Jeanne: To Show or Not to Show?

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I’ve received a couple of invitations to talk to local book clubs about The Demon Always Wins and it looks like one of those will actually happen.

The second invitation got rescinded after the friend who offered me the invitation read the published version (she’d read an early draft) and realized how explicit the loves scenes in the book are. Her group, she said, don’t really like discussing books like that.

Okay, that’s fair.

On the other hand, she also said that she liked how much stronger a character Dara was in the final version.  Here’s the thing: those two things are interrelated. One reason Dara seems much stronger now is because we see her gritting her teeth and resisting a gorgeous demon who is the embodiment of temptation.

In the early drafts of TDAW, the physical interactions between Belial and Dara were limited. Anything beyond kissing happened behind closed doors.

That was because I was uncomfortable writing sex scenes. Opening the door to Belial and Dara’s bedroom felt like I was opening the door to my own. I remember when I met with my writing group about a later manuscript, the first I’d ever shown them that had an actual sex scene, I told them any verbal critique of that scene was off the table. They could give me written notes, but we weren’t going to talk about it.

For Dara and Belial’s story, this prudish attitude proved problematic. Belial’s three tried and true snares for entrapping his victims were:

  • Wealth
  • Fornication
  • Corruption of the sanctuary

Having the plot revolve around something I wasn’t prepared to show maimed my story.

After an agent told me she loved my book and thought it was amazing but didn’t think she could sell it because it lacked sexual tension, I went back and took a hard look at what I’d written. Not only was I making half the battle between my characters happen off screen, I was failing to show the part of the battle where Belial finally succumbs to Dara, something crucial to his character arc.

The thing is, if you’re writing in deep third point-of-view and you really want your reader to feel like she’s inside your characters, experiencing what they’re experiencing, you can’t shut the door in her face when the most intimate and significant part of the story takes place.

(This presupposes that the loves scenes are an integral part of the plot, not just a salacious version of an Ikea instruction sheet.)

I truly want my readers to feel immersed in my stories, so I womanned up and wrote the damn scene.

How did that turn out?

Keyrsten Robinson over at Smut and Bon Bons said, “Dara’s attraction but deflection of Belial and his efforts in the beginning was quite the turn on. The more she denied him through her attraction, the more the sexual tension grew. Once it hit the sexual tension peak, it was like a damn explosion … one I would gladly stand in the middle of.”

I’m taking that to indicate I was successful.

So what do you think? Door open or closed?

8 thoughts on “Jeanne: To Show or Not to Show?

  1. Oh. That’s really helpful for where I’m at now; not so much about the sex, which I like writing about in this story. My story is about betrayal and trust, and I’m veering away from those scenes of confrontation. Or skimming over them lightly. Or shutting the door on them.

    One thing that I really liked about the final version is that you brought Nana Perdue out of the closet, too. The earlier version didn’t showcase her, while this version had a strong role for her as Dara’s pillar of strength and advisor.

    I thought the sex scenes were so much stronger, as well. I’ve read plenty of really good books where the sex was implied; there may have been a little foreplay but the sex was definitely behind closed doors. But they weren’t ROMANCE novels. Sex does seem to be a really important part of the equation for the modern relationship, and it can be really important to show it.

    Yes, your book got a lot stronger by showing these things! Thanks for the encouragement to dive into the more uncomfortable part of writing.

    • I suspect that if we, as writers, don’t feel exposed and uncomfortable to at least some degree, we’re holding things back and cheating our readers.

      Nana Perdue was modeled on my own Appalachian grandmother and my great-aunts–redoubtable women who could make a delicious dinner out of practically anything and were stoic in the face of losses that would cripple women today.

  2. I’m sorry about the book club, but I think your sex scenes were necessary and appropriate to the characters and to the story you chose to tell. They weren’t gratuitous in any way and I think your book would have been weaker without them.

    It’s interesting to me that some readers are disturbed by cursing or depictions of physical intimacy, but they’re not shocked by the idea of you redeeming a character who’s spent most of eternity working to corrupt and destroy humanity and whose goal is to become Satan’s right-hand demon.

    • Actually, I’ve gotten that feedback, too. I’ve been mentoring a newbie writer from my chapter and after she read TDAW, she said, “I thought the hero character was supposed to be likable? Because it took me a really long time to warm up to Belial.”

      Which gave us a chance to discuss the fact that your H/H don’t actually have to be likable–they just need to be compelling enough to make the reader keep reading until something surfaces to make them feel empathy for the character.

  3. They say to push yourself in your writing if you want the reader to feel it.

    As a reader I can appreciate open or closed door as long as it fits the story and effects the character arcs. If the sex doesn’t do that then it isn’t necessary to the plot and therefore isn’t needed. So job well done opening that door and your demon’s heart, Jeanne!

  4. Assuming the sex moves the story/plot, I don’t mind it at all, and I never have a problem writing it. Not sure why that is, but I did used to teach sex ed to college students, so maybe that has something to do with it? I’m not sure.

    Once you get past a couple sex scenes in a book, though, I start to skim. At that point, I don’t need 10 pages of passion, but 10 pages of resolving the story, and even when I skim through most of the extra scenes, they rarely present anything new that will advance the plot.

    I’m glad that you flexed your writing muscles and put yourself in an uncomfortable writerly position. While it may not have paid off in that some readers won’t touch the book, they’re missing out, IMHO. You’ve written a great book!

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