicing love is: it’s an “air conditioner moment.” Now, I just need to find their air conditioner…