Friday, March 16, 2007

Heating things up a little…too much

I think most of you reading our blog would agree that real romance is not based on physical desire. Sure, it’s important not to cringe when you look at your mate, but physical attraction and passion should be the icing on the cake of romance, not the whole cake itself. Sadly, too many in our society have this mixed up and therefore go looking for new “dessert” after a few years pass and their cake is getting stale.

That said, writing real romance shouldn’t require detailed descriptions of physical attraction and passion. Rather, it should describe the actions, conflicts, emotions, and conversations between a man and a woman falling in love before God for who He made them to be as human beings, not just sexual beings.

I’m probably preaching to the choir, yet occasionally when reviewing Heartsongs I come across scenes or descriptions that heat things up just a little too much…

Download our guidelines here and read the section on Passion for our official statement on what types of physical description we avoid.

And the following are a few specific examples. These are from recent reviews. Please know that I don’t mean to embarrass anyone! I’ve taken out character names so that hopefully no one will recognize a story and author. :)

Example: But the way she smiled up at him convinced him her mind wasn't on sorting [his] stuff. His gaze lingered on her full, pink lips and then he kissed her, glorying in the way she leaned into him.
Review Comments: I think this kiss here is unnecessary and you could just delete it…. They are obviously attracted to each other, but they don’t have a relationship yet. And aren’t they both still confused by that first kiss?…I don’t think it adds anything to the story except making the reader feel like their “relationship” is based only on physical desire….

Example: After a year, he hadn’t forgotten the sweet taste of her lips.
Review Comments: even though this is a mild instance, we try to avoid any tasting of body parts in Heartsongs. Please revise.

Example: But she wouldn't let herself think along those lines. No reason he should care about her in a special way. Just because he'd kissed her. He wasn't the first man who'd kissed her. She knew a kiss didn't have to mean anything but chemistry, friendship, or something equally undemanding.
Review Comments: This casual “definition” of kissing must be removed. What would this teach a younger teen or any single woman who might be reading this book?

Example: He moved closer, not touching but feeling her in his mind.
Review Comments: Sounds sexual; please revise.

Example: Her lips were cool, soft, wet, and what [he] had told himself he intended to be a token of gentle reassurance turned into much more. With aching slowness, he brushed his parted lips over hers, learning their full contours, and heard her gasp. He couldn’t remember when he’d last felt like this, or why he’d been avoiding it. Stunned, he pulled away a fraction and looked into her slightly unfocused night-dark eyes.
“What are you doing?” She breathed a little faster, her features soft, uncertain, her lips that he’d just touched with his, parted and trembling.
“I don’t know, but if you figure it out don’t tell me,” he whispered before leaning in to kiss her again. To his shock, [she] whimpered and pressed against him, sliding her hands up his shirt and around his neck. She yielded her mouth to his as their kiss altered into one of mutual need. Rocked by her unexpected reaction and the sparks she’d lit inside, he lifted his hands to her back and responded with equal fervor, until suddenly she pressed her hands against his chest and broke their kiss, pushing away. He released her.
Review Comments: Please make this less intense. It’s a little too sensual for a Heartsong.

Example: wearing a sexy evening gown
Review Comments: No need for the word sexy.

Example: He pulled off his wet t-shirt and grinned at [her].
Review Comments: Though this is a mild scene, some will take offense at him having his shirt off in front of her and her (however briefly) checking him out. Please revise.

Example: she could see his muscles ripple beneath his pullover each time he took a shot.
Review Comments: Wouldn’t his pullover have to be pretty tight to see his muscles rippling? And he doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would purposefully wear tight clothes to show off his muscles. :)

Example: One even came on to him, pretty brazenly, he thought.
Review Comments: “came on to him” might have more of a sexual connotation than what is meant. Use flirted instead?

Example: Hard muscles glistened below his rolled up short sleeves, and the way his shirt stretched across his chest hinted at more under the fabric.
Review Comments: We don’t need to hint at what’s underneath his clothes. Please remove that part.

Example: he was wearing jogging pants, but no shirt. A single beam of early morning sunlight glinted off his bulging muscles. The man was a wonderful specimen of masculinity.
Review Comments: We don’t need this description of his bare, bulging muscles and masculinity. Please remove.

Example: "Ready and waiting." Why did everything she say sound like some kind of romantic invitation? Only because a very large part of her brain was full of delicious…thoughts.
Review Comments: Unnecessary. It makes her seem filled with lust for him.

Some of my comments might make authors roll their eyes, but I’d rather err on the side of being squeaky clean than hot and steamy. Heartsong readers range from tween girls who are very impressionable to elderly ladies who are very conservative. So, as best we can, let’s try to make sure Heartsongs will not mislead or offend, but promote romance that is honoring to God.


Mary Connealy said...

I read an article a few days ago about romantic comedy movies and that they're fading. The opinion of the article (secular) was that the reason for the fade is, it's too hard to keep characters out of bed, and that was so fundamental in any romantic comedy, that pull and resisting that pull.
The author said, "It used to be EASY to keep two characters apart for two hours (movie length) but now it's almost impossible.
this made me think of Sleepless in Seattle and You've got Mail.
They kept these characters apart by PHYSICALLY keeping them apart. They were almost never in each others presents, at least knowingly, the identity mystery in You've Got Mail let them be together some.
The heart of most good romance is sticking two people together who are drawn to each other but some conflict keeps them apart. If you can't let them be together and not have it turn sexual, then a huge part of the stories zip is lost.
That's a huge advantage we have in Christian fiction, that we have that fundamental moral reason to keep characters apart physically and then we can have fun tormenting them with OTHER conflicts.

Linda Ford said...

I recognize one of those bloopers as mine. But in my defense I have to say I realize the written word can be so easily misinterpreted. I know I didn't mean anything overtly sexual when I wrote my phrase. It comes from the problem of trying to find words that express a tangle of emotions and sometimes words fail to express the true emotion I wish to portray. That's why I appreciate when an editor points out how something could be more sexual than I mean it to be. I, and I'm sure everyone writing for Heartsong, wish to uphold the high standards of these books—a good, clean romance that we can be proud to have written.

Kristy Dykes said...

This was a great lesson, JoAnne. You explained it so well. Sometimes new authors write their stories not thinking about any particular publishing house. But we have to gear our stories to fit a particular publishing house. I've written hundreds of articles and taught at conferences. I've always taught new writers this: don't just sit down and write an article and THEN try and find a publishing home for it. Study the magazines FIRST and then write your articles to fit their guidelines. It's the same way with fiction. As a new fiction writer awhile back, I was guilty of this, and I'm still learning.

You have a way with words--love the stale cake and new desserts references. So visual.

Kristy Dykes said...

I think I've used the term "came on to him." Yes, flirted is a much better word.

Cathy West said...

Very eye opening! Thanks for posting that. I think it will help your authors and potential authors considerably. I agree with Kristy, we need to know the guidelines of the house we're submitting to.
Of course now you'll have me scrambling through my manuscript wondering if I went too far anywhere...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this helpful information. The examples made it even more clear. It reminds me why it is so important to have a good editor who lets you know if your description is coming across the wrong way. I always enjoy checking your blog and appreciate what you all share.